Every now and then, we interview a well known designer and ask some questions about what makes them tick – together with the tools they use and the work they’ve done. Today, I’m asking Marc Edwards of Bjango all kinds of fascinating questions. Here’s what he has to say.
Recent project of note:
Chris: Hey, Marc! Recently I’ve noticed you seem to be writing more articles over at Bjango’s Article Page. Your Photoshop CS6 improvements post was incredibly insightful – thanks for giving so much back to the design community. I also noticed your 1 layer chainsaw post on dribbble caused quite a stir amongst design professionals. Can you give us a brief look into why you started to give back to the design community by sharing so much of your knowledge in these articles – and also what led you to try designing single-layer PSDs?
I started writing design articles for entirely selfish reasons. I wanted to improve, and the best way to do that seemed to be sharing techniques with others. By publishing publicly, the articles are open to criticism. Someone telling you that you’re doing things the wrong way is great — if they have a better technique, then you can level up instantly. So, it was always about trying to learn and become better myself. If I’ve helped others improve as well, then that’s really great.
For whatever reason, in depth information about designing user interfaces is pretty scarce, especially when designing for multiple resolution targets. This stuff is tricky, so the more we talk about it openly, the better we’ll all become.
Having your workflow nailed down is a really good thing — it means you can spend more time time thinking about improving the software itself and less time on the mechanics of building the design. Your tools should be part of your muscle memory.
The one layer PSDs were just a bit of fun. It’s great seeing how far a single Photoshop layer can be pushed. There’s four places layers can contain gradients (fill, stroke, layer style overlay, layer style stroke) in Photoshop CS6, so a lot is possible. Most of the techniques wouldn’t be the right approach for production documents, but you never know, some could really make things easier. It’s all about really knowing your tools.
A great achievement
Chris: One of your most recent Bjango releases is Skala Preview. Touted as being the fastest way to send pixel perfect design previews from your Mac to your iPhone or iPad, designers absolutely love it. Did the idea for this app arise from your own desire to have an easy way to view mockups on your devices? Now it’s released, have you started to find any unexpected uses for the app?
It’s something we’ve wanted for a long time. We were actually using a really basic beta of Skala Preview for months and months before its release and it made a huge difference to our workflow. Hopefully it’s helping others, too.
When designing for mobile there’s a lot of factors that can make what you see on your computer very different to the final result, so previewing on the device itself seems like the only way to go if you care deeply about the final result.
There’s a few uses we didn’t explicitly plan for. Using Skala View on its own can be good — if you take a screen grab on the device, then open it in Skala View you can zoom in and check artwork without a Mac. You can even zoom in and use the sides of the display to check alignment. It’s also possible to drag an image direct from Messages/iChat to Skala Preview without saving it anywhere first. So if someone sends you a mockup over chat, you can have it on your device in one move. And, with the right network, you could have a realtime on device preview while someone edits the document in a different country (we haven’t actually tried that one yet though).
It’s been a fun project so far.
What are you currently working on?
Chris: Can you share anything about the next project from Bjango? Your apps range across iPhone, iPad and the Mac – can you give us any details about what the future holds? Will you have anything to drop alongside Mountain Lion?
We have so much on the go right now. It’s crazy. We already have releases planned for 2013 and beyond. Right now we’re working on lots of iStat-related things. We’re also working on some more design-related tools. And lots of updates.
Chris: Now comes the geekiest part: your setup. What tools and toys do you use?
Computer & Monitor: Tethered: Mac Pro, 24 inch Cinema Display, SSD boot drive, 8GB RAM. Quick, but never quick enough, right? Untethered: MacBook Air 13 inch. An absolutely amazing piece of kit.
Phone: iPhone 4S, of course. 16GB model, which seems ample for me. Black bezel. I like the white design, but I find it a distraction for what’s on screen.
Tablet: New iPad and Wacom Bamboo Stylus. (If you’re reading this mid-2013, I’m referring to the old, first gen Retina iPad.)
Peripherals: I’m really, really boring in this department. I use a Magic Mouse and stock Apple keyboard. I think I’d be lost without the X-Y scrolling. I own a Magic Trackpad, but don’t really like using it for design work. I have a Wacom Intuos tablet, but I haven’t figured out how to enjoy using it yet. In fact, I’ve been trying to like tablets for years, but they’ve never felt right to me, even when retouching photos. I also have a Razer Deathadder, but that’s mostly for gaming.
Headphones: Sennheiser HD650. They’re rather good. I’ve had them quite a while, but they still impress me.
Chair: Standing desk and fit ball.
Software: I’d be lost without:
- Skala Preview
- iStat Menus
Chris: Mountain Lion is coming in the summer. What do you think of Apple’s design direction with each iteration of OS X? What do you think the future holds for OS X compared to iOS?
The current trend seems like it will continue — mobile will bloom while desktop gets slowly relegated to heavy-lifting tasks. I really like the direction Apple is taking for both iOS and OS X and I like that they’re separate things.
Choosing to drop resolution independence for OS X in favour of exactly doubling the interface pixel density in iOS was a very, very smart move. It seems highly likely that Apple will use the same method for Retina Macs this year and never speak of the resolution independence announced alongside OS X 10.4 again.
The positive repercussions of that decision will probably be felt for a decade, as other platforms struggle with multiple resolution targets and janky, poorly scaled interfaces.
Chris: Do you like the changes which appear to be in Apple’s design pipeline? Is there a limit to how far simplification can go before it starts to harm users?
I like that iOS contains many smaller, focused apps. It’d be great to see Music and Videos apps on OS X, rather than iTunes.
Is Apple’s simplification new? I think they’ve always tried to make good decisions on behalf of the user, where appropriate. And they’ve always aimed for ease of use at the expense of edge-case features. If anything, history has shown that it’s a good strategy. Apple has always strived to be a mainstream company.
Thanks to Marc for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions. It’s been insightful and very valuable. You can follow Marc on Twitter, or Bjango on Twitter here. Be sure to check out Bjango’s great suite of Mac, iPhone and iPad products at the Bjango website! You can follow me on Twitter here, too.