Design choices can cripple a Web site

AListApart has an old article by Nick Usborne titled Design Choices Can Cripple a Web site. While the article is quite old, it still argues a point that I feel (almost) exactly the opposite about. I believe that the content of a Web site provides the site its worth – the design has to be at least acceptable and pleasant to the eye, but it is not the major reason for me to visit. Nick appears to favor the design of a site over the content (at least, that’s the conclusion I’ve drawn after reading). As designers we tend to focus on the design, the bells & whistles and the functionality of a site. But we must not forget the content. You can’t make a promise with design that you can’t deliver with content.

Finding a mouse for the creative Mac Pro

Behind the Mac itself on the list of most important pieces of equipment to buy, I generally find the input device as the uncontested Number Two. It’s what you use to communicate with your Mac. When considering an input device in the design business (and probably audio/video editing), not only is comfort a consideration, but the feature set ranks pretty highly as well. Recently, I found myself wanting a new mouse and decided to dig out some of my old hardware and try out some new stuff. In this Macworld article I review Apple’s Mighty Mouse, the Kensington Expert Mouse (trackball) and Logitech’s MX Revolution.

Review: Inside Adobe InDesign Newsletter

Somewhere on the Web I came across an offer for a free issue of Inside Adobe InDesign, a monthly newsletter for ID users, and took advantage of the offer. You’ve seen these offers, get your free issue, no obligation, cancel at any time, blah, blah, blah. About three weeks (give or take) after I signed up, I received an invoice for $147 from Eli Journals (the publisher), stating that they haven’t received payment for my subscription yet. To be quite honest, I didn’t even remember what it was they were invoicing me for since I hadn’t received anything yet, so I tossed the invoice. About a week or two after receiving the invoice, I finally got my copy of IAID. It’s a 16 page, 8.5 x 11 glossy, full color newsletter which was pre-punched for a 3-ring binder. Nothing overly fancy about the design of the newsletter, but hey – I’m paying for the content, right?! Oh, by the way, I also got another invoice. I guess I’m spoiled with my subscription to Layers Magazine, which by the way costs 1/3 the amount and averages over 120 pages. The content of IAID fell WAY SHORT of what I was expecting, though maybe that’s my fault for expecting anything useful. Inside I was treated to the following content:

  • Four pages on “avoiding registration mishaps by setting a perfect trap.” Now I must admit that knowing what trapping is and how it can affect your document when printed is important, but any commercial printer worth the ink on their business card handles the trapping for you. Additionally, 99% of the RIPs out there that a printer uses will override your trap settings when printed unless you specifically tell them not to – in which case your carefully trapped document can turn out to be a mess because their RIP is calibrated to trap to their particular output device. In the end, this was a great way to fill four pages, but of little use to anyone who knows commercial printing.
  • Three pages of a tutorial on how to “Create realistic Polaroid-style frames for your images” without the use of Photoshop. Great, I love tutorials. Unfortunately, the end result of this tutorial looked like a design-school first-day project. It was horrible. The image was at a different angle than the white Polaroid-style frame it was sitting on. Completely amateur, completely useless. Plus, there are easier ways to create Polaroid-style frames for your images.
  • Two pages of “10 surefire ways to cut your printing costs.” Now this was something of use for most designers – except that the tips were so vague in nature that they were barely useful. One full tip essentially is to “properly prepare your digital files.” Another was “plan ahead to avoid rush charges.” Well no duh!!! Another wasted 2 pages.
  • One full page on how to “upgrade your workflow with Adobe Creative Suite 3.” This was nothing more than the product chart showing what programs are included with what Creative Suite – the very same chart you can find on Adobe’s Web site (and the 5,000 other sites that had the chart and description several months back and that you’ve already seen).
  • One full page on how to “nest frames to create a one-of-a-kind object.” OK, so this was actually useful.
  • One full page on “getting text and objects to peacefully coexist” – which was basically a very brief tutorial on how to anchor an object/image into a text frame. This tutorial was also useful to new InDesign users, but didn’t really go into enough detail to show you how useful it really can be.
  • One and a half pages on how to see what color profile is embedded in your Photoshop image and how to safely scale images. Yawn…
  • Three quarter page software review of Teacup Software’s ImageSwapper plugin – which allows you to replace your low-res images with their high-res equivelant just before print time. Um, who still does this? Well, large catalog-makers probably still do this, but there are automated workflows for OPI that link to image databases to handle the job. I can’t blame the newsletter for covering this, because it is a nice piece of software, but so limited in its audience that I hardly think it worth the back cover of the newsletter.

