Photoshop and the paradox of choice - TCC
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Photoshop and the paradox of choice

Photoshop logo on our 35 year celebration background

This month, 30 years ago, Photoshop was released, and it completely changed the world of design. But it’s not quite as simple as that.

Ok, I’ll come clean. I’m not fluent in Photoshop. I studied A-Level Photography and I’ve done my time in creative departments, so I’m not completely illiterate. But, I’m a copywriter. So, I caught up with someone who is; someone who saw its impact first-hand: our Creative Director, Matt Rowland.

Like most of us, I assumed that when Photoshop arrived, it revolutionised what you were able to achieve with Design. After all, people speak about it in the same way my mum speaks about sliced bread…it’s the best. And Matt agreed: “It was a game changer. It completely changed the way you approached your work. The ways you could manipulate images was absolutely incredible, it was the first time that text and imagery could be integrated into a design simultaneously. The only limit was your imagination.”

That’s more or less the response I expected: complete and utter reverence for a software that is still so prominent and a name that even your nan could recognise as something important in our industry. But, almost in the same breath, Matt said, “but, it also completely overcomplicated things too.”

There was a second where I cocked my head, opened my mouth and probably looked…less intelligent than I’d like to in front of my boss. But, fortunately, the penny dropped pretty fast. There was too much choice.

“That’s right. The sky was the limit, so people shot for it. There was layer upon layer upon layer upon layer and every job was a new opportunity to create a new optical illusion. Every ad was completely overengineered. Lens flares, bevels, 3D type and dropshadows graced every layout.”

It took confident creatives and strong heads to make sure things didn’t get too out of hand, but brands had to react too. They were being dragged through this period of experimentation and maintaining their image was becoming increasingly difficult. So how did they cope?

“Any good brief gives you guidance and even creative departments need parameters. So, brands developed more detailed guidelines that detailed specific colours and specific assets that made crafting clearer and more consistent artwork much much easier.

“As a result, Design had to change. You used to see crazy 3D logos with drop shadows everywhere; designs are much cleaner now. Legibility and visibility are king. You can’t just throw dozens of elements at a page anymore to see what sticks. And nor should you.

“Now, Photoshop is used to finesse rather than overhaul. There’s much more emphasis on finding the right imagery in the first place instead of papering over the cracks. It’s a good thing. It makes Design more considered. If you find yourself relying too much on Photoshop these days, it probably means your source asset isn’t quite up to scratch.”

So, as essential as Photoshop still is in any Designer’s arsenal, the pressure’s been taken off it. It’s no longer used as a crutch…or at least not by any Designer worth their salt. Certainly not ours.

Written by Jack Glasscock
February 27, 2020

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