“Programs and other operating information used by a computer” – that is the definition of the term software, and from that definition comes basically everything that we (as a society) do in regards to computers, hardware notwithstanding. Software is obviously a pretty broad term when it comes defining a digital product and although user experience is not relegated specifically to the internet or applications, this article will focus on defining examples of software that lives on the internet, namely; websites and web applications (web-apps).
Websites and Web Applications
When you are viewing content on the internet through a browser, every single website, page, experience, e-shop and social network can be categorized into two broad taxonomies; Websites and Web-Apps. These two categories of digital products are very similar in terms of appearance and how they are accessed. In fact, if you asked a few different people in the industry you’d probably get more than a few different answers, but generally, the arguments will boil down to this:
- Websites are focused on being informative.
- Web-Apps are interactive.
This means that static pages that exist to showcase information that doesn’t routinely change are websites. Think of a local restaurant site that has a menu, store locations, hours of operation and maybe an image gallery, this is an example of a simple website. Take those same restaurant pages and add in some functionality that allows guests to set up a reservation and will hold a table for them (assuming they have means of establishing a deposit) without the customer calling the restaurant, you have a web application. Web-Apps require users to input information and will provide feedback based on that information. Another common example of a web-app would be a simple eCommerce website that allows a user to purchase a product online and have it shipped to his location.
Here’s where the confusion around these terms comes in, as how a user interacts with the digital product is what defines the product itself. For example, if a user is using an eCommerce site as a primary source of information regarding the company (and not purchasing its products), the digital product in question (the eCommerce site) isn’t being used as an application but rather as a source of static information (IE a website). So similar to as how all squares are rectangles but all rectangles aren’t squares; all web-apps are websites but not all websites are web-apps.
While the nomenclature may have little impact on the final designs of the digital product, as good UX design is platform agnostic, understanding what you are building and learning how to communicate these concepts can assist your team in further establishing your expertise in the digital realm and build rapport with your clientele. Remember, half of being a good designer (at least) is being a good communicator.
How to Start Your Own Podcast
Hey, it’s Bryan from Go Media and today, we’re going to dip our toes into podcasting. You’ve probably heard there’s a ton of cash, arms full of lovelies, and loads of listeners just WAITING for you to put your voice into their ears.
Or, you’ve just got some knowledge that you want to drop and this seems to be a worthwhile way to go about it.
Either way, you’re probably asking yourself how to get started, and how can you get started without spending a lot of time and money upfront? That’s what I wanted to know about 6 years ago when a few friends and I wanted to start our own podcast.
In this tutorial, we’re going to be looking at what equipment and software you should be looking into as you begin your journey into podcasting. Then, we’ll go into some tips and tricks on the recording and editing side.
Now, full disclosure: I wouldn’t call myself a professional podcaster. I’m not making loads of money doing this, or going to awards shows, or seeing millions of downloads. Actually, that’s realistically a small percentage of all of the podcasters out there. And, my arms are empty, still waiting for the lovelies to arrive.
But, as more and more people want to get into podcasting, it’s becoming apparent that there really isn’t a good “how to” out there. I learned a lot just by trial and error using existing equipment and free software that I had lying around from my days as a solo acoustic.
6 years later, I’m still using a lot of the same techniques and software. But, I’ve streamlined the process quite a bit so that I can podcast in any location, for any type of situation.
On the professional side, I run the Go Media Podcast. We set up the conference room with three mics so that Bill, Heather and I can talk to each other, as well as our guests over Skype. We run our mics through a mixer that connects to my laptop. With the help of a 5-way stereo audio splitter, we can all connect our headphones to the mixer so we can hear our virtual guests.
On the personal side, I also run 5 other podcasts through the Fans Talk Podcast Family. There, I do a majority of the podcasting with virtual co-hosts over Skype, Google Hangouts, Blab.IM, or whatever else we wind up trying out. And yes, four of the series revolves around the wonderful world of professional wrestling. For those, I connect with various guests from all over the world via Skype.
You know that whole thought about not spending a lot of time on it? Well, I am known to over-extend myself a bit, but it’s become a passion, and honestly – how cool is it to know that people actually want to hear what you’ve got to say? Even if you’re talking about professional wrestling while drinking with your best friends? That’s awesome.
