What if Learning to Use Photoshop Was More Like Learning to Play Portal?

Learning to play a game and learning to use Photoshop follow two, very different patterns. In the first you “discover” how the game is played, you fiddle with the buttons, try combinations, have eureka moments and eventually become proficient at it. Learning Photoshop, on the other hand, requires extensive tutorials and help; books are available from thin “easy-to-use” instruction books to heavy tomes many hundreds of pages long.

But what if learning to use Photoshop was more like learning to play the video game Portal? That’s the question posed by an article on Rands in Repose, and we have to admit they have some intriguing points. They don’t overlook the fact that the purpose of each piece of software is very different, but instead offer the counterpoint that the basis of “gamification” is really just to make being productive and learning an environment more “fun.” Something that applies as much to a complex editing application as it does to a game.

Yes, I’m going to compare Portal and Photoshop. Yes, they reside in two entirely different universes with entirely different motivations. This is about how these two universes should collide and that means what I’m really talking about is gamification. […] there are a lot of folks who think gamification means pulling the worst aspects out of games and shoving them into an application. It’s not. Don’t think of gamification as anything other than clever strategies to motivate someone to learn so they can have fun being productive.

Great design makes learning frictionless. […] In one universe, you sport a handheld Portal gun that cleverly allows you to interrupt physics. In a slightly different universe, you have this tool called a cloning stamp that empowers you to sample and copy any part of a photo. […] Game designers and application designers might exist in different universes, but there is no reason one universe can’t teach the other.

The idea, ultimately, isn’t to take away functionality and in this way make Photoshop simpler; instead what the author suggests is better, more creative design. And if that design leads to a Photoshop that’s just as functional while also being fun to learn, well, we probably wouldn’t complain.

Two Universes [Rands in Repose]

  • Renato Murakami

    I think it’s a good idea. But along the differences between both, comes the technical problems of applying the concept.

    Here’s the thing: When you’re playing Portal you are presented with a limited set of tools, a limited environment and limited objectives.
    Photoshop on the other hand is not exactly limitless, but for all of three it has a way larger spectrum.
    You have tons of tools, tweaking, ways to work with them. The environment of Photoshop itself might have it’s limits, but the way it’s gonna be used greatly varies on the content presented. And then comes the objective of using Photoshop in the first place… in Portal it’s as simple as solving a puzzle. You have one way most people will do it, and very vew alternate ways.But in Photoshop it’s often the case that there’s no right way, or a limited set of paths to take.In any case, I think it’s possible to apply the gamification idea for the most common usages, or limiting the techniques to package sets… for instance: “retouching set”, “animation set”, “tracing set”, etc.
    Problem is: I don’t really know if it’s possible to do it as an extension, and I don’t know if Adobe would be willing to do something like that.
    It’d be kinda hard to determine an “official set”, it’s kind of an endless thing (the number of sets, and the ammount of work for each update).One alternative method of learning Photoshop is tutorials inserted in story… best one I’ve watched so far is “You Suck at Photoshop”. 
    Anyways, it’s always good to think of alternative ways of teaching and learning stuff.

  • Rajat Paharia

    Adobe is experimenting with using gamification techniques to onboard new Photoshop users. You can read more and see a short demo video here:

  • Sebastian Soto

    I usually learnt a lot about Photoshop using the “videogame method” (as described in this article).