E016 Designers and Tools

In this episode, Sushi and Angie chat about designers and the tools of their trade.



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The Sketch app for digital product design.

Invision Studio for screen design.

If you don’t know or have it already, here’s Adobe creative cloud 

The guy who made headlines for creating entire landscapes on MS.Paint

How many tools should a designer learn? Interesting blog post.



Angie: Hey! This is Design Lota – The Podcast where we talk about life as Indian Designers.

Sushi: I’m Sushi

Angie: And I’m Angie

Sushi: Our previous episode was an inspiring discussion about designing for kids and young adults.

Angie: Yes, I was really intrigued by some of the research methods and tools that Mydhili used to engage and create for her young learners.

Sushi: It’s always cool to see how different designers come up tools and methods that specifically support their design process.

Angie: Yeah, kind of like every designer has their own custom toolkit. These tools could be physical, digital or strategic. So, what do you think qualifies as a ‘tool’, when it comes to design?

Sushi: Hmm…I think anything that helps make the design process more effective, efficient. The tool could aid the process, or help present the solution.

Angie: Hmmm. And what do you think are the vital tools you need to just begin being a designer?

Sushi: Hipster glasses.

Angie: Haha, yes, hipster, and anti-glare because those are helpful when you’re designing – which brings me to the next one – a computer-  laptop or a Desktop loaded with a bundle of software, depend on what kind of design you do.

Sushi: So this is something I keep thinking about, on and off. Where would we be as designers, if it weren’t for computers. It’s really amazing when you look at these older design documentaries, any time before the 90’s, where no designer used computers. They sketched, measured and made everything manually. Everything from some of the most iconic products like the Eameses’ furniture, to classic type such as Helvetica.
Angie: Oh yes…haven’t we all wished to own a letterpress machine at some point in our lives!

There’s something about working so closely with design elements and literally putting them together in a composition that can engage you…you know what they say about “thinking with your hands”

Sushi: I think that’s one of the reasons that as design students we were not immediately taught all these software tools, because maybe we would get caught up in its limitations. Instead we were taught rules like gestalt principles, and then encouraged to try, test and break them.

Angie: I agree, and even today, there’s nothing like a paper napkin and a ball point pen to capture ideas, and then some play doh and lego blocks to create mockups, but software tools have really helped accelerate the process from idea to refined output. With a quick sketch or even a lego prototype, you don’t fall in love with your creation because it’s still in the sketchy zone and you can toss it out and start over…

Sushi: Yeah, with software tools, we are more invested in the outcome and we’re driven to make it look finished, since these tools are meant to help with speed and refinement.

Angie: And they can be very helpful – especially in today’s highly competitive climate. It’s necessary for designers to be able to have a more organised workflow and timely ‘refined’ deliverables to show for our process..Which also allows for serial butt-ins by the client haha

Sushi:It’s funny how we’ve intentionally brought disaster upon ourselves! You know, I feel like what it means to be a designer has also really changed. When I tell someone I design products, people immediately ask “3ds Max or Rhino?” as though that is the most central thing to being a designer.

Angie: Yes, there are many cases where designers are defined by the tools that they use or even own! I had a job interview where I was asked if I own an iPhone, as though that would imply that I knew more about good design if I owned one.

Sushi: I’ve also noticed that companies with lower budgets like to hire people who already own the tools they need to create or test their products – like a company that wants to develop iphone apps might give priority to a designer who comes with a free iphone, since they don’t have an in-house test phone.

Angie: Freeloaders! Haha…I do see the point of using tools that help you get a better output – like how the Mac display is more dynamic and vibrant because of its sheer nature versus any other laptop with similar specs.

Sushi: This can also backfire because everything looks amazing on the mac, and we like to think our design looks this way all the time, in all devices, which may not be the case.

