How To Stop Being A Lazy Designer


From working with wide range of projects, I have learned one thing: designers are lazy (sometimes myself included). Most often it comes from our desire to get a quick signoff and move on with the next project. While several posts could have been written on this, I offer here a few suggestions guaranteed to make things at least a little bit easier in the end:

  • Name your layers and folders.
    What the heck do “Layer 234″ and “Block Right Copy 23″ mean? Have you ever tried to work with someone else’s files and find that one layer within several hundreds of them?
  • Make sure you cover most case scenarios.
    Nothing can be worse for integration developers to guess how something needs to look or interact. Design for the worst case scenario first and only then look at the best case scenario — you are always good at that!
  • One file to rule them all.
    By using one Photoshop file and doing all work there, your edits will be easier and you will avoid the duplication of work. Layer Comps have been invented for a reason – use them!
  • Don’t use perfect images.
    Are you using great looking images to hide the flaws of your design? Consider your job well done only when you can sell your stunning design to the client with any kind of image in it.

None of these suggestions require major effort, right? By turning them into habits you can simply later work and make friends down the project line! The world becomes such a better place!

Do you have any suggestions for those lazy designers?

About the author

Jānis Lanka1, equal parts entrepreneur, designer, and coder, enjoys the hybrid perspective that comes with this multiple identity. Captivated by innovation, he is particularly drawn to fresh thinking in areas such as entrepreneurship, e-commerce, marketing, design and user-interface. Currently he is heading front-end department at Elastic Path Software2.

Editor’s note

This post is one of the winners of our guest author contest3. Over three weeks selected top-10-lists and discussion articles will be published. To rate the articles we’ll analyze their popularity, users activity, quality of backlinks, traffic and further data.


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  1. 1

    Naming Layers in PS is really a big deal – can’t live without anymore! Good article, perhaps a bit short … maybe you could have written on the solutions more detailed, e.g. sorting the fikles and folders etc.


  2. 2

    yea, i accept this

  3. 3

    Agreed. My layers and folders are a complete mess. Maybe I’ll work on that in the coming days :)

  4. 4

    If we have no option to use images, we can use the typography it will show the difference …. Its wright …..

  5. 5

    It is so powerful to name & group the layers + assign color to the layers and groups. It is cruel everytime I open older psd files from colleagues without any sorting & naming.
    Work with the files, that every other designer understand what is what.

    The article is good – first steps to create structured files.

  6. 6

    Come on SM were these really the best articles? The reason you have so many subscribers is because you publish genuinely interesting and thorough articles – this is neither.

  7. 7

    wow – i guess i don’t work with the same files over and over and i am kind of used to being the only designer working on my files, so they tend to make sense to me, but i generally have millions and millions of layers, and it would take me 4 times as long to get something done if i would have to name every layer… point definitely taken though, and i do agree that is definitely a good thing when working on a team…

  8. 8

    I find it rather hard to work with only one big .psd. These things can get really huge :-)
    Great post, anyway.

  9. 9

    Don’t use perfect images.

    Can you elaborate on this point please? Are you referring to, for example, imagery used in content that may have been entered by the client using a CMS?


  10. 10

    nothing worse than comming to use a psd some one else has made, and having to spend a few hours naming hte layers and folders!

  11. 11

    Lazy… sorta true. But most designers I know are workaholics… the “laziness” comes from having too much work to do because the project is underbid and more work needs to come in to pay the bills. Moving on to the next project is a direct result of undervalued work and unrealistic deadlines.

  12. 12

    One file to rule them all.
    By using one Photoshop file and doing all work there, your edits will be easier and you will avoid the duplication of work. Layer Comps have been invented for a reason – use them!

    It seems like u dont really use allot of layers. each web design i build consist over more than 1000 layers per preview. And the longer u have photoshop open the more memory it will swallow untill it runs so bad and u wished it didnt store it all in one file.

  13. 13

    My scariest freelance job EVER involved working on someone else’s Photoshop file that had more than 100 un-named layers, on a ridiculous deadline, with studio owner asking me every 5 minutes IS IT DONE? and there I am, clicking the little eyeball icon on and off for each layer, searching for the ones I had to edit. Just assume that you will not be the only one to work on your file, and make it idiot-proof for the next person down the line. The world will definitely be a better place.

  14. 14

    Seems like the designer that wrote this article is being somewhat lazy too by asking for more suggestions on top of 4 others that were suggested by said writer. :P

    How about not using Photoshop and perhaps Fireworks? With a faster workflow, things get done much quicker, which I’m sure is tempting for even the laziest of web designers.