Equipment I Use For Podcasting
If you’re doing a solo show, or meeting your guests over Skype, you can get started with less than $100 worth of equipment. If you want to have multiple people on one side, you could get a 2-3 person setup for under $300.
I’m assuming you’ve already got a pair of headphones that you use and are happy with. Just in case, I use V-MODA LP2s. Luckily, they were a gift I received as a groom’s man. Otherwise, I might not have picked these up as they’re a bit out of my price range at around $200. Legit, they are the best pair of headphones I’ve ever owned. They really give me a great, focused sound. And, when you listen to music with these, the experience is amazing.
However, sometimes being connected to my laptop with a cable isn’t ideal. If I’m only doing a solo episode, or am the only person on my side as I connect with someone over Skype, I tend to use my Plantronics BackBeat Fit Bluetooth Headphones ($90). I got the green ones. They connect right to my laptop without an issue. While they do come with a microphone, the quality is not great. Not good enough for podcasting, that’s for sure.
I didn’t buy these specifically for podcasting, but have loved the flexibility it has given me during recording sessions. Since I do a majority of my podcasting at the home studio standing up, not being attached to the laptop with a cable is really nice. I can move around, walk away to get a beverage refill as my co-hosts continue to talk, and I don’t lose the ability to hear them.
But, in the end, as long as they aren’t leaking audio out into your mic while you’re recording, and are good enough to use to listen to music, you should be fine starting out with whatever you have handy.
Microphones & Accessories
This is a hot button topic for a lot of the podcasting industry. Condenser mics vs. snowballs, USB-powered vs. XLR-exclusives that go into a mixer, there are so many ongoing debates, it might be difficult to really find what works best for you and your budget.
I skipped all of that and went with something that seemed to be a good fit for my needs, as both a podcaster AND a musician. As well as someone who might just record with a guest over Skype or might connect with multiple people through a mixer. I wanted to be able to have flexibility without a load of different equipment.
I went with the Samson Q2U Handheld Dynamic USB Microphone. Out of the box, it also comes with a pair of headphones and some recording and editing software, but I never had much use for either. Headphones aren’t super comfortable, but in a jam, they can come in handy. And software is dated and really not useful for me, but maybe it could be for you.
Anyways, the Samson Q2Us can connect to either a USB input or can connect with a mixer via XLR. Or both at the same time, depending on how you’re recording or what you’re recording. It comes with both cables, so no need to have to pick up anything additional. You can plug your mic directly into your laptop or desktop with a USB cable and start using it right away.
Once you choose a microphone, you’ll need something to hold your mic for you. I’ve gone the route of desk stands, as well as boom mic stands which I took from my days as a musician that did semi-frequent shows around town. But, recently, I’ve fallen in love with my NEEWER Microphone Suspension Boom Scissor Arm Stand. They connect to the edge of the desk and can move around with you. If you want to sit, they can position right in front of you without a problem, and without getting in the way of your hands or your view of your guest, notes, beverage, mixer, or laptop.
I’m also terrible at popping my ‘P’s, so I doubled up with two air filters. One is the On Stage Foam Ball-Type Mic Windscreen. This wraps around the mic itself, and keeps away any air that might be flowing through the room towards the mic, like fans and heaters. Then, I added a Dragonpad pop filter 360 Flexible Gooseneck Holder, which attaches to the mic stand. This adds a much needed buffer between me and my mic.
After months of debate, and knowing that we’d be having multiple people in the studio at Go Media, I decided to pick up a mixer. Specifically, the Behringer XENYX X1204USB Premium 12-Input 2/2-Bus Mixer. At $230, it might be outside of your price range. And realistically, it might be completely out of your needs as well. But, if you plan on sitting in-person with 2-3 other guests and don’t want to have to share a mic, this is a good option to have.
And, just in case you’re doing a mix of 2-3 guests in the studio with you as well as a guest over Skype, you’ll want to pick up a headphones splitter. That way, you can listen to the output from the mixer and everyone will be able to hear themselves and the Skype audio. I use PLAY X STORE®3.5mm 6-Port Multi Headphone Splitter, and at $5.50, it’s a really handy. It will split your audio for five headphones and all in stereo. Besides using it for podcast work, Heather and I also use it when we record Designer Face Off.
