Work Clean: Layers, a Piece of Cake?


What does “Work Clean” mean on the design side?

“If you hand this Photoshop file to a developer, they will never speak to you again.”

Well, yes. Possibly that. But beyond token attempts not to drive our coworkers insane, what else should we be doing, and why?

Working clean while designing is akin to cleaning as you go if you’re preparing an intricate meal for lots of guests. It slows you down during the process, especially if you’re not accustomed to working that way, but if you don’t do it, you’re asking for trouble. To extend the cooking metaphor: if you don’t clean as you go, it won’t affect you much at first. You can probably keep most stuff out of the way, or put it in the sink. Gradually, though, you start spending more and more time moving dishes around, restacking things, trying to find space. Maybe you start chopping things unevenly because you have other things taking up the cutting board. And then the moment comes when you realize just about all your pots/pans/large bowls/whatever are in use, so now to do anything you need to wash something. Somehow. Around the giant mountain of dishes already lurking in the sink that you’ve been managing to look away from all this time. Before long, instead of focusing on the meal, you’re gazing around at a kitchen that looks something like this:


Clearly I love both cooking and pushing the limits of my metaphors. Working in a program like Photoshop, though, can feel quite similar when things get out of control:


What a mess. Not only is it unpleasant to look at, it’s just inefficient. Making updates takes much longer when you have to hunt through so many layers, hiding and showing different groups to try to figure out what’s what. Frustrating at best, setting you up for real problems down the line at worst. So, how do we avoid Layerpocalypse?

Heading off the Photoshop equivalent of a hoarder’s basement takes some practice, but there’s one place to start: NAMES. Name your layers; each and every one. Making it a point to banish “Vector Smart Object copy 27” or “Rectangle 8 copy 6” will go a long way toward keeping your files organized. It seems simple, of course, but when working quickly it’s easy to duplicate something, manipulate it and then move on without making sure everything is in order.

Once you’ve got naming down, the rest of the organization is easy to keep up, sometimes surprisingly so. Sure, this is basic (bordering on elementary), but “working clean” is truly about getting back to basics. Creative Cloud has some lovely tools to keep track of your color palettes, custom shapes and more in Libraries, but those tools can’t do it all.

“Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves” doesn’t apply to every situation, but here it goes a long way towards keeping you sane… and on speaking terms with your developers.



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