  15. 15

    Layer comps are generally a pain as they are great when you first set them up but as soon as you start moving/editing/adding layers they break down. I understand the theory and was pretty excited to try them out but left them after finding out they break so easily.

    Totally agree with grouping/coloring/naming layers. Also deleting unused layers. Another nice thing is to use folder masks for images so the next person to use the file can drop images into the folder and they are always cropped the same. Try not to render text either if possible so that the next person can use the same file.

    Agree with Eddie though – psd file can get pretty big on large projects. Not always possible to use one file.

  16. 16

    How about using vector shapes in Photoshop and not flattening them? Everything should be editable that was created in Photoshop. Seriously, how hard is it to use vector shapes? They do just about everything Illustrator can do, only not so willy-nilly.

    Organizing and naming layers and folders is a must, I can’t believe people still do the Untitled-1 thing.

    Also too, why isn’t everyone using Layer Comps?! They save you so much time in prototyping stages.

    There is a difference in being a lazy designer and being a smart and efficient one. Using and saving out sets of actions, layer styles, brushes, gradients, keyboard shortcuts, and everything else is a smart way to work.

    In essence, lazy people should learn to love the built in efficiency provided by Photoshop.

  17. 17

    Add to that:

    * Using vector shapes instead of rastered layers.
    * Ensuring to line up elements to a grid or guides (to full pixels too!)
    * Use intelligent cropping ratios on pictures (I’m currently favouring 16:10. Using a ratio enables re-use across the site in multiple sizes).
    * Collect fonts, graphic, picture and logo assets so other designers can re-use and find everything easier.

    Good housekeeping will eventually make your own job easier, especially when re-using rejected layouts on other projects!

  18. 18

    Nice concept for an article, but it reads like an unfinished first draft. Was there some kind of 300 word limit?

    That said, a few of my own suggestions:

    Always take the time for clean, organized CSS files, with comment to help clarify clear sections. SM has some great articles on this, but I’m amazed how often I come across horrific CSS that takes forever to decipher.

    Start with high-resolution files, even if you don’t think you’ll need them. Often I’ve worked on something for the web and created low-res art, only to have someone later request a banner-sized version of the art down the road. Whenever possible now, I like to start with the highest-res possible source art and keep those files as SmartObjects in Photoshop, just in case the art ever needs to be used for print.

    Do logo design in Illustrator, not Photoshop. You never know what someone will want to do with a logo: signs? t-shirts? umbrellas? Vector art > Bitmapped art. There’s nothing worse than having to work in a non-vector logo.

  19. 19

    What about the new photoshop tools like “smart objects”, it has really improved the order in my files.
    And another tip that works great 4 me is to use adjustment layers, is more effective than changing the tones or colors and you can always readjust them.

    …Almost forgot the shorcuts, cant work without them.

  20. 20

    Layer Styles, Smart Objects, and Paths: All of these items make editing the comps later so much easier. Translating the design over to the web becomes so much eaiser because you can actually get the correct values out of the layer styles for the stroke, shadow, etc.

  21. 21

    @all – thanks for all your suggestions so far! I wish I could have included more suggestions, but there was a limit in how long it could be. I am writing a follow up on this which would include way more suggestions.

    @Mark Priestap – I absolutely agree, but that is a whole another topic on how to bill and manage your project outside just PSD. But it has been a problem I have faced before, for sure.

    @V1 – I’m making assumption that powerful computers are being used. Every time I get a new computer I’m shocked how much RAM is a “standard” these days. By suggesting to use one file I am not suggesting to do that all the time. There are exceptions, like what you said, where file is too big and it takes too slow to work with it. But try to keep it as few as possible.

    @Peter Bishop – try first working with folders. Then finish with CompLayers.

    @KS – vector shapes is a good one. Wanted to include this, too, but was not enough space . Next article…

    @Matt P – there was a limit. This is a content guest entry. Hopefully soon enough I will be able to follow up with a much more detailed one.

  22. 22

    I can’t tell you how important this is as a non-designer that has to work with PSDs. Please label everything and be as descriptive as possible.

  23. 23

    I have the unfortunate problem of layer run-off. IE: 1000 plus layers makes for slowness…. Labeling each layer is redundant for me, so I batch things together in folders, and label the folders.

  24. 24

    Firstly – I don’t think labelling designers as lazy will get you any brownie points. I’ll have you know myself and most other designers I know work our bollocks off. If you’re going to base a full article on this assumption, please cover more bases. 4 half-arsed points is not justifiable.

    Yes you should label Photoshop folders/layers well. It makes a big deal when working on someone else’s PSD file. You made 1 good point – congratulations.

  25. 25

    Most people in any sort of professional environment already do these things.. More concrete suggestions and more in-depth descriptions would be helpful.

  26. 26

    @Fernandez – I have seen many ecommerce designs where designers use very clean and beautiful product images. Great, right? Of course, designs look so much better where there are great big stock images used. However, when you look at the layout itself, it’s nothing impressive. But all those images are temporary ones there. Once the website is coded and client needs to look for real images, they usually tend to use lower quality images (b/c they don’t hire designers all the time to do everything from A to Z) and thus suddenly the whole website looks unimpressive. Will follow up with a more detailed article pretty soon – stay tuned!

    @Nathan Beck – working as a designer for many years I have seen a lot of hard work done by fellow-designers. However, my suggestions are not taking that long to implement and should not be avoided with excuses like lack of time.

  27. 27

    One file to rule them all is great advice until that file gets big and complicated. As the layer count climbs, Photoshop’s ability to cope with it decreases until you’re spending more time loading or saving the file than you are working on it.

    I often find it easier to work in a smaller, less complex file containing only what I need right now.

    The other advice is sound though.

  28. 28

    Too lazy to name layers.

  29. 29

    Another LAME article, this is really borring!, come on SM! put something tasty!.

  30. 30

    How to stop being a lazy writer..

  31. 31

    I could have written this.

  32. 32

    @18: What does CSS have to do with working in Photoshop/Illustrator? I don’t see the author talking about web dev. anywhere in this article.

  33. 33

    lol @ #30.

  34. 34

    Layer Comps are a pain.
    I think your article is funny but not serious.

    an illustrator

  35. 35

    did you never experienced the pressure of a deadline?

    when the chips are down, i rather have my project finished instead of having my layers named

  36. 36

    Layer Comps tend to be a problem with big files. I’ve had a lot of experience with them and the problem is that they’ll eat up memory and slow things down to a crawl when you’ve got hundreds of layers. However, my experience is based on a max of 4gb ram (both in OSX and Windows). Maybe someone with more (and a 64bit OS) can comment?

    Guido Rosso

  37. 37

    Agreed with Olly, didn’t notice you’d pretty much already said it.

  38. 38

    I agree with Olly as well. And layer comps are pretty cumbersome from an organizational standpoint.

  39. 39

    Can someone explain why Layer Comps are useful? I know what they are for but the big problem for me is that I’ll setup my layer comps, then I add a new layer for something and the layer comps no longer work! Am I doing something wrong here?

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  41. 41

    Short and sweet.

    I try to keep my work very re-editable. Using CSS and using good semantics on the web has seriously helped my DTP and Word Processed work as well.

    I guess a simple way to put it is, if I were to be hit on the head an loose my memory of my work for the past 2 years could I pick it up and follow on?

    Another point is keeping things live rather than baking in. I use layer styles in Photoshop and appearance in Illustrator. Our branch company just moved to use the main office styling. By reworking the styles and applying them directly to my existing re-usable diagrams I have saved huge amounts of grief.

  42. 42

    I agree with some of this. Naming layers and files is extremely important to me. Every good studio I’ve worked with has a versioning scheme. Mostly for us it’s a version, sub version, and all old versions are put into an ” Archive” (note the space to put it at the top of a list) folder in the same folder as the working file.

    The piece about images, however, I do not agree with. Yes it’s important to realise that the image you design with might not be the only image you ever use but that’s only true if it’s content. If it’s part of the design this obviously would not apply. However, the “would work with any image” is not accurate. A good design is supposed to match a tone, a theme. Images of Daisy Duck are not going to fit in a Rob Zombie page. You need to design for images that meet your tone.

  43. 43

    SM, I’m a faithful follower, but I have a suggestion for future contests: Please impose a 1200 word minimum instead of a 1200 character maximum (or whatever it was). That should weed out the get rich quick type writers and make for more interesting articles. No offense to Janis or any of the other authors… I considered cranking out a quick top 10 list for my chance to win a MacAir, but that’s offering quite a big incentive for not much effort. There are plenty of blogs that specialize in posting 3 line “discussion” posts, and I usually quit visiting them once I see it become a pattern. I just expect more from Smashing.

  44. 44

    Jesus guys, stop whining. Use the move tool and right click on any given spot > Select the layer. Boom, your done!

  45. 45

    Name your layers? I get pissed off when people tell me to name my layers… if I were to name every stupid layer I create it would take me more time than building the file!

    USE right click, thats what it is for.

  46. 46

    @Eric – I would have been more keen to writing a 1200 word one, than 1200 character one. The funny thing is, I do have a draft for a longer one and I had to shorten it down to insane shortness.

    @Rasmus – doesn’t work that way in PhotoShop if you have few folders within folders. It will only select the main parent folder and not the specific layer.

  47. 47

    Using one Photoshop file promotes laziness, I’d say. File sizes would become unmanageable and slow, and if you’re working in a group environment, this is a bad call, too. People within a collaborative team need to know what file version you’re working on, and vice versa. One file does not support that.

    The post is short, and doesn’t really hit any points of pain. Rather, it just makes pain by leaving readers want more, all thanks to the ambiguity. Nice try.

  48. 48

    I really dont find any value in this article at all, Apart from the naming layers “tip”, its pretty average. As for one photoshop file with layer comps, this becomes completely useless when working an large scale websites etc. And developers tend to hate turning on/off layers in a PS file. Just try and be more organised and develop each PSD clearly and well named.
    Dont use perfect images? Selling it to a client is just that, “Selling it”. In my experience, clients are visual people, and showing them crap and telling them why it works so well just doesnt seem to cut it.

    Very poor article imo, sorry.

  49. 49

    This article actually won?

  50. 50

    @Janis – I hear ya. I’m sure it’s tough to try to cram a bunch of info into 1200 characters.

  51. 51

    * Even before beginning with a new design / job, first get rid of all the previous designs, notes, and drawings from the old job or you get stuck with influences from the previous work. Clean up your computer desktop and create a structured folder for the new job on your computer or server

    * Use Smart Layers; This will make the work flow easier and quicker. Buttons that are used multiple times can be edited in one quick design fix. This will also guarantee a uniform design.

    * Use Rulers / Guides and snap them right on the pixel. If you don’t snap your ruler correct you will see so called “feather lines” in your design. these “feather lines” may look something is out of a grid by half a pixel. Hail To the pixel fuckers!

    * Know the standards! This means when designing something for in HTML or designing an application in Flash or even C# or C++ All these languages have many different standards and boundaries to work with. You will need to dive into the standards before you even begin.

    * Take a break!!! it’s not good for you and bad for the creative mind to just sit and design to your death. Take every 1,5 / 2 hours a five minute walk to clear your head.No really!!! Take an apple!

  52. 52

    exelenct and so true^^

  53. 53

    Here’s a tip when having to find one layer among dozens or hundreds. Create a new layer and fill it with a contrasting color to that of the image you’re trying to find (this only works if the image is currently visible). Move this “helper” layer up and down through the layers (I like to start somewhere in the middle) until you either cover or reveal the image. Presto, you’ve found the elusive layer! This is much preferred to clicking the eyeball icon a hundred times until you come to the right one.

  54. 54

    Actually u ar right, good point in that, but I think there are much more things,,,we have think over them and add)

  55. 55

    With the move tool selected, hold cmd (cntrl) then left click on the graphic/text/image that you are trying to locate. It should jump right to it in the layers palette.

  56. 56

    Thanks for this article. Smashing Magazine is for new and old designers alike, and it’s all to easy to forget to repeat the fundamentals for the inexperienced (or lazy). Even though the article was short, it paved the way for many comments here with additional advice. Good joint effort all in :)

  57. 57

    The theme was good, but the content was too short.
    Grammar was a little off, doesn’t SM proof-read the articles?

  58. 58

    pretty good article. Sure it could have been longer but its short, hitting and effective because from now on I will name my layers. Thanks so much. Is there an email to contact the author somewhere? Cheers

  59. 59

    @V1 – I’m making assumption that powerful computers are being used. Every time I get a new computer I’m shocked how much RAM is a “standard” these days. By suggesting to use one file I am not suggesting to do that all the time. There are exceptions, like what you said, where file is too big and it takes too slow to work with it. But try to keep it as few as possible.

    Stop beeing lazy and do research before u do “assumptions”,
    I’m using the latest apple mac book pro, upgraded as high as possible and it using layer comps the way u say simply sucks.

    Also, the title says: how to stop being a lazy designer, stuffing all your pages in to layercomps so u only have to work with one file….. * cough * lazy * cough *


    If u want rapid development using layer comps, go work with Fireworks, that is what its been build for, and for a reason.

  60. 60

    Good one, if you’re a complete newbie. The four things you mentioned are everyone’s who made more than few .PSD-s habit, I believe.

  61. 61

    I’m a Creative Director for an interactive agency and some of the fundamental practices I always try to communicate and instill in new hires (designers largely) is definately the lay/group naming — it drives me batty when I see production files that have “Layer 123″ or “Copy of Layer 123 copy”. Takes less time overall to name the layer than it does to explain what the layer is for later.

    I definately do not agree with this one: “One file to rule them all.”

