We designers spend a lot of time worrying about our tools. But tools are just another way we are told we aren’t good enough.
Every tool claims to make you a better designer. Using new tools feels like progress and makes us feel empowered—if you use the latest prototyping app or design software you feel like you’re on top of your game.
However, tools have little affect on the quality of creative work.
Sure, they can improve our efficiency, enable us to produce new formats, and provide other conveniences. New tools are great, and I’m not criticizing any in particular.
But no design software can be creative for you—software can’t choose the right typeface or draw the logo mark for you. The problem solving and final details are what make a design great, and those are completely reliant upon the designer.
If you’re a great designer, you’re still a great designer regardless of whether you use Sketch, Photoshop, Webflow, Framer, Invision Studio, or MS Paint.
Using a great tool won’t make you a better designer. Using a cheap tool won’t make you a worse one. It only effects your efficiency. So yes, you can create great design in MS Paint if you feel so inclined.
But there’s a story in our industry that tools do more.
Every design tool’s website uses a headline with some variation of “make better design”. Every design blog covers these new design tools. Well-known designers tweet about using beta versions and provide testimonials. Even design education pushes new tools. The hype is unavoidable.
But when you buy into the marketing that tools can make you a better designer, you are allowing tools to devalue your unique perspective.
The claim that tools make you a better designer is the same old story designers hear everywhere. If tools are what make us designers, then designers aren’t that valuable. Design is so easy anyone can do it. Templates and themes are cheaper than hiring a designer and just as good. If tools advance far enough, maybe we won’t need designers anymore.
We will always need designers. The formats and assets we produce have been changing for centuries and so have the tools we use to produce them. But no one is even close to writing an algorithm that can replace a designer’s critical thinking and creativity.
And that means that the real driving force behind design is you. Not your tools.
Tools are nothing without you, but without your tools you are still everything.
Don’t let the marketing and hype surrounding tools make you feel inadequate or doubt your value. Don’t buy into the idea that you’re not a good enough designer because you still use Photoshop or haven’t learned prototyping and design systems yet.
What’s important is the unique insight and problem solving ability you provide. Tools can never replace that.
I can’t help but wonder where we’d be if the design industry spent more time developing our designers instead of developing our tools. But next time you see a post about a shiny new tool, remember:
Tools can never make you a better designer because they can never replace you.
Design's Iron Fist is a collection of essays with advice for both design learners and professional designers. It's been featured as one of the best free design books by the Creative Bloq and the AIGA.
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