That’s it. $12.25 of my subscription for one issue, and not a single valuable piece of information as a pro-user, and about a page and a half of useful info for beginners. Perhaps I just received an older issue (it was Volume 4, Number 6 for whatever that’s worth) and the content has gotten better. Or maybe when you get the “free issue” you only get a portion of a full issue. Either way, I wasn’t impressed at all. This is definitely not something I consider worth the investment. Needless to say, I won’t be subscribing. Oh, by the way, I received another invoice a few days after receiving the free issue… I give them an “A” for persistence.

Toggling tools in Photoshop with the keyboard

Keyboard shortcuts is one of the ways you can save a lot of time when working in Photoshop, it’s also a way for me to judge the knowledge of a prospective production artist. Learning them can make all the difference. Here are some frequently used keyboard shortcuts to toggle various tools in Photoshop. There are more, but these are the ones I use the most: “B” for Brush “C” for Crop tool “E” for Eraser “I” for Eyedropper “J” for Healing Brush tool “K” for Paint Bucket “L” for Lasso tool “M” for Marquee Selection tool “N” for the Notes tool “O” for the Burn/Dodge/Sponge tool “P” for the Pen tool “R” for Blur/Smudge tool “S” for Clone Stamp tool “T” for Type tool “U” for Shape & Line tool “V” for Move tool “W” for Magic Wand tool “Y” for History Brush tool

Avoid unwanted “bold type” and odd, shaded boxes in your InDesign document

Adobe InDesignYou may have come across a situation when you print or make a PDF in Adobe InDesign where some of your type appears bolder than the rest of the text – and it’s not because you wanted it that way. Here’s a brief explanation of what’s going on. When you use transparency in your document, either by placing a layered PSD file, using glow or drop shadow effects or setting an object’s transparency to something other than 100% Normal, AND that object is on TOP of your text, the file is “flattened” when you print or export to PDF. Flattening is essentially rasterizing or outlining the text which interact with the transparency area. You can adjust the settings in your preferences, but you cannot avoid the process. This can sometimes make the text appear bolder than text that is not underneath the immediate area of the transparenct object.

To avoid this flattening issue, simply make sure that your text is either on top of any objects using transparency, or on a layer which is higher up in the layer order than the layer containing the transparency.

Along the same lines, you may also notice that sometimes your document looks fine in InDesign, but when you print or export, some objects have a slightly lighter box around them, almost like a bounding box. This can occur when you place an image that is in the RGB color space into your CMYK-based InDesign document. This is especially noticeable if you place a layered PSD file on a CMYK background in InDesign and the image you place either has edges that don’t meet the frame edges in the object container (such as a circular image placed in a square frame). It can also happen if you place a colored image as your background of the entire page in InDesign. You won’t notice it when you export or print unless you set a drop shadow (or some other form of transparency) in your InDesign document on top of the RGB background. The solution is simple. Make sure your Photoshop images are all CMYK.

Get more accurate results with the Photoshop Eyedropper tool

If you work in Photoshop, you’ve probably used the Eyedropper tool at one point or another. Most users simply select the eyedropper tool and click on an area in the image to grab the color they want and that’s the end of it. But did you know there’s a more accurate way to select the color you want? When you use the Eyedropper tool, the default is to select one single pixel as a basis for the color you want to choose. So let’s say you want to choose the orange colored background in the photo above. If you use the eyedropper tool at it’s default, you might end up with a color you weren’t counting on due to the fact that there are many colored pixels that make up that orange, such as tan and brown, and the tool will only choose the one color that the curser is directly over. To get a better representation of the color you want, select the Eyedropper tool and go up to the toolbar and you will see “Sample Size” with a drop-down menu. Click the menu and select 3 by 3 average. This will look at a 3 pixel by 3 pixel area and average the colors to give you your selection, which is much more accurate and probably more closely represents the color you’re looking for.