The recent release of Photoshop CC 2015 included a slew of new features aimed at doubling-down Adobe's hand in the screen design space. Essentially an ode to the screen designer, there's quite a few updates that are going to make life a whole lot easier for modern product designers who use Photoshop in the Creative Cloud. Let's start with Artboards.
Screen design means making a whole lot of one thing: screens. Before the recent release, Photoshop designers generally turned to things like Layer Comps or separate PSD files to show the flow and differences from one screen to the next.
Artboards let you work on lots of scenarios inside a single file, all at once. Either start by inserting one of Photoshop's pre-defined artboard sizes (patterned after popular devices and resolutions), or select a bunch of existing layers inside your document and convert them into an artboard.
Duplicating artboards is a snap – small buttons that show up on all four sides of an artboard, letting you instantly duplicate in that direction. That's perfect for laying out a user flow.
Once you've got a lot of screens ready, you can export all your artboards at once to share with the team. Or just toss the whole PSD into InVision, and it'll sniff out the artboards automatically, creating the screens each time you save the file.
Linked assets to Creative Cloud libraries
Smart objects and linked files are a clever way to create a certain element and use it again and again, which is something we do a lot when laying out screens. With the new Linked Assets in CC 2015, that concept has been tossed up into the Creative Cloud, making it easy to stay in sync with your team.
With a Linked Asset, a designer could update a logo, sync to Creative Cloud, and have the latest email templates over in the marketing department automatically upload. It's a feature I've seen requested across a lot of the top apps, and for good reason: it's basically a brand manager's dream.
Linked Assets work splendidly with artboards, since you've got a lot of objects repeated over and over. Update the feature colour inside the header just once, and every single screen will update at the same time. Check out the Linked Asset action around the 3:00 mark in the video above.
Design Space (Preview)
The introduction of artboards, as interesting as it may be, actually signals an even larger change. But you might have to dig into the menu to find it.
Design Space (Preview) is a refreshed, slimmed down version of the Photoshop interface, built lean and mean specifically for screen designers. Photoshop's quick to convey that this is an early preview, but it's clear that there are some big changes in play. Here, artboards are the normn– not something you have to specifically make use of. A lot of the palettes are gone, and all your tools are on one side of your working space.
The trimmed-down main menu choices across the top of the app aim to provide razor focus for folks working on dozens of app screens at a time.
There's a simple way to toggle back and forth between Design Space (Preview) and the regular view, which provides a nice separation between designing for the screen and retouching your photo assets.
And I think that's the key here: Photoshop is finally starting to split the processes of a screen designer from a traditional designer or photographer. Sure, a lot of us do all those things, but they're different tasks. And Adobe is planning for it.
There is an enormous opportunity for designers to disrupt their respective markets through solid product design and smooth user experiences. Good design starts with a good process and good tools – which is why the recent release is so exciting for the product design community.
What better sign of support for product designers than one of the biggest creative and design-oriented companies in the world tailoring a flagship product to better serve their needs?
Words: Clark Wimberly
Clark Wimberly is a Content Designer at InVision, makers of a popular design prototyping tool. He spends his days writing and creating design content (screencasts, UI kits and ebooks). Previously, he was a UX Designer and founded the online community Android and Me.
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