This goes without saying. I must have something to write notes in. I try and keep track of coughs, Skype drops, or anything else that is either worth looking into removing from the final edit, or follow up questions to ask.
So for me, I go with the Go Media pocket notebook that was made available at this year’s WMC Fest. But, use whatever is available: sticky notes, a napkin, a moleskin, back of an envelope, etc.
You can get started with what you already have. Whether it’s the work-provided desktop or your personal laptop, you can do a lot with little.
For the first 4 years, I used my basic, under $200 tower to get the job done, and it did. For a while. Now, I mostly use it for show notes and talking to the live chat, or pulling up wikipedia to fact check my co-host.
Now, I use a Dell Inspiron i15RV 15” laptop. It’s got a 1.4 GHz Processor, 4GB DDR, and a 320GB Harddrive. Really, I didn’t even buy it for podcasting. I bought it so I could work remotely from the coffee shop. But again, it gets the job done.
I’m a Windows guy. They’re easy for me. But, Macs offer a lot of built-in support that’s enviable. Garageband specifically. So, by all means, do what feels right.
Software & Apps For Podcasting
If you’ve got a Mac, Garageband is a great tool for recording and editing podcasts. Windows doesn’t have that. But, you can record and edit with some free software. If you want to share files easily between hosts, including some quality cloud-based archiving, you could be looking at about $100 year at Dropbox/Google. If you want stream your audio live, add another $100. If you want to host your mp3s on a social-powered service with some slick, Facebook and Twitter friendly embeds, add another $135.
Audacity is free for both PC and Mac. For Fans Talk episodes, we’ve all become accustomed to recording individually through Audacity. Then, everyone exports their audio to an .ogg file, which is higher quality than an mp3, and a smaller file size than a .wav. It’s somewhere in the middle, which is great for file transfer speeds.
Quick Tip: I make sure my recordings are at least above -30db. That way, if there is background noise, which normally hits around -42db and below, it’s easier to remove. And, always record about 5 seconds of audio of just your background noise. Keep the mic on and just sit back quietly so that you can isolate that noise when you edit.
And yes, I also edit all of my episodes with Audacity, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
I’ve been using Dropbox for years to keep all of my PCs synced together. It helps me go from recording on the laptop to editing on a faster system like my desktops at home and at work. It also allows my co-hosts and guests to be able to send me their files. Either they upload to their own organized folder structure, or we share folders. Or, in the case of someone just doing a one-off appearance, I’ll have them upload to Dropbox using the new “File Request” feature, which will allow them to upload even if they don’t have a Dropbox account.
Dropbox comes in three tiers. The free account gives you 2 GB of cloud storage. For $9.99/m, which is the tier I’m using, you get 1 TB of space. And, for $15/m per user, you can get the Dropbox Business account, which gives you as much storage as you need.
Recording on Audacity isn’t for everyone. Nor is it always possible. So, how can you get a solid, individual track of my guests and co-hosts? While I’ve tried various Skype recording extensions, nothing came out perfect. Primarily because, technology isn’t perfect. Skype could drop at any moment, or the internet could buckle causing the audio to come to me to be really poor and useless.
While a few different sites like this have come out over the last few years, Zencastr is the new kid on the block. It records all sides of the conversation into individual tracks, which streams and saves to my dropbox instantaneously.
And, if you want to eliminate Skype or Google Hangouts, Zencastr just added a VOIP service to it’s features. But, keep in mind, this is just in beta. So, it can be a bit buggy.
Zencastr is currently free, but once they get out of beta their plans could range from $10/m to $20/m. Limited to 3 hour shows.
Sometimes, podcasting can easily start to feel like you’re talking to yourself or with a friend in a box. You might see downloads grow, but quality feedback, especially for a weekly series, is never guaranteed. I actually don’t expect it anymore. However, that feedback is so great. And timely feedback is even better. But, what if you could get instantaneous feedback as you record? That’s where a service like Mixlr comes into play.
It’s an app that works with PC and Mac, and even your iPhone and Android if you’re into that sort of thing.
Depending on how often or long you record, Mixlr will stream your audio and provide you a nice chat from $9.99/m ($99/y) to $49.99/m ($499/y). I use the first tier. There’s also a free version and it allows you to stream for an hour at a time.
I’m really hoping this helps you start to think about what you need to get started with your new podcast. But after equipment and software, it’s time to start recording and editing.
I go in depth about the recording and editing process using Zencastr, Mixlr, and Audacity in my video tutorial on Go Media’s Arsenal.
The whole wide world is waiting for you. Best of luck and let us know how it goes!
Meet T-Shirt Mockup Tool Mockup Everything
What’s better than a portfolio filled with your best work? Not much, we say. After all, you never know when opportunity is going to come a-knocking.
But this, we know, is much harder than it seems. And as you know, the very last thing you want to do is throw work into your portfolio without the utmost care and consideration.
But guess what! If you are having a difficulty finding the time populating your portfolio, we have the perfect solution.
Our free t-shirt mockup tool, Mockup Everything, will add apparel design work to your portfolio, easily and efficiently – with stunning results. Up the anty when you upgrade to our Pro Account, which offers bonuses such as larger image sizes, no watermarks, a transparency option and hundreds of template options (with a growing library).
Make Magic Happen >
1. Head to our t-shirt mockup tool, MockupEverything.com
2. Select from 7 Main Template Categories, then dive deeper to find the template you’d like to use.
Use the Purple “Select a Template” Button to choose your selection.
3. Click on the template (turning it blue) to select a design for your template.
This design can be minimized, expanded, rotated to fit your design. Use the white button above to change the color of your template. Want your t-shirt color to match your uploaded design? Touch the eyedropper to your design and poof! Use the purple to change the color of your background. Pro Users, click the purple button, then choose the transparent box option to change your background to a transparent png.
4. Crop or just simply continue on to save to your computer. Please note, if you have chosen a transparent background, the screen will go to white briefly while saving.
5. Add it to your portfolio. Last but certainly not least! Post your work. And make sure to share it with us. We’d love to give you a great big like, appreciation, shout-out, tweet, high-five or hug.
Good luck and enjoy Mocking Up Everything!
What’s the Best Project Management Software for design firms?
In this second part, we conclude our Basecamp VS. Podio comparison. If you missed the first piece, you can find it here (you can always find archives of our design articles through our blog). The standings on the first seven topics gave Basecamp the edge, in our opinion of course, 5 to 2. Let’s see how things shake out in our last seven.
Topics We’ll Cover
- Learning Curve & Usability
- Task Management
- Project Management with your Team
- Project Management with your Clients
- Proofs & Client Reviews
- Calendar Integration
- Email Integration
- File Management
- API & Third-Party Integration
- Vendor Support
It’s truly a wonderful thing, how “paperless” the modern workspace has become. I hate to age myself but when I started in this industry, the norm were actual physical project folders with sheet after sheet of details, reference materials, you name it. We even had project status bins to toss these prosaic piles into. And don’t get me started on “Change Orders”. Wow. I don’t miss those days. Alas, we still need to manage “office documents” in the process of meeting client objectives.
The standard approach in Basecamp is to attach files to a project or todo. We’ve all attached files to emails or filled out forms. Pretty self-explanatory. Browse for them locally and upload. There’s now a copy on your Basecamp account.
You can also decide how to send a notification with a reference to the attachment.
Associate the files directly with a todo. This can be very nice for deliverable accountability when details matter.
But do any of us expect Basecamp or any other Project Management application to also serve as our document management platform? Of course not. File management is an extremely complex and nuanced concern, especially in the age of cloud applications. For example, you’ve heard of Version Control. Working with the latest version of a file, or NOT, can mean the difference between the success or failure of a client engagement. Here’s where 3rd party integration plays a pivotal role. Google Docs has quickly become a leader in collaborating on files in the cloud. Basecamp has done a fine job of looping Google Docs into the mix of their file attachment features.
A few other niceties from Basecamp, you can download all the attachments on an item in one fell swoop.
Basecamp also provides easy to use sorting features in their “All files” list view.
Podio’s unassuming “Choose a file” button opens up to a variety of possibilities.
As does the Attach file, they behave the same way opening up a Files dialog unlike any out there.
Yes, you can upload files to Podio just like you would in Basecamp. But Podio has taken things further to accommodate the age of cloud computing. They offer integration, not only with Google Docs, but with Box, Dropbox, Evernote, ShareFile, Ubuntu One & SugarSync. An easy and consistent search field lets you find what you’re looking for and fast. Their connection with these services doesn’t seem to miss a beat. It seems nearly instantaneous, as soon as a file becomes available on your file service, it can be found through the Podio file dialog and associated with an item.
File representation in the Podio Apps and Items is clean and consistent regardless of where the files are associated from. You can replace and, in some cases, see the history of previous file versions depending on the file service in use.
The similar “All Files” view gives you access to all the files associated with the workspace. Advanced search gives you the ability to filter it down to the narrowest of attributes. This even includes all the files associated using the third party file management services.
Who delivers the File Management advantage? Podio
API & Third-Party Integration
I mentioned earlier we’re in the era of cloud computing & collaboration. The fact we’re comparing two Software as a Service (SaaS) providers is a prime example of that. More than ever, companies need to be highly specialized, especially in the SaaS arena. There aren’t enough hours in the day and enough programmers on the planet to develop every possibility into an app. And it wouldn’t make sense to do so anyway. The information age is more like a barrage and if your app is cluttered trying to be something to everyone, everyone drowns in the complexity and nobody wins. This is where the API & Third-Party Integration comes in.
The short about APIs.
If you’re not familiar, an API is a publicly available way to interact with software using code. We’d be getting carried away to cover the technical concerns of either Basecamp or Podio’s APIs. They both work in essentially the same way. HTTP based GET/POST/DELETE/PUT calls using JSON. Basecamp is built in Ruby and they’ve produced a Ruby SDK for developers to get a head start from. I’m not sure what programming language is behind Podio, but they’ve done a generous job of producing SDKs for all the most popular web dev ones. Podio also has a dev community receiving a lot of support from the vendor, as evident in their docs and support channels.
Third parties use them to often integrate data from an application into their own or allow actions in their application to effect another. The commonality of Google Docs integration, we discussed earlier, is a prime example of third party integration through an API. In that example, Basecamp & Podio are both using the Google Docs API to enhance their apps, not the other way around. We’ll cover both sides of API usage below.
Thanks to Basecamp being a market leader and an early innovator in the space, it enjoys over one hundred published third party add-ons applications with some degree of integration tapping into it. The categories cover Mobile and Desktop Apps, Time Tracking, Invoicing, and Accounting, Reporting, Charts, Planning, File Backup & Synchronization, Software Development, Marketing, Design, and Asset Management, Customer Service and Support and Contracts and Proposals. Having looked at nearly every one of these apps, they vary in usefulness and practicality for our particular industry. I won’t try to point out any specifically, but there are some excellent ones. There are also a whole lot of flops. Basecamp may want to consider a quality control purge. I can’t help but think a lot of these vendors did the bare minimum integration just to get a free banner on the site.
As far as, what are often called, “Official” integrations by Basecamp INTO 3rd party apps, there are hardly any. Google Docs comes to mind and they did an adequate job with it. They have Android, iPad and iPhone native apps that are all top-notch.
Both apps do the iCal thing for calendar integration. It’s pretty much a standard.
Similar to most of the Basecamp’s “3rd Party Add-Ons”, the Podio Extensions section can give you a preview into the momentum this young startup is garnering from outside app teams. Admittedly, I haven’t tested the majority of these. Many of them seem a bit hokey. But a noteworthy difference is the volume of apps specifically created for managing your firm within Podio. A lot of them are sort of “helper” extensions. I won’t try to conclude whether that’s a good sign or not. Nevertheless, the buzz in the industry about Podio certainly has a lot of developers watching. Speaking of developers, Podio promotes who they refer to as Development Partners. They’re creating opportunity for 3rd party teams to help businesses integrate existing systems with Podio. This will likely accelerate the extensions library as these firms become the future Podio ecosystem.
From where Basecamp has just one, the Podio Official Integrations bring many of the most popular tools into the system and with the authority of, well, being ‘Official’. Dropbox, GoToMeeting, Excel, Google Drive, Sharefile, Google Calendar, Zendesk, Hightail, Onedrive, Microsoft Exchange, Evernote, Campaign Monitor, Mailchimp, SugarSync, Box, Freshbooks and other platforms. Most have integration built into the app or you can find them in the integration directories of each service provider’s.
Beyond all this, here comes the “killer app”, the Podio App Market. This doesn’t use an API at all. And it’s only third party in the sense outside individuals created these “apps”. These thousands of apps are designed and created by users of Podio, who wanted to share them with the community. These are made possible by brilliant engineering at the core of what makes Podio exceptional, the Podio App Creator.
