Course  ·  Part 3  ·  Assignment 1


Introduction to Tools, Workflow, and Collaboration


The key points from this assignment.

  • Software tools are for executing design work — don’t worry about things you can’t yet do, because techniques and tutorials are always just a web search away
  • It’s more important to have a firm grasp of how to solve design problems
  • Your work as a designer should be supported by a robust workflow, and open, generous practices of collaboration


In Part 3, we’re going to briefly explain the mainstream software tools used by graphic designers and digital product designers. We’ll then cover the more important business of how to build a solid individual workflow, and how to embrace collaboration with both colleagues and clients.

Design tools

When people first start to learn about design, their first questions are often about software: “What tools do designers use? What software do I need to learn? Which packages should I buy? How will I ever learn all these functions?”

Sound familiar?

Take a deep breath, and remember that, above all, learning design software is less important than learning about design principles and processes.

You’ll always be able to Google how to do a specific thing in a particular software package. But if you haven’t grasped the principles and processes of design, there aren’t any search engines that can magically provide you with that understanding.

Once you do start digging into the software, don’t be intimidated by it. Or to put it another way, remember that being intimidated by it is completely normal.

At some point, everyone has opened Photoshop and thought, “I have absolutely no idea what most of those commands do”. Many excellent, senior professional designers still have no idea what most of those commands do. Why? Because design problem-solving is not the same as using design software.

Here’s the reality of how most tools, including design software, are learned today.

  • You start by knowing you want to complete a specific task — for example, cropping a photo down to a square in Photoshop.
  • At that point, you learn how to do it — either through trial and error, or by asking a colleague, or using Google.
  • Ta-da! You complete the task.

There are courses and textbooks in existence, of course, which try to “teach” the “complete” Photoshop. But if you don’t use a feature regularly, you will quickly forget that theoretical knowledge and need to look it up again anyway.

As a result, most people’s level of skill in any tool is — and should be — only as extensive as it needs to be for them to complete their routine work.

Courses and textbooks aimed at comprehensive tools training can be great, but they’re best treated as materials for reference, rather than something you should work through from start to finish.

The approach we’ve taken in the rest of this course is to sprinkle small doses of tools training throughout. These tutorials will help you learn how to complete the tasks you’re most likely to encounter as a professional junior designer.

In the next assignment, we’ll run through a list of different design tools, what each of them offers, and how much they cost to use.

Design workflow

As we’ve said several times (yes, that was intentional), the most important thing to learn as a new designer is how to solve design problems.

In Parts 1 and 2, you completed several assignments about some fundamentals like sketching, idea generation, and applying design principles.

In the assignments that follow in Part 3, we’ll build on those foundations by covering other important practices, including how to manage your design files, and how to plan your time during design projects.

And in the rest of the course, you’ll cover the specific design processes and workflows that apply to graphic design (Part 4-6) and digital product design (Part 7-9).

Design collaboration

Equally fundamental to good design is the ability to collaborate effectively: both with colleagues like fellow designers, illustrators, animators, developers, and managers; and with clients, customers, and end-users.

During Part 3 we’ll share some tips for fruitful collaboration, and also work on two hands-on assignments about offering — and listening to — design feedback.

In conclusion...

If this sounds like a lot, remember that you’ll still be working through these materials step-by-step, using a mixture of short readings and hands-on assignments. Just stay focused on the task at hand, and you’ll soon feel your levels of knowledge and understanding increase.

Without further ado, let’s get into some details about design software!

Assignment version 1.0
Last updated 7 June 2021