Creative Ways to Learn Creative Suite?
November 28, 2011 9:10 PM   Subscribe

I'm slowly trying to learn Adobe Creative Suite 5. Dreamweaver right now, but eventually Photoshop, and beyond. And I'm having the devil of a time. The books I've seen provide detailed reference, not early learner's concepts or graded tutorials. Videos overpower my 13" laptop screen, and provide me with no simultaneous practice, nor any easy future reference. Randomly Googled tutorials are better, but I've yet to find a graded series. I'm just looking for the Basics, at a very conceptual level, and I figure trial and error and a good reference book will lead me from there. Do your know of any low- or no-cost graded tutorials?

I'm partial to print that I can use to guide my onscreen practice OR an onscreen tutorial where I could play around on a real screen following directions provided ... someplace else. (e.g. the kind of on-screen learning/testing you get at placement agencies with MS Office Suite, or the kind of thing I vaguely remember used to be available on CD).

My learning methodologies thus far:

* Playing Around: This begets enormous frustration.

* Using One of (the only two) Book Series I Was Able to Locate at B&N: I've tried to follow the Visual Quickstart Books, but it turns out each entire book in the series is intended to be your quick start! Completing individual chapters was painstaking, so these will be great for future reference, but not for my needs now.

* Online Video Training: I have access to online, which provides video software training (though not always the latest) online; I've also watched the mini software training videos Adobe provides. To remember what I've seen, I'd have to rewatch them, however. (This drives me nuts! Videos provide no quick ways to jog the memory!)

* Print Tutorials with Files, et al.: I've used one tutorial, also provided by Adobe. I liked this method best, but it required a lot of ink. I wouldn't mind the ink expenditures, however, if I could find a series of tutorials that would ground me in the basics.

Final caveat: Alas, money is in short supply. If it weren't I would have just taken a class long ago.
posted by Violet Blue to Technology (17 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Are you sure you can't afford a class? I don't know where you are, but in CA a junior college class can be under $75. If that's out of your price range, consider hiring a student to tutor you, or asking a child of a friend who's good with computers. You could learn a *lot* in just a few sessions.

I think it's also worth thinking about what you want to learn. Dreamweaver can be used two ways:

"WYSIWYG" (What you see is what you get): You pick things off a menu and see them appear on screen. Of course this is never *exactly* what you'll get in various browsers, but it will be close. People scorn this method, but it's effective for non-programmers who want to do basic things.*

However, in "Code" mode, you actually write or at least see HTML. If you were to learn just a little HTML and CSS, you could then code a website in Dreamweaver or any other program. This is the way too go if you're not totally uncomfortable with the idea of writing code.

*I'm a professional web developer myself, but I actually learned a lot from Dreamweaver when I was first starting. I'd put it in "split screen" mode, pick something off a menu, then see the code that was generated. Then I'd know the code going forward and start writing it myself. Not a perfect method, but effective to learn the basics.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:30 PM on November 28, 2011

Best answer: Can you specify what your goal is in learning this software? Unless I missed it, I didn't see you mention this. It might help with giving you a direction. You can learn how to use a hammer, but without two boards to nail together, your understanding won't be very complete.

I learned my Photoshop etc. primarily by trial and error with a specific goal in mind. I wanted to colour a drawing, I wanted to build a website, I wanted to put type onto a picture of a cat... What do you want to do?
posted by TangoCharlie at 9:44 PM on November 28, 2011

I love the tutsplus network of sites. They have specific sites for photoshop (psdtuts), for webdesign, and for Illustrator (vectortuts).

I have taught myself a ton of new skills with their tutorials, and ended up springing for the paid version because I wanted to be able to download the source files and save the tutorials for later. They have a mix of step-by-step instructions and video tutorials depending on the project. It sounds like you might like the step-by-step tutorials because you could print them or keep them up on a separate window and go back to them for reference.
posted by nerdcore at 9:47 PM on November 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Years ago I found the Adobe Classroom in a Book series to be pretty good. But it's been a loooooong time since I've looked at them.

Unfortunately, I think Creative Suite is going to be fairly painful on a 13" screen. I find it annoying even on my 15" laptop a lot of the time, so I mostly only use it when I'm connected to my big monitors. But I know you have to get by with what you have (and maybe if you haven't experienced it on a normal sized screen, you won't know what you're missing....).
posted by primethyme at 9:50 PM on November 28, 2011

Response by poster: "Are you sure you can't afford a class? I don't know where you are, but in CA a junior college class can be under $75."