I talked about the Podio App creator in Part 1 under Learning Curve if you’re interested in hearing more about it. You can easily use it to design your project management concerns into informational objects you can manage in the way you work! And if you’re proud of what you’ve created and want to share it with the Podio community, you can through the App Market. Oh, and they’re all free to use!
Considering it is only a couple of years young;
We have to give the API & Third-Party Integration edge to, you guessed it: Podio
The march of the robots continues! Artificial Intelligence will soon take your job. Okay, maybe not YOUR job. But the hope with automation is to train a computer to do remedial tasks for you, so you can focus on more important challenges. Behind the scenes, in development, this is commonly referred to as conditional logic. These are the “if this, do that” commands which give operational value to most of the procedures run in any software program. The trick is, can a system be created which is sophisticated enough for a lay user to play a role in writing logic? Historically, this was the realm of writing your own Macros in Excel or setting up Filters in Outlook or Gmail. Nowadays, savvy businesses want Automation out of the platforms integral to their workflow. This is an especially prevalent demand in the Project Management realm.
Before we get into whom offers what in terms of automation, we need to give credit where credit is due to Zapier. Zapier does an amazing job delivering a platform for automation in the era of cloud computing. You can find Zapier support for both Basecamp and Podio. You can point any of the dozens of Zapier integrations to or from either service and do wonderful things. Long live Zapier! That said, we give major props to Basecamp & Podio for having excellent APIs to give Zapier something to interact with. Respect.
One last thing. We’re not going to consider email notifications, due date alerts and calendar integration as a factor in our automation evaluation. Those are pretty much standards, so both are closely tied in those areas.
At the time of writing, Basecamp Project Templates were a relatively new feature. They allow you to replicate the attributes of an existing project. This is great for teams who work on nearly identical types of projects on a regular basis. You can replicate the team, to-dos, comments, files, even due dates. Due dates are especially remarkable because to-dos can be set to have a delivery expectation relative to the project start date.
By and large, Project Templates are the noteworthy automation feature of Basecamp and they did one hell of a job with it.
The core nature of Podio is very different, as mentioned earlier. Where Basecamp has a single minded focus on general project management, Podio offers one of the most flexible platforms ever built. The fact they were able to add the Advanced Automated Workflows feature on top of such flexibility should make any software developer offer up a nod.
Podio’s Advanced workflows allows you to write your own if-then-do-this logic right within the app. It currently offers up a trigger method using what they call “categories”. These are fields, typically dropdowns, where you’re declaring a status of sorts about your project. For example, say you have a project app with a category called Status and it reaches a state you call “Ready for Invoicing”. You could setup an Advanced Workflow to listen for that status and tell Podio to spawn a new item in your “needs invoicing” app.
Advanced automated workflows give the Automation edge to: Podio
Don’t need to preface that one!
Basecamp’s pay model is based on the number of projects you manage and the file space you consume. This is unique in the segment as we all know most PM apps are priced per-user. Basecamp, on the other hand, gives up unlimited users regardless of the account package. Unlimited users really comes in handy when you’re inclined to collaborate with a lot of clients and vendors within Basecamp. It would be cost detrimental if you had to pay for every short cycle client user or have to manage the up and down of it. This has been a huge boon to Basecamp’s success in our industry.
We’ve always felt Basecamp’s pricing was very reasonable and competitive in most areas.
Unlimited projects? Unlimited items? Unlimited file space? It isn’t exactly clear with Podio. Maybe that’s due to the unique app builder paradigm they’re under. Or they’re still trying to figure those limits out. Who knows? We’re going to assume those are unlimited until we hear otherwise. Podio charges per-user, with a different fee depending on the type account. They offer more advanced features, the most noteworthy being the Automated Workflows I just mentioned, for the Plus and Premium accounts only. If you’re a firm with even just a handful of employees, this can make Podio get expensive very quickly.
Who has the edge on pricing? Basecamp.
When you hit a point using the application where you’re unsure how to use or find a feature, encounter a bug or are wondering if something is possible, how much can you count on the service provider to answer your questions in a timely fashion?
