Tools vs Materials

Last week I attended the Artifact Conference. It was my first design conference, and I was impressed. The talk lineup was amazing and speakers consistently delivered. The talk that stuck in my head (and not only because it was the last talk I attended) was Dan Rose’s Photoshop’s New Groove.

The talk was about using Photoshop while designing for the web. It was the counter balance to all of the random snarky comments on Twitter and so forth about Photoshop and how it should die in a fire (I’m paraphrasing, but just barely) and how you’re not a real web designer if you use Photoshop and so on and so forth. It was a great talk.

Dan spent a lot of time talking about using the tools that work for you. Dan Mall had a great line in his talk on Monday about fighting your tools as a way to kill creativity. I think he’s 100% right. Find the tools that work for you and use the hell out of them.

That said…

HTML and CSS aren’t the tools of web design, they’re the raw materials.

The difference between tools and materials means the world. It’s like a chef who doesn’t cook their new recipes because they know how the various ingredients are supposed to work together. A huge part of culinary school is learning how various ingredients interact with each other to produce different effects. It borders on a chemistry degree. The training doesn’t stop with the chemical reactions, though.

A chef wouldn’t produce a new dish by only thinking about the interaction of certain ingredients and putting together something she thinks would work well, she actually makes it. The designer who is creating for the web who doesn’t move to HTML and CSS with their design is like the chef who relies on the cooks to know exactly what to do. Until you get your hands dirty with code, you’re simply brainstorming ideas.

It’s taken me a long time to actually be able to articulate this. It wasn’t until I heard Dans refer to HTML and CSS as tools that it clicked: we’re looking at the world differently (shocking! I know!!). Hearing designers at Artifact talk about HTML and CSS as tools akin to Photoshop is what gave me the proper lens realize where the disconnect was.

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