If CA is the Mecca (or used to be, don't know how the Recession has treated it) of Higher Education at all levels; I'm in Romania. It's actually been a huge source of frustration.

"You could learn a *lot* in just a few sessions."

This is what I gather. After years of using MS Office Suite, I can see the internal logic of how they organize their programs, what they can or can't do, what their iconography is like, how their menus are set up, what will crash a page. I can see already--and it's logical--that Adobe works similarly. But I've been largely unable to crack the code for reasons aforementioned.

That's why "asking a child of a friend who's good with computers" doesn't appeal right now, though I don't actually know the child of a friend who could help. I want concepts. Some major take-away. Not rapidfire: "Oh, you do it like this."

"Can you specify what your goal is in learning this software?"

I'm a writer/editor by trade with a background in print project management, under- and unemployed since the Recession. I'm long overdue for learning more about how the Web works. It regularly comes up in ads I see.

With Dreamweaver, I hope to use it in code mode to familiarize myself more with HTML, CSS, etc. I also want to learn how to use it to create simple Web pages, and for content management. This will in turn make it easier for me to understand how to create or "curate" things like blog software. Having some clue about Photoshop will help me (at a lower level) edit photos for blogs, Websites, et al., as well as help me create fancier type headings and such.

I by no means expect to become a developer, nor do I have the wrists for it. But I need a good solid grounding so I can learn more intermediate skills on the fly, as well as other Adobe programs if need be. These sorts of skills have now become fundamental in writing/editing professions, especially since the Fall of the Book.

"Unfortunately, I think Creative Suite is going to be fairly painful on a 13" screen."
Bless you, yes. It's what makes a lot of the video training untenable. The videos take up the whole screen, and there's no easy way to stop and start and play around with the program myself, without the whole experience becoming hugely onerous.
posted by Violet Blue at 10:08 PM on November 28, 2011

In that case, I'd recommend reading HTML and CSS books before or alongside your Dreamweaver material. I'm assuming most DW books would assume you'd know your way around HTML. Since HTML and CSS can all just be written with a text editor, it would likely be to your advantage to know that stuff before layering DW's proprietary nonsense on top. (FWIW I like using DW and its split code view, but I use probably 5% of the features of that software and I get by just fine.)

Regarding your original search for tuts, though, I'm going to recommend hitting up the library. Spend an hour flipping through every tutorial book they have and take out whatever looks half-decent. If your library is like ours, though, you may have to try to put a hold on some, in which case I suggest a shotgun approach. Even the worst guides will have some decent takeaways. Good luck!
posted by TangoCharlie at 10:28 PM on November 28, 2011

I think is a great site for learning new software, and I have used it several times in the past. They cover a wide range of applications and keep current as software updates occur. Their prices are very reasonable, starting at $25/mo for complete unlimited access to the site and any software instruction. Check it out, you may find it a reasonable alternative.
posted by konig at 10:47 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: An external monitor is worth getting! You can get an used 19-24" LCD for very little. Even a 17" would be a benefit, and I'd be inclined to believe you could find one for free.

Often times, tutorials are too "easy" in that they are actually oversimplified rather than easy, so that they become too abstract and you don't get a grip on what's being taught. For me, this happens when the tutorials diverge too far from a real workflow.

And in that vein, I liked the Real World [X] series books, as in Real World Photoshop by Peachpit Press. (When I was reading them a few years back. Can't expressly vouch for the series.) Have a look inside one, they may speak to you. Different strokes though of course.

My father really likes the Total Training video tutorials:
posted by krilli at 11:01 PM on November 28, 2011

look for the 'for dummies' series of in 'photoshop for dummies' 'dreamweaver for dummies' etc (there might even be a bundled collection as 'cs5 for dummies') of those plus a good reference guide and you're good to teach yourself any program. i'm also fond of those photoshop magazines (mostly printed in england...avail. at most major bookstores here in the states and i've seen them at the newsstands at all the train stations and airports that i've been to in europe) they're kind of pricey, but usually follow the format of 'here's this fab photo we did and here was how we did it' with lots of tips and tricks along the way...usually they cover more advanced topics, but there's usually lots of good shortcuts for beginners as well...
posted by sexyrobot at 11:28 PM on November 28, 2011