Fortunately, both Basecamp & Podio are extremely well documented with self-help guides covering every single feature of their respective applications. If you’re willing to read, the information is available. But we all know how hard it can be sometimes to spare the time to comb through docs to find an answer. This is where a timely response from the vendor adds value to your subscription.
At the very bottom of the Basecamp screenshot below, you’ll see the sentence “We’ve been responding to emails in 4 minutes lately,…” Basecamp puts customer support at the top of their priority list on a daily basis and clearly wants the world to know this. Basecamp is headquartered in Chicago, IL USA with remote contributors across the world.
They also offer an “instant reply on Twitter”. Basecamp is known for their focus on speed. Whether it is the speed of their app or the speed of their courtesy, they don’t want to keep anyone waiting.
Basecamp also offers free online classes.
Sure, but how satisfactory is their service? Well, Basecamp is not ashamed to publish a tangible metric to the World. Below, you’ll see a screenshot where they declare how the customers have rated their service after a request. I have confidence that 89% is not skewed in their favor. They’re clearly self-evaluating the quality of service, on a daily basis, and using the responses to seek ways to improve.
We mentioned earlier, Podio is “the new kid on the block”. They were a startup founded in Denmark and have since joined the Fort Lauderdale, Florida USA based Citrix family. Can we expect them to have as stellar of a support infrastructure as Basecamp’s 15 year old one? Maybe. We haven’t given them a handicap for the other comparison topics. Has the reality of their origination and newness effected their ability to provide timely support, yes. We’ve experienced 12+ hour delays in support inquiries. We’re not sure if our rep was stateside or in Denmark.
They do indeed have very good self-service channels and a community. We’ve all tried to receive support through forums. It is rarely ever faster than the vendor, except maybe in the case a vendor provides little-to-no support at all, which is rarely a good thing.
Podio does, however, give you a dedicated Account Manager when you join. But, for some reason, the “instant” messaging with the rep, was rarely ever instant. It wouldn’t be unusual for a message to go unanswered for an entire day.
Podio is so new. They appear to have the resource intent to provide customer service at a very high level. We recognize there are only so many hours in a day. That training and competent staff is needed to deliver on service expectations. We’re also a pretty self-sufficient bunch and the tools are easy enough to figure out. So we’ll allow them leniency on this topic for now.
Who delivers the best Vendor Support at this juncture? Basecamp.
It would not be fair to consider this review and comparison the most exhaustive possible. I evaluated them within the silo of our usage, in our specific industry of creative services. There are also many features and benefits both platforms offer which we did not cover. And this is software. Not just any software either. This is software as a service in the burgeoning cloud computing era. That means these applications improve and evolve every single day and instantly for every user. It would be naive of me to assume these services won’t change. We must fully expect the points made in this article to be contradicted within a pretty short time window. If you use or support one or the other, we encourage you to point out those changes in the comments section below. Please share your thoughts, experiences and findings with the community.
If you are on the Basecamp or Podio teams, we hope you will find our review to be objective and fair. More importantly, we want to thank you for the obvious hard work you have invested to develop two of the most extraordinary web applications on the internet today. We wish you both the most continued success you can earn and offer our sincerest respect and admiration.
As for the final “edge” numbers.
Technically, Basecamp is the deserving winner, of the topics we looked at, merely in our opinion. That said, Basecamp started more than a decade earlier than Podio and only surpassed “the final score” by two points. This makes Podio a formidable competitor in the upper echelon of online Project Management platforms 37 Signals (the company behind Basecamp) has dominated all these years. Will this keep Basecamp on their toes? Maybe not specifically. If you read the latest letters from 37 Signals on their site, you’ll learn Basecamp is on the verge of more relentless progress than ever before. Basecamp won’t be unseated anytime soon.
What project management software does Go Media use and why?
It was a grueling decision to decide to forgo Basecamp. Our decision process covered more than the topics here and really helped write this article for us. We decided on Podio because we’re confident they’re in it for the long haul. We believe they’ll correct the shortcomings. If you get a chance to test drive Podio, which I highly encourage, I have no doubt you’ll be thoroughly impressed with the quality of the software. It speaks volumes about the talent of their leadership, design teams, and engineers. They clearly have an exceptional team with World Class standards and ambition.