    Ever try to design and develop an enterprise site with a minimum of 100 pages? It’s only practical if you’re designing a site less thatn 15 pages, not to mention the headache it causes for developers who try to find the right folders and layers for “Products and services 2.1.1, etc. etc.” — please, some common sense here.

  62. 62

    At our office we use color coding for our layers in photoshop, logo layers are green, text layers are red, blue for images, yellow for photos and grey for a canvas, now you can quick find certain layers in your document.

  63. 63

    @bruno byington – send me a message on Twittter at

  64. 64

    @leenx – this is excellent suggestion!

  65. 65

    saquen un articulo que sea “como explotar a los diseñadores graficos y cambiarse la dentadura a una de platino”

  66. 66

    Next article on smashingmagazine is going to be about how one should name folders with an accurate description of what they hold. This is getting silly.

  67. 67

    Patrick van Oostrom

    August 13, 2008 3:19 am

    As developer from RUnic-Design, I will send this link to our lead designer for sure. The most annoying thing on earth for a developer is to go into the CSS files, and try to add missing elements to it. This usually is the case with forms or lists.

    This article, and the whole site itself is a godsend, and will be passed on to our designing team.

  68. 68

    This article has inspired me to share some of my own great tips:

    1. Separate your mugs from your cups
    Nothing can be worse then putting coffee in a mug when you wanted it in a cup.

    2. Untie your shoelaces
    This means your shoes will be slightly easier to take off.

  69. 69

    Don’t rush in. Start as you mean to go on and it will make any project infinitely easier.

    Taking an organised approach to your work by using and naming Layers and Layer Sets appropriately makes it much easier for other designers to work on your files. The Digital guys who have the pleasure of taking your designs and turning them into a website will also become your best friends!

    In terms of web design I don’t agree with 1 file ruling them all! A website typically contains several pages each containing several layers. Get sign off on your core page templates then produce separate files for separate pages or at least sections of the website and become best friends with your producer or project manager by numbering your designs based on the wireframes you used when producing your designs.

    Organisation makes life easier and projects more profitable. Good times all round.

  70. 70

    Cmmon we all know how to organize the works.No more articles like this please.I m gr8 fan of SM but not with articles like this

  71. 71

    We get new designers/developers straight out of college and have to make the “unlearn” all the crud that people teach. One of the first things we tell them is not to waste time naming their flipping photoshop layers. In a real production environment, that is a time luxury you cant afford. Much better to learn how to use ctrl-click and right-click effectively. I’d rather be handed a design in two hours with nothing named, than get handed a perfectly sorted and colour coded design after two days.

    I’m also starting to lose faith in Smashing with all this user-submitted crud. I used to look forward to each new post. Is their a way to filter out all these tiny nothing posts? I thought that’s what the side blog was for?

  72. 72

    Hi Janis,

    Nice to see you “still going aheadf”

    Requirement to write short article does sound Insane, because you’ve already wrote more text in comments that in article itself :)

  73. 73

    To label every layer is a total madness. It’s a COMPLETE waste of time, which can be approved ONLY if many people will work with those psd files. Eventually AFTER a finished project you can go over and name properly your layers but in the course of work – obviously this designer has never done some more complex layout

    About the images – again very stupid idea. Nice images sell the design easier. This is a marketing approach and is a totally “must do” thing

  74. 74

    stupid we are not lazy.. do you know designing is not everyones cup of tea…
    like developers.. i think u got an answer

  75. 75

    I’m surprised that only two people mentioned smart objects. I have to say that I do not agree with the “one file to rule them all” suggestion—our designers LOVE to make lots of layers, resulting in PSDs with very large file sizes. So when I need to go into a design because a designer didn’t account for every scenario, or because I need to export a graphic, it can take 6 minutes to open a file with 3 different pages built in.

    Sure, it will be faster for the designer, but they aren’t simultaneously running a browser, Office, Flash, and Eclipse in order to do their job.

  76. 76

    Late to this party…

    …I never name my layers while working. When deadlines are tight and I’m creating, deleting, duplicating and merging layers, naming every one of them is often pointless and takes too much time.

    I’m a lead designer for a web company…my coworkers are all very organized and do things by the books with lots of shape layers and smart objects and named layers…and it only takes them twice as long to get a finished project out the door…

    Grouping layers, however, is a god send. I’ll group layers and name the groups..and if I’m passing the design off to someone I’ll label them all…but if it’s just me and it’s gotta be done NOW…all bets are off!

  77. 77

    What is really happening here? ,

  78. 78

    Now, if you or I tried to get this E. ,

  79. 79

    I agree with everyone here. ,


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