Angie: Mac world problems! Coming back to software tools, many of the job descriptions we  see these days go something like “Wanted- Graphic designer. Skills – Adobe photoshop, Adobe illustrator, Adobe In-Design” I mean, it’s really essential to know design software, but I think it’s reached a point where the software has started to define the designer rather than the designer being able to define what can be done with the software.

Sushi: I feel that just like there are multi-million dollar corporations, like Amazon which has the monopoly when it comes to online shopping, and google is for all things internet, Adobe has become THE company, for all things designer, creating this sort of “cool club” for designers who use it. And I feel it wouldn’t be such a bother if it weren’t so darn expensive. If you’ve just started out as a freelancer, and you need to buy the subscription, it’s a real pinch. I mean, its a third of what your rent costs! And I’m talking very small shack-like housing to offset the adobe costs.

Angie:  You’ve thought about this for a while, I can feel it! But yes, until recently it did feel like – if you can’t afford adobe, can you even design to your potential? In UI design, it’s good to see a variety of tools from different companies, like Sketch and more recently Invision Studio, not to mention those ‘ultimate’ collaboration and productivity tools that crop up every other day.

Sushi: I’ve noticed that even the ‘uncool’ tools can be quite capable…like Microsoft Powerpoint has evolved to have a lot of presentation design functions.
A: You know, I’ve even seen wireframes done with powerpoint and more recently even on excel! Which was crazy but interesting.

Sushi: That sounds amazing! I have a friend who makes very basic illustrations on powerpoint just using the shape tools.

Angie: Also remember the guy who created detailed illustrations on MS paint?

Sushi: Yeah who would have even thought to try that?!

Angie: So, Lack of adobe is the mother of invention! It goes to show that creativity and skill lies in the hands of the creator and not in the tool.

Sushi: Although, I feel that the tool can have an influence on your personal style. For example, my design sketches tend to have this cartoony look/feeling to it, while most industrial designers have sketches with a very sleek and shiny finish, thanks to tools like copic markers. I never had the opportunity to master copics and got comfortable using microtips with aquarelles. This was never an issue because my sketches still conveyed all the information. In fact, I have sometimes got requests not to design, but to simply sketch out existing products and user manuals in this style.

Angie: It’s interesting how with trial and error, we find ways to use tools to bring out our unique style as artists or designers. I really like the watercolour wash effect, though I didn’t quite enjoy the process of using watercolour as it was too unpredictable for my liking. I found an interesting balance with watercolour brush pens that give just the right amount of wash feel with an ability to control it as much as I like.

Sushi: Even in mass manufacturing, you can usually look at a product and tell whether it has been injection molded, or stamped or laser cut…laser cut pieces have those signature burned edges, which often makes for a nice aesthetic.

Angie: Do you think we sometimes get attached to certain styles and tools, which makes us reluctant to explore new tools and what can be achieved?

Sushi: And with new tools popping up on a daily basis, it’s tempting to try and hop onto the latest tool bandwagon. Knowing which tools to use, how and why, comes with a strong foundation built on the intangible design tools like human-centred thinking, communication, and the ability to execute.

Angie: Well said, Sushi! I’ve found that sharpening basic skills like writing and even keen listening and observing can be powerful tools not just in the research phase but throughout the design process.

Sushi: Another useful tool – if we can call it that – is to pay attention to how things ‘feel’ and not just how they look.

Angie: Classic creative thinking –  switching between big picture and the fine details  

Sushi: So, in the midst of all the perfectly aligned grids and guides, we still need to trust our designers’ hunch that tipping it a little

Angie: just a litttttle

Sushi:  to the left might just work better.

Angie: Hey listeners, what’s the craziest thing you’ve made with the most unexpected tool?

Sushi: Which tool bandwagon are you planning to jump on next?

Angie: Tweet to us @designlota and tell us about it.

Sushi: You can find all the references and the complete transcript to this episode on our blog,

Angie: In our next episode, we get into the trenches with an industrial designer and talk about what it takes to put out a successful product.

Sushi: Until then, bye!



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