All applications have some things that are hard and some things that are easy. So naturally one would tend to avoid the hard things and prefer the easy things instead. Unfortunately, this biases your design ability towards something that may or may not be optimal in your case.

What kinds of basic strategies should one employ to:

  1. Notice that your design indeed is limited by your tool.
  2. Design without this limitation.

In the end its not so much about what is easy for me to design as what is a the best possible end result within your resources. So how does one easily break the barrier of the application. Any general strategies available?


Notice that your design indeed is limited by your tool.

For the most part, you can't. Tools have nearly infinite uses so unless you know with certainty this is not something that can be achieved in the given tool, and I mean really with certainty than you can't notice this. For example especially in Photography there is a "Gear Acquisition Syndrome" that people talk about. Oh, I could take better photos if only I had this newer piece of equipment. It just isn't true. Better tools might make you more efficient but few allow you to do something truly novel.

Say we want to create a 3D ball to display as one element of a poster. Some might say, well I need a 3D modeling application for this. Some might say I need vector for this, some might say I need a piece of paper and pencil for this and all 3 are correct. People have been drawing 3D elements for hundreds of years at this point, yet today people think if I want a 3D element I need to model it in a 3D application. That just isn't so.

I'd be willing to bet that most Photoshop users for example don't even begin to scratch the surface of Photoshop. They learn enough to do the task they intend to do with it and little else. Which leads into the next part of your question:

So how does one easily break the barrier of the application. Any general strategies available?

Challenge yourself. Come up with ideas and then create them. If you know how to do something in one medium see if you can come up with a way of doing it another. If you know how to do something with a particular tool in one application, see if you can come up with a way of doing it with another tool. Experiment.

I feel like I've said this on answer before, maybe it was just in chat, but let your ideas dictate the tools not the other way around.

The lowly pencil

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The lowly pencil

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The lowly pencil

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This is actually a problem I run into in the beginner's course I teach. Students are starting to become proficient in Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, and then I give them an assignment for a logo, a business card or some similar case. The advice I give them is to sketch their ideas in in pencil on paper.

Preamble aside, my answer would be to sketch and prototype in a medium you are confident in. Try not to worry or even think about the limitations of the tools you will later use to actually make the design. try not to judge.

This way, you can let your imagination run free, and challenge yourself to learn new skills with your tool of choice.

  • Don't pen and pencil have any limitations? – joojaa Jul 14 '16 at 12:28
  • That's just the example I use for my students. Note the general formulation in the second paragraph :) – Vincent Jul 14 '16 at 12:29
  1. Your design can have any number of renditions since it is an idea and not something physical / virtual. If you uncritically use a typical effect or do not apply creative inspiration to your work it will be easy to dismiss as an unoriginal creation. You have to develop your own aesthetic sense and try to create original stuff, while keeping both eyes open to what others are doing. This way you'll see when something becomes 'played out' and bring your own personal flair. But you can't reinvent the wheel every time you start a new project. There is so much to be learned from copying others, so follow tutorials and try to recreate cool stuff that you like, then apply the techniques you've learned to your own projects.

  2. Set clear design goals and try to find how you can achieve this by your design. If you can't achieve it, can you approach it somehow? Try to use your tools to approach what you want to create, as opposed to let what you -can do with your tools- define your design. This is easier said than done of course. I see it as going back and forth between two modes. When you're learning, you're exploring and should test out as much new stuff as possible. (approach what you want to create) However when you're doing a project, especially for a client, you have to focus and achieve the best results within your skillset. (your design will, and probably should be, limited by skillset)

The movie 'Jaws' is an example. It's actually a very simple, low-budget movie and you hardly ever see the shark in the movie, but that's not how it's remembered. Possibly they had a lot of ideas about creating 'amazing' scenes with the shark at the idea stage, but in the end they chose to have very little actual scenes with the shark and went for making the best out of those few shots that were included. Hope this helps, there's no right answer here..


Practice in as many mediums as possible, the less constrained, the greater.

How would you do this design in pencil and paper? How about clay? How about TiltBrush? Imagine there's no medium - you just need to explain the design to your friend with no proprieties. How would you do it? How would you act it?


As an avid Inkscape, Gimp, and Scribus user, I run into this a lot--more so, I would imagine that designers that are using Adobe CS tools.

Here are some strategies that I use:

  • Practice: Whatever tools you are using, practice using them until you don't have to think about them any more. The more you practice using your tools, the less you'll need to bias your design because you don't know how to do something. This helps mitigate running into situations where you don't know how to do something and modify your design as a result.
  • Draw it first: I use graph paper and also I'm a terrible drawer. The goal isn't so much to make a good drawing, but to get a good image in my head. I draw it a few times in a few different ways and see what happens. This is actually very important. If I try to rough out a design first in Inkscape or something, I'm more likely to get besieged by some non-design issue ("Why the f--- can't I align these two shapes!?").
  • Practice
  • Do the really hard thing first: If I know that my design has some feature or concept I've never tried before, I'll tackle that first. If there's something that is going to be very difficult to do with my tools, I don't want to find out at the end. If it ends up being a no-go, I want to know right away, and come up with an alternative. Obviously that's a last resort. Trying something new is a good way to push your boundaries and knowledge.
  • Practice
  • Know the appropriate tool: If you have a few tools at your disposal, know which one is the best to use for the task at hand. This just comes with practice. If you're an open source person like me, this also means learning the limitations of your tools up front, and knowing how to work around those limitations.
  • Practice
  • How does practice help if you dont know what your working towards? – joojaa Jul 14 '16 at 13:15
  • The more you practice using your tools, the less you'll need to bias your design because you don't know how to do something. The question implied that it is inevitable that some things will be harder than others based on the software, and that we'll bias away from hard things. Practice can make those hard things less hard, mitigating the problem. – Scribblemacher Jul 14 '16 at 13:24
  • Ill buy that edit it in to first practice and your good to go – joojaa Jul 14 '16 at 13:27

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