"How to" questions may not be what we want here, but they still show that someone has a need and I really don't want to simply close them.

After looking through Super User's accepted (i.e., not closed) Photoshop questions (and this question on their meta) I'm thinking migration would be the appropriate thing to do here, and not just for Photoshop, but for all of the "how to" questions that we get. The skill level of the questions asked over there appear to be lower then they are here, however, and some here seem more specific to GD than the ones I have seen on SU.

I just want to be sure before I start doing this. What are others' opinions about this?

UPDATE: As always, there are no simple answers here, so I am hoping to better define a "how to" question. @Adam and @DA01 brought up some good points.

Upon further reflection, it seems to me that we should allow the "how to" questions that can not be answered with a simple "RTFM"-like response, but rather those that are looking for a specific effect that goes beyond either a simple tutorial or requires a bit more strategy than the average designer (but not rank beginner) would put together. I know this would be considered a step backwards by some, but the questions I have migrated to Super User are neither closed nor answered, which conflicts with the goals of Stack Exchange. I think there is room for both here.

I will say that I do find it unfortunate that @Jeff is against the how-to tag that I created because I felt this would have been an excellent tool to help manage people's experiences with the site. But, then, I guess this is what mods are for.

Feedback is greatly appreciated here as we try to create a balanced site.

4 Answers 4


I’m a bit confused and honestly discouraged by my experience here. Answers to questions about “why” don’t materialize in a vacuum. They come from banal, everyday questions about “how to.” I came here to ask and answer the how-to’s as a means of eventually discovering the why’s.

Whereas Stack Overflow welcomes questions about tools, my question about Illustrator was closed because it was off-topic. The current FAQ does a poor job of explaining why. It was specific. It was not trivial. Redirecting my question to the power users SE would have been the equivalent of placing it in perpetual death row, which is worse than the summary execution it received.

I have immense admiration and respect for Stack Exchange and the graphic design community as a whole. I’d love to stick around, but if how-to’s are beneath this SE, I don’t see the point. If there’s something I’m overlooking, please explain.

  • Please see this question and the associated answers and comments for the reasoning behind closing "how-to" questions. There has been a growing consensus that this site should focus more on the "why" than the "how", but this is more to avoid having the site beset with overly simple questions. I think there is a balance to be made between overly simple (RTFM-type questions) and those looking for a specific effect that goes well beyond "RTFM" being a reasonable answer. [...] Aug 24, 2011 at 12:03
  • 2
    [...] I have re-opened your question since I feel it falls under the latter category of questions. Please keep in mind that this site is still in beta, so there are going to be bumps along the way while things get sorted out. At the same time, thank you for the feedback and the sanity check. You were a bump by mistake upon further reflection. It is much appreciated and I hope you enjoy contributing more to the site. Cheers Aug 24, 2011 at 12:05
  • Here here. I had a "how to" question about InDesign migrated to SuperUser. In the one day before it was migrated, I got 2 great answers from designers who could understand the real-world design problem that I was trying to solve, and offered useful alternate perspective based on their exerience as designers as well as their experience with the software. In the several months it's been on superuser, it's had nothing at all, and I'm not surprised. People on superuser are technologists and gadget geeks, not designers. Apr 7, 2012 at 15:20

Philip's question as modified pretty much carries the answer, as far as I can see. What we need to do is greatly expand the FAQ, which is in actuality our site policy statement, to make it clear that:

  • We are not a substitute for Google, WhatTheFont, or an application's menus (phrased more tactfully than that, but that in essence).

  • The idea is not to ask someone else to do your work for you. We know that, but it needs to be publicly and clearly stated as site policy.

  • We are not a substitute for tech support. Questions about how to access a particular function in a particular program are not what we're looking for. "How do I save all my open documents at once?" (This is similar to the first point, but perhaps a little more explicit.)

  • We are not a tutorial site. Although a few tutorials will inevitably make their way into answers to specific design challenges, users should check tutorial sites first if that's what they are looking for.

  • If those resources haven't provided a useful answer to the problem, then the question is probably welcome.

The FAQ must be explicit, otherwise users like Adam are left baffled and the moderators appear capricious. If we don't define clearly what constitutes a low quality question, we have only ourselves to blame if they continue to plague us. Lack of clarity will drive away more users than a clear policy about what is and isn't acceptable.

I would go further, and suggest that any time a moderator has to stop and wrestle with whether or not to migrate or close a question, it's an indication that the FAQ needs improvement. Moderators and users should be equally clear about what constitutes a good, on-topic question, else the mods themselves will eventually give up. Site policy should be written, explicit and available to all.

Without clear policy, site users, too, become capricious. A good example was a recent question about Japanese typefaces that was met with an initially unfriendly response, mostly, I suspect, because nobody had any familiarity with the issue or a direct answer. Yet the question was valid -- a real, practical, explicitly answerable problem.

It would not be out of place to set up a resource page to help deflect low-quality questions, sending people to the places that we'd be directing them to anyway.

"How to" questions are not only inescapable, they are essential. For every question about design principles I've ever been asked personally, there have been 100 about technique. As designers take on more and more responsibility for the quality of deliverables, and the complexity increases of both the tools we use and the technologies we have to deal with, technique issues will continue to dominate. They are, when all is said, what our livelihoods depend on.

Most designers know what they're trying to do, and why. What they don't know is how to realize it in general, or specifically in [insert application here]. Besides, answers pointing to design fundamentals and creative principles very often derive directly from explicit "how do I?" questions. Technology and technique drive creativity just as much as the other way around. Look what the sewing machine did to women's clothing design in the 19th Century, metal type did to typeface design, or InDesign's drop shadow did to page layouts.


Please remember one major creed we have with regards to migrations: don't migrate junk. Well, actually, the actual creed that Jeff Atwood used a different word, but the point remains.

If a question is of extremely poor quality, especially that which it will be close-worthy, don't migrate it just to dump the problem on some other site's lap. If it's just a bad question, close it here and leave it. Only migrate if it's going to be a good question for the target site. This is the golden rule of migration, so please be mindful of it. Super User will not like poor questions anymore than you would like it if other sites started dumping junk on your plate.

In reviewing with a Super User moderator, the recent migration was not all that good, so they're not entirely supportive of taking your migrations right now. If you can build up a nice repertoire of good migration candidates, however, then we can look into how much they'll support the endeavor.

  • Thanks for taking the time to respond. I completely agree with everything you have stated; my intent is to try and clean up this site as well and I don't want to pass the buck on this stuff either. When I come across a migration candidate, should I just "@" you or someone else for review? Aug 11, 2011 at 14:11
  • 1
    @Philip Pop into the moderator room on chat.stackexchange.com! We'll be happy to field any simple inquiries there. In fact, you should endeavor to visit there more often. ♪
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Aug 11, 2011 at 14:12
  • I would like to, but I do this in my spare time during the day and the company I work for has a strict chat room policy. I really wish there were alternate resources for mods. Aug 11, 2011 at 14:37

Seems that any question pertaining to 'How do I create this type of visual or graphic design' would fit in here. SuperUser seems to be more broadly aimed at finding questions to IT problems. Given that SU closed said question, I'd say that's even more validity that a question like that should stay here, or just be closed.

  • Please see my updated question. Thanks for your continued feedback. Aug 24, 2011 at 12:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .