As Can Berk Güder pointed out, these questions might not be fit to the more specific approach of illustrating and building graphic designs, and more about the use of the applications. We both agreed that there wasn't really a more appropriate forum for this in StackExchange except for perhaps SuperUser. So should specific technical and procedural questions about the software be included here?

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6 Answers

I was about to start another question when I saw yours. Anyway, here's what I wrote:

What should we do about questions regarding tools?

I wrote, when defining this site over at Area 51:

A site focused on graphic design, including icon/logo design, colors and typography. Questions regarding the tools of the trade (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) are also allowed, as long as they're relevant.

But we never really defined what should be considered "relevant."

This, unsurprisingly, is the first of the 7 essential meta questions of every beta, and the first question ever asked here was regarding a tool: Exporting layers in Photoshop.

I believe it's both impossible and unhealthy to forbid all questions regarding tools. There are thousands of questions regarding programming tools on Stack Overflow (over 26,000 questions tagged visual-studio* and over 7,000 tagged xcode*, for instance), and some of these are great questions.

However, all too often questions get closed with "belongs on" So, where do we draw the line on this site? What gets closed as off-topic or "belongs to" and what stays here?

My current opinion is that we should decide based on two factors:

  1. Triviality
  2. Relevance to graphic design

So if a question is too trivial (one example on Area 51 was "how do I export as GIF in PS CS5?") or is only circumstantially relevant (e.g. how do I uninstall Adobe Bridge?), it should get closed as off-topic or get migrated to SU.

If, however, it's not very trivial or is relevant to graphic design in general, it should be allowed to stay. (e.g. what's the easiest way to automatically add 960gs guides in PS CS5?)

Of course, this is just my two cents and not everybody has to agree.

I like yours better. –  NateDSaint Jan 4 '11 at 21:42
Well, trivial answers could technically be easily answered and then completed though. –  JFW Jan 5 '11 at 3:51
"Trivial" is an entirely subjective term. What could be trivial to one person is someone else's last obstacle to completing a project on time. –  Philip Regan Jan 5 '11 at 14:52
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Does anyone here remember wax machines? Thirty years ago they were a necessary evil in the graphic design department because the only other alternative was to use rubber cement or some other nasty glue to keep the layouts together. Wax machines were much more convenient.

Inevitably the question came up of how to replace the wax or the rollers in the wax machine. A technical or even trivial question, to be sure, but if a designer didn't know how to do it and they were the only one working, then production ground to a halt because they either had to go back to glue and a brush or simply stop working until someone came in who knew.

Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Quark, and the rest of their ilk are the wax machines of today (and triangles, t-squares, X-acto knives, ...). Questions about their specific functionality may not necessarily fit with graphic design in general, like discussing color theory or grid layouts for a website, but in most cases graphic design does not get done in a reasonable manner without them.

Whether or not technical questions are allowed doesn't change the fact that people are going to ask them and they are going to do so A lot. Trying to close all of them will be a daunting if futile task, so creating a tag or set of tags to separate them out would probably be the easiest way to handle them. But closing them, to me, isn't the answer; closing questions is rarely the answer.

+1 for the old-skool metaphor –  Tom Auger Jul 12 '12 at 19:11
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Picasso allegedly said something to effect that when art critics get together they talk about style and technique; when painters get together they talk about where you can get the best turpentine. Knowledge of tools is essential to good craftsmanship. Good craftsmanship is fundamental to effective design. Therefore (ot to get too syllogistic about it!) technical questions are on-topic.

If the purpose of site is to help designers design effectively, then questions about tools are certainly as important to most designers as questions of color theory, grids (which are really just a tool, albeit not a piece of software), et al. We all run into the occasional impasse, usually when we're right on top of some god-awful deadline, and it's the application rather than the color wheel that's killing us.

A completely trivial question would be one that can be answered simply by looking at the screen or clicking a first-level menu ("How do I save a file as a jpeg in Photoshop.") that even a rank beginner should know. But there have been some terrific questions so far that revolved around non-obvious application how-tos. We should not discourage those.

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I don't have a simple answer, but I think there's a substantial risk that tools questions will swamp the rest. It could be argued that that as soon as you're asking about the minutiae of a particular application, it's execution or production, rather than design.

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This question has come up in other SE sites, such as the photography site. The answer there has been to allow for all forms of questions related to photography, and if one wants to focus on other aspects, well, there's always tags to separate things out.

Can you advise if Photography would allow any Photoshop question at all? –  e100 Jan 5 '11 at 17:32
They certainly allow for some photoshop questions, if the question is related to photography. If it were, say, designing a card with graphics, it wouldn't be allowed. There is definately a fine line though in these kinds of questions. Other photography specific tools are frequently the subject of questions. See –  PearsonArtPhoto Jan 5 '11 at 17:44
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I much agree with Philip Regan.

Also, I think it's quite random to consider that a designer working in a site's design is not actually designing. The effort is similar, and creativity must show. Why would be less important to know how to correctly export web graphics, as is indeed an important part in a web designer's work, and an essential part in the workflow to publish his/her design? Would not be just as unimportant a detail about grids, lineature, CMYK or bleeding? Is not that also "instrumental"? Is it because is more related to editorial design? Actually, I voted for this site, and added my paragraph to support it, told people, etc, as was thinking it'd have a bit wider scope. I am hoping it is not all just about design theory, creativity, or only design for print. One could argue that graphic design is more related to all that, but then, reading many of the voting people in its day, a lot of them thought like me that questions about certain matters would be allowed. Many of the voting ones were programmers wanting to know a bit more what they need to in the areas that touch their activity. So those will be left out, in a big way. I don't know if that would be fair.

Considering the every day work of many designers (web or not) deals with a ton of technical issues, imho a site of questions and answers to solve a huge problem that got in the middle of your project at mid morning, is more than useful if the site covers as well a wider range of issues that actually appear to the designer too often.

All that said, I am ok if this place is going to be more about those traditional concepts mostly. Then perhaps (perhaps not) might be my bad in how I understood it. I work as a designer, but mostly web designer, and perhaps this place would be less suited for people of my profile.

However, it's a very nice place, great that it reached finally the beta stage!

I never thought that this should be a theory-only or print-only site. I'm a programmer myself, and the #1 reason I proposed this site was so that I could improve my design skills and do (at least some of) my own designs. That being said, if the site doesn't attract professional designers, it's no use to anyone. All forms of graphic design (web, print, etc.) should be allowed, and some "tool" questions are bound to be asked. It's just that I think we shouldn't let the site become a huge Photoshop tutorial. –  Can Berk Güder Jan 5 '11 at 18:52
@Can: I agree in so far that I don't want the website to become one giant Photoshop tutorial either; I loathe seeing yet another "how do I do this funky thing with iTunes/jailbroken iPhone" question on Apple.SE. But since there's nothing to really stop that from happening, the questions are typically asked by people new to the site and wouldn't have taken the time to get a feel for it, it would be best for the community to find a way to manage those questions. It's not the problem itself, but rather how we react to those problems that I'm finding determines the character of these sites. –  Philip Regan Jan 6 '11 at 13:50
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