Elance Blog

Top Design Skills

It’s hard to post a project if you don’t know what you want. What may not be as obvious, especially for design projects, is a secondary – but nearly as important – consideration: How do you want your project developed? Knowing what you want done and which application you’d like to be used helps ensure your deliverable fits your current – and possibly your future – needs.

Different applications create different end products, so let’s take a look at some of the more common design applications. Keep in mind this is merely intended to be an overview: Hundreds of books have been written describing the uses of each application.

1. Adobe Photoshop
Photoshop is a graphics editor used primarily for manipulating images. (Want to put your face on another person’s body? Use Photoshop.) Technically speaking Photoshop is a pixel drawing program used mainly to create and edit images with complex texture and shading, like photographs and paintings. Users can also add graphic elements like text and drawings, but those capabilities are somewhat less robust than in other applications like Adobe Illustrator, which we’ll look at next.

Common uses of Photoshop include:

Editing images
Photoshop was initially developed to design and edit images, allowing users to repeatedly edit images and save them repeatedly without losing quality. Photoshop isn’t just for “airbrushing,” though: users can crop, sharpen, correct color… a skilled Photoshop user can work miracles with even the worst photographs. Photoshop revolutionized photography, and even long-term photographers can no longer imagine their professional lives without it.

Web design
Designers can incorporate photos, clip art, and vectors and images. Web developers can then use the design files to create the actual website pages and elements.

Graphic design
While many graphic designers use Adobe Illustrator for graphic design, Photoshop is also commonly used for simpler projects like posters, advertisements, and one-page flyers. Because Photoshop allows you to “bend” images, it can also be used to see how images and elements will appear on three-dimensional items.

The most recent version is Photoshop CS3. If you have Photoshop 6.0 and your provider uses CS3, simply ask them to “save down” to your version of Photoshop. Or if you need to provide files to another party, make sure to ask which version they support.

Find a Photoshop professional

2. Adobe Illustrator
Illustrator is like a highly cooperative brother of Photoshop. Photoshop is primarily geared toward digital photo manipulation and photorealistic styles of illustration, while Illustrator is the better application for working with text, layouts, and graphics. For example, a designer creating a magazine page will typically edit photographs in Photoshop and then import them into an Illustrator layout where text and other graphic elements will be added and manipulated.

Illustrator creates vector graphics. Vector graphics uses points, lines, curves, and shapes based on mathematical equations to represent images. Since Illustrator is vector-based, elements do not become blurry or pixilated when enlarged. (Pixel-based elements, like photos, will become blurry as they’re enlarged.) So, if your new logo was developed using Illustrator, you can blow it up to billboard size without losing any image quality. If you post a project for a new business identity package – logo, stationery, business cards, etc – ensuring your deliverable is vector-based provides the ultimate flexibility in how you’ll use your new designs.

Common uses of Illustrator include:

  • Logos
  • Stationery
  • Brochures and catalogs
  • Drawings and cartoons

The most recent version is Illustrator CS3. Again, specify which version you’d like files saved to.

Find an Illustrator professional

3. Adobe Flash
Flash is a popular technology for adding animation and interactivity to web pages. Adobe Flash – known as Macromedia Flash until it was acquired by Adobe in 1995 - is used to create animations, advertisements, and a variety of web components like games and video for both web and cell phone use. Common uses of Flash include:

Animations (including images that rotate on a periodic basis).
    • Video
    • Games
    • Advertisements

The most recent version is Adobe Flash CS3.

Keep in mind there are potential drawbacks to using Flash. Bandwidth can be a problem. Flash applications can be large and slow to download… and some people won’t wait while the application loads. Make sure your developer optimizes your Flash applications as much as possible.

On the other hand, Flash is great for adding animation, games, and video to your site, and if those features are important to your visitors, use it! If the application serves no real purpose other than to look pretty, don’t.

Find a Flash developer

4. Adobe Dreamweaver
Dreamweaver was also a Macromedia product until purchased by Adobe in 2005. Dreamweaver is an application used to create websites.

Because Dreamweaver uses a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) html editor, inexperienced users can create pages and manage their sites and servers without knowing html. At the same time, just because you can drive a car doesn’t mean you can compete in Formula 1; if you want a website that looks professional and functions flawlessly, a skilled Dreamweaver provider is a necessity.

Dreamweaver is arguably the most popular full-featured web authoring software available. On the other hand, if you need a blog, an application like WordPress may be a better choice.

Find a WordPress provider

A major advantage to having your site designed in Dreamweaver is its popularity; you’ll have thousands of skilled providers to choose from if you want to modify, expand or redesign your site in later years.

If you’re thinking of building a new website, check out Patrick Bennett’s article Top Web 2.0 Programming & Design Skills for more tips.

The most recent version is Dreamweaver CS3.

Find a Dreamweaver developer

One quick caveat: While it is certainly important that your project be delivered using the application that best suits your needs, in some cases the application used isn’t as important as the outcome. Say, for example, you need a poster – if you’ll never edit or modify the poster down the road, your primary concern is that the poster meets your creative and print needs. The application is less important.

On the other hand, if you need a catalog and you’ll update your catalog every three months, ensuring the application is right for your needs both today and tomorrow is vital. In that case, choose a provider who meets your creative needs and who also uses the right applications for your business needs.



I wanted to say that I think this article is fabulous!

I just saw it when I was researching e-lance. I need marketing materials, logo, everything and I didn't know how to go about it. I didn't know the difference between Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. I actually thought everything was better in Workshop. I am so glad that I found out about this before I started my project. You really took a lot of time and effort in writing this great article. You have helped me a lot so I am grateful to you.

Hope to see more of your articles. Bravo!