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5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Photoshop

Today, I’m presenting “5 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Photoshop” at the Utah chapter of the American Society for Training and Development. Rather than focus strictly on Photoshop, or geek out about esoteric features, the presentation includes a high-level discussion on best practices for visual communication along with a series of short, essential Photoshop techniques associated with the concept. I hope to post more content on this topic soon. In the meantime, I’ve included a basic outline of the presentation, along with resources to support attendees who wish to experiment with the techniques presented.

Best Practices for Visual Communication

1. Work Efficiently: Often, we focus on the sexy new features in a software update or new release. In reality, often the subtle tweaks to the way the core of users perform their daily work is the most important reason for a software upgrade. By working more efficiently, you carve out more time to improve the design of the content, prepare content for a wider variety of platforms or simply tackle your Inbox.


  • Use Adjustment layers for performing corrections instead of the commands under the Image>Adjustments menu.
  • Camera raw for quickly editing photos in the camera raw, JPEG and TIFF formats.
  • Image processor, located in Adobe Bridge, for quickly resizing a group of images.

2. Use Visuals For Communication, Not Decoration: Often, the workflow for creating training content involves a lot of writing-from outlines and learning objectives to quiz questions and PowerPoint slides. Then, at the last minute, a few generic stock photos are slapped on to liven up the material. Unfortunately, this is detrimental for the learner and an inefficient method of communicating an idea, technique or concept. Visual content, including photos, videos, infographics and illustrations are powerful methods of communicating and using them merely as eye-candy is a missed opportunity. Secondly, adding more to the page increases cognitive overload and may pull attention away from valuable learning content. For more information on cognitive overload in a learning situation, be sure to read Mayer and Moreno’s research. (Tip: Their findings prove that learners learn more poorly when a presenter reads their PowerPoint slides.)


  • Eliminate unnecessary visual information in a photo through the use of cutouts, blur or creative cropping. 
  • Iris blur in Photoshop CS6 and Gaussian Blur applied to a masked area within an image are effective for reducing distractions.
  • The Refine Mask commands are critical for smoothing mask edges and making selected areas blend with surrounding material.

3. Put the “Design” Back in Instructional Design: While client facing publications receive all the love, attention and outside designers, it’s important to remember that employees and internal staff deserve to receive cleanly designed, visually interesting materials as well. Emphasizing design and effective visual communication reinforces the message that the training material is important to the company and deserves to receive one’s full attention. To make the process more efficient on the design side, I recommend relying heavily on the corporate design standards (colors, typefaces, style guides, etc.) and building reusable libraries of common items (slide blanks, layouts, icons & buttons) to ensure consistency throughout all communications. Having access to a shared library of photos is valuable as you can pull from the professionally-produced images used in ads and catalogs without having to resort to the use of generic stock images.


  • Use solid color layers, gradient maps and creative design techniques to focus attention to the instructional aspects of an image or put a fresh face on a generic stock photo. 
  • Develop an “icons stack” to quickly create, and modify, commonly used items like buttons or navigational elements. Create a single document with each icon variation as a Smart Object. Consider using Layer Comps to identify each of the buttons and their states (up, over, down). When a change is required, it’s easy to apply it throughout the stack, updating the full suite of icons in a few minutes.

4. Multi-media & Multi-platform: Training, like all other forms of communication requires a multi-platform approach and, benefits significantly from drawing upon different modes of visual communication (photos, video, motion graphics, illustrations, infographics). A savvy designer will select the media type that best communicates the message and, will mix and match to reinforce key concepts and support a variety of learning types. In thinking about how your content is delivered, adopt a “user-centered” design mentality. Rather than shoehorning Web based content onto a smartphone, consider how users consume content on a smartphone. What unique interface limitations or conventions do we need to consider? What environmental or use factors will alter the content presented? This will lead you to make better decisions about how, and where, your content is delivered.


  • Use Smart Objects to preserve the flexibility and resolution-independence of items to minimize the amount of work that needs to be redone when repurposing content for a different platform or display size. 
  • To quickly edit and color-correct video clips, give Photoshop a try. Support for video in Photoshop CS6 has improved significantly. For serious video editing, you’ll still need a capable editing application like Final Cut X, or Premiere Pro, but Photoshop can often prove more than adequate for small jobs. Be sure to export your videos in the .MP4 format with H.264 encoding to ensure your video can be viewed on mobile devices and tablets.

5. Work Well With Others: Our work is increasingly multi-disciplinary and we all must wear many hats in our professions. I’ve been impressed by Adobe’s mentality in developing the latest editions of the Creative Suite of applications, now offered as part of the Creative Cloud. Adobe seems to understand that roles are changing considerably. Print designers now need to design Web content, photographers are now shooting video and producing motion graphics, and, wherever possible, Adobe is working to make the transition as comfortable and familiar as possible. They’ve provided deep links for working between applications and it pays to brush up on ways your workflow can be improved.


  • Copy and paste paths between Photoshop and Illustrator. I find, generating vector art is much simpler when working between the two applications. They each have their own strengths and limitations and working between the two, you can quickly produce some great work. 
  • Use Layer Comps for Adobe Captivate. In Captivate 6, you can now import Layer Comps from Adobe Photoshop. Layer Comps provide a “snapshot” of the active layers and layout in a document, e.g. opening slide, slide 1, etc. In Captivate, Layer Comps appear in the Library allowing you to quickly drag them to the corresponding slides.

I look forward to writing on this topic more in the future and elaborating on these base concepts. In the meantime, I hope this summary is helpful in developing and designing great training content.


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