Best answer: I think your goal should not be to learn Dreamweaver or Photoshop, it should be to create a website. Reading through books and watching videos may make you feel better about putting these things on your resume, but realistically you aren't going to really know either of them until you have used them in a project. Once you have that goal in mind, I think it will be easier to find the resources you need, because your questions become "how do I add an inline image to this page?" and "how do I line up these headers in the stylesheet?", rather than "how do I learn Dreamweaver?"
posted by sophist at 11:53 PM on November 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I use and teach a lot of apps from the CS suite, and I have found the Digital Classroom series from AGI (NOT the Adobe Classroom in a Book series) to be generally excellent. Books in this series typically offer a good mix of text and images as well as (optional) video. Examples within a chapter build on each other very well: for example, the CSS chapters in the Dreamweaver book do a beautiful job of getting you comfortable building more and more complex layouts.

These books aren't a graded set of tutorials, but there are review questions and additional self study assignments at the end of each chapter. Complete practice files are supplied on CD.

Here's the Amazon link for the Dreamweaver CS5 book. It's relatively cheap: $30 for new, $20 for used.

The Missing Manual series is also excellent, but I'd recommend anything from that series only for someone who really wanted to unearth every detail about the apps. The Digital Classroom books are about half the length and seem to be more your speed.

As far as the other books mentioned: I haven't been terribly impressed with the Dummies series -- too cluttered and cutesy -- and Adobe's Classroom in a Book series suffers, I think, from being developed by people too close to the software. They're great for people who are familiar with earlier versions and want to learn about new features, but I have found that newbies find the examples too complex and artsy. For example, I found several sets of files for Flash CS4 to be so dark on Windows machines as to be nearly impossible to use.
posted by maudlin at 12:24 AM on November 29, 2011

Best answer: To second TangoCharlie, for what you want to do you'd be better off learning HTML and CSS first. W3Schools is pretty good for the basics.

Don't get too bogged down in software specifics. Focusing on learning all about DW at this stage would be a distraction from learning how to build web pages and sites.
posted by fatfrank at 6:47 AM on November 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Someone else said it, but I'll say it again. Find an external monitor. Look on Craigslist.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:23 AM on November 29, 2011

Adobe TV is pretty good, really, it is free and it does start you from the beginning for Dreamweaver. Also, this book is great for an overview of what you're going to be working with making web pages (this is not Dreamweaver-specific, but a nice overview of what you are dealing with) Spring into HTML and CSS.
posted by coevals at 1:35 PM on November 29, 2011

Best answer: I think your plan would work well for Photoshop (the tutsplus sites linked above are great) but I'm n-thing the suggestion that learning Dreamweaver is not the same as learning how to make a website. In the same way that learning how to use Word doesn't teach you how to write a report, just where the bold button is and how to set a tab.

Dreamweaver is incredibly over-featured - it will do what you want, and do it really quickly and well, but it only behaves itself if you know what you want first.

Luckily, HTML is very easy to pick up - it's not even code, it's markup. As a print project manager, HTML is well within your capabilities, although I'd leave HTML5 for later if I were you. You take your content in plain text, and then you wrap HTML tags around that describe what that content is: a paragraph, a list, a heading, etc. Your writing/editing experience will help too, as you'll be more aware of the semantics of the content than many beginners.

Sitepoint books are well-written and targeted at normal humans (I've linked to the one I think best for you, but they're all good) and they usually have a Christmas sale. They also have a detailed Beginners HTML & CSS article that I wish had been around when I was getting started - they use Notepad but Dreamweaver in Code view will do you equally well. StackOverflow is also a good resource if you're googling for answers to specific questions.

Once you've got the HTML basics down, I think you'll find the Dreamweaver tutorials you've already got will be a lot easier to digest. Then you can use DW to speed up the routine parts of making a site.
posted by harriet vane at 6:04 AM on November 30, 2011

Response by poster: You folks are incredibly helpful!

Just wanted to follow up to say I nabbed a quite good Widescreen for fifty smackeroos on craigslist (which I never, ever would have guessed I could get so cheap independently!), and I have already made my way through several hours of videos, which is doing me for the moment, but I may move on to others when I use these up. (I've bested all the answers that I'm applying immediately, but really you all deserve gold stars....)

Anyway, I already feel like I have a decent handle on HTML. Next up is some CSS. (Just made my first crude Webpage; it looked very Web 1.0, but, hey, it's a start!)

I'm still perusing all the book recs. Again, I can't thank you all enough!
posted by Violet Blue at 5:53 AM on December 11, 2011

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