This article was updated on 8/27/12.
One of the best moments we experience as designers is opening up a blank Photoshop Document (PSD). It represents a fresh start, a new client.
“This time will be different,” you say. “I’ll label my layers and group them accordingly.”
So, for the first 50 or so layers you stay on track by taking the time to name them. But eventually you get to a point where you start duplicating groups and before you know it, you've regressed to files named Layer 64 copy 3, Vector Smart Objects and imported layers from other PSDs like lost puppies without names or groups to call their homes.
Most designers will argue that time does not permit them to label their layers and groups. “As long as the structure is there it does not matter what I call the layer because I’m the only one who is going to see it right?” Wrong.
As designers, weeding out bad design habits and applying good design etiquette is essential for being a productive.
Don’t change to fit the computer, change the computer to fit you.
If the mouse isn’t your cup of tea invest in a tablet. Personally, as a left-handed creative, I find it easier and more productive to work with a Wacom tablet. I am able to design with my left hand and navigate the keyboard with my right. Do what works best for you; you’re a designer so get creative.
Learn keyboard shortcuts.
Knowing the shortcuts is half the battle and taking time to learn a few tricks will cut your time down significantly. Have a post-it next to your monitor with the shortcuts so you remember to use them. PSD Tuts+ is another great resource for tricks, tutorials and quizzes. Testing yourself is a great way to keep growing as a designer.
Be kind - label.
Once you have the best mouse and can take control of Photoshop you have time to label your layers and files properly. Labeling will help you, and future designers who inherit your PSD, move around the file with ease. There will be no gradient layers gone rogue; everything will have a place in your 72 DPI (Dots Per Inch) environment. One of the best sources in proper design etiquette is The Photoshop Etiquette Manifesto created by Dan Rose . This thorough site covers everything from naming files to grids and Web fonts by showing the do’s and don’ts of design.
Once the torch is passed we give all the responsibility to the developer to understand what we meant by Group 1 in our files. Unnamed layers can sometimes create more problems with development and more time will have to be spent trying to figure out what they’ve selected and where it goes.
An Organized file is a happy file.
Saving multiple versions is a great way to track your progress and to get elements from later on. However, making sure they are not confused for the approved file is important. Organize files in versions by numbering them V1, V2, V3 and avoid using synonymous words such as latest and newest which don’t tell you anything. Always include the client name so there is no doubt whether or not you have the right file. The ones being used are present and all others are in a separate OLD folder. Create a system that everyone can follow to keep consistency.
In the end, no designer is an Island. Each creative is a piece of a whole whether you are a freelancer, part or full-timer. If we become more conscious of our design etiquette from the start we are more likely to succeed as a team when we finish.