Choosing Design Software When You're Not a Designer


You’re an entrepreneur with an amazing idea, and you want to tell the world about it with some visual magic. Your options are to pay a designer to do this work for you (scoff, amirite?) or to dip your own proprietary toes into the teeming, frothy waters of design. Well, I’m here to tell you that, as uninviting as those waters may seem, committing some time to learning an Adobe program will prove invaluable. In even more exciting news, you need only invest in one single Adobe program to become a rousing success in every design project your mouse-hand touches.

So then, which one do you choose?




Who’s it for?

Photographers, digital artists & illustrators, retailers, literally nobody else

Aww, really? Why just those cool cats?

These folks use Photoshop already for color correcting photos and product images, creating product renderings, and illustrating. There’s really no need to invest in an additional Adobe program, as long as you’re using Photoshop carefully.

How easy is it to use Photoshop for print and web design?

Pretty difficult. Especially for print design. Even seasoned designers often struggle with creating print designs in Photoshop. There are quite a few specific guidelines to follow when setting up a document for print. Because Photoshop is a raster-based program (meaning that it uses pixels instead of mathematical curves to create objects), you must input exactly the right pixel dimensions when setting up your document. For large documents, such as a print poster, this means very large file sizes, in the hundreds-of-megabytes range. It’s doable, though not ideal for print work. Check out my post on setting up design documents in Photoshop to make that whole process easier.




Who’s it for?

Publishers, zine-makers, writers, architects, retailers again, whoever in your company puts that NEWS BLAST together, accountants & bookkeepers

Why them?

InDesign is a great program for long-form content, like books, catalogs, or portfolios. Clean and easy-to-use pages and spreads let you visualize how your document will look in print, and margins applied right in document setup give you a framework within which to build your designs. Pro InDesign users take advantage of Master Pages, a functionality similar to the Master Slide in Microsoft Powerpoint. Master Pages let you apply consistent headers and footers, as well as dynamic content, such as auto-updating page numbers. This is super useful for setting up customizable templates, such as invoices, POs, BOLs, and probably some other acronyms.

How easy is it to use InDesign for print and web design?

Pretty easy! Especially for print. InDesign is a vector-based program, making text output much simpler than in Photoshop. It wasn’t really intended for web design, but an understanding of pixel dimensions and resolution will let you create just about anything you would need. As with Photoshop, I wrote up a helpful little guide to print document setup in InDesign.




Who’s it for?

Everybody. Every single person this post has reached, including those of you who stumbled upon this blog by accident (hello, strangers looking for photos of Muhammad Ali!). That includes illustrators (no doy), bloggers, web & mobile app startups, pet store owners, podcasters, bands, buskers, pet store cashiers, your grandparents, your other grandparents who you don’t really talk to except during holidays and then only out of a sense of obligation, pet store dwellers (often called "pets"), design students (I don't believe there's enough of a focus on Illustrator in most design majors, so do your career a favor and teach yourself), architects and retailers again (hey y’all). Ah, Illustrator. Be still, my heart.

Wow, why is Illustrator so cool?

Illustrator is optimized for both print and web output. It’s the industry standard vector-based design software. If it was done correctly, your logo was built in Illustrator. If it was built in any other program, you need a new designer and I know a great one.

How easy is it to use Illustrator for print and web design?

Very easy. Not only is Illustrator super simple to learn, you can go from creating a Facebook page header to designing your next print ad with just a couple of minor setup tweaks. Check out my guide to setting up documents for web and print in Illustrator.


While Adobe Illustrator is the best design program for business owners, InDesign and Photoshop can be used successfully with the right settings. Slide into that comment section and lemme know what you use and why.