Pushing pixels is a dialogue

Even as a principal designer, I sometimes go deep into the pixels, using Adobe Fireworks or Photoshop to precisely & vividly render a particular concept, or even prepare final comps with assets for delivery. While it seems I’m just staring at a screen and deftly moving my mouse hand, there’s actually quite a bit happening if you reflect upon what’s transpiring.

There’s a rapid virtuous cycle of reflection and creation, with quick interpretation and judgment of placement, choreography, hierarchy, and overall taste (or alignment with brand/visual standards) of the elements’ overall composition. Behavior, feedback, and affordance are also on the mind. You’re constantly shuttling between precise details and holistic overview, directly seeing (and often sensing) how it all comes together in the end. It’s a cyclical and iterative process of mouse clicks, keyboard presses, and layer manipulations (and some cursing as well ;-)

It’s a nearly subconscious dialogue among the eyes (sensing what’s happening on-screen), the hands (manipulating various controls to yield some output), and the mind (continuously monitoring, interpreting, judging, and deciding). I’d also throw in the soul, the heartbeat of passion that sustains the dynamic despite frustrations and difficulties inevitably encountered (crashing files & clashing elements). The fluidity of this dialogue is dependent upon dexterity with the tools (a function of knowledge and frequency) and a kind of habitation of the problem space, laid out on the pixel grid on the screen in front of you. You must literally and cognitively place yourself in that space, living and breathing it deeply to fully absorb the constraints and potentiality.

Finally there is also a continual background hum of skepticism on what is being created on-screen–is it right, is it good, is it necessary, “does it deserve to exist”? (as the recent Apple ads suggest) Pixel-pushing is an engaging process in its own right, not merely mindless production and derivative assembly of pre-cast elements. Of course, parts of it maybe like that, when doing rote manual production or slicing & exporting. But the creation and manipulation interface elements towards achieving a precisely articulated presentation of pixels that conveys a vision…there’s more than meets the eye. It’s a full body dialogue perceptive to those in the know.

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