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]