A pivotal factor in our decision to go with Podio is the flexibility of the app builder. Go Media is different than many design firms because we actually operate several different subsidiaries of the design service company. We have our annual Weapons of Mass Creation creative conference we host in Cleveland. We also have several product and platform services, such as the Arsenal and Mockup Everything. These other departments of our operation have different needs and workflows. We felt Podio offered the most flexibility to be able to manage our small enterprise within one platform. So far so good.
So there you have it. I hope we’ve provided enough of the pros and cons to help you make an informed decision about which platform is the right fit for your business. Thank you for taking the time to experience our review. I have no doubt in my mind, if you choose either, keeping your projects on track with these innovative and powerful solutions will be a success.All Basecamp screenshot images are copyright ©2015 Basecamp. All Podio screenshot images are copyright ©2015 Citrix Online. Content, designs, pricing & other implied features are subject to change.
LetterMPress, or the art and craft of letter press design… On your iPad!
I was sincerely blown away by what this app can do. I knew drawing apps could be amazing — just look through George Coghill’s Flickr stream, he has some sweet preliminary sketches done with Sketchbook Pro — but simulating letter press design?
Another fact of interest is that the app’s development was funded through Kickstarter, like the last WMC Fest.
After a series of email with John Bonadies, the co-creator of the app, we got a chance to get the app for both the iPad and for Mac OS. My goal here is to offer an overview of the app and a series of observations I made while using the app on the iPad and on Mac OS on a MacBook Pro from early 2008.
The application simulates a letterpress; it’s a simple as that. And, it’s beautifully done, even the sound effects.
The main screen is the composition screen. This is where you’ll actually design and place the letter blocks to compose your project. The second screen is the print screen, where you’ll generate the digital output of your composition.
A little disclosure: I’m here using the screenshots provided by the LetterMPress development team. They’re able to showcase the abilities of the app way better than I would.
Aside from these two screens, users have access to drawers (sub panels) full of goodness:
- The type and art panel where you select the blocks you want to use in your design
- The furniture panel where you can find the elements for spacing and alignment purposes
- The lockup panel where you can access the elements that can lock the blocks you have on the press bed
- A digital ruler
- The gallery tray where you save and can retrieve for later use the compositions you’re working on.
These were for the compose screen. The print screen gives you access to:
- The paper tray where you select which paper you’d like to output your composition on
- The paper rack where your outputs are stored
- The ink palette where you’ll be mixing your primary colors to get the one you want (RGB or CMYK)
- The coverage panel to decide where the ink will be applied. You can also do multiple impression on one sheet, to play with color/symbol layering and overlays.
Some examples of what you can do with the app
There’s also an official Flickr group where people upload their designs:
Some conclusion notes
Well, first of all, the app is wonderful and produces beautiful results. The output is usable as an element in another design software (the Mac app can output up to 8192 pixels, around 26″ at 300 dpi). I surprised myself smelling the air around me for the really peculiar fragrance of the printing ink sometimes. With headphones on, this app can transport you into a virtual print shop.
I definitely favor the Mac version over the iPad version simply because of the additional precision given by the use of the keyboard and mouse combo.
With that said, I still must admit that the iPad app is one of the most beautifully crafted apps I’ve seen to date. It takes patience to place elements correctly, but the result is always worth it. The app also renders the fact that these blocks are physical objects and that when hitting other elements with a block you’re trying to place, everything that’s not locked in place will move — and mess up the carefully crafted kerning and spacing you just spent an hour perfecting. Luckily, the undo button goes up to 20 states back.
The paper and typefaces are amazingly well rendered. The ink textures (or the absence of ink for that matter) too. The interface can be overwhelming at first, but after reading the extensive help file and a bit of “trial and error” experiences, there shouldn’t be too many dark areas left.
This app is not a toy though. It’s a real design app. But well worth the $5 to $10 it’ll cost you.
I’ve always had a strange combination of passions – art and business. I don’t think these two areas of interest are typically held by one person. But for me, they are. So, it was no surprise that when I started Go Media I was consistently thinking about the business systems side of being a graphic designer. How do we keep track of our projects? How do we track our time? How do we deliver proofs to our clients? I was anxious to start building these systems for Go Media.
The Zip Line
The first real attempt at building a project management system for our design firm was a zip-line. At the time (2002), our firm was just two guys operating out of the first floor of a beat-up old house. The zip-line was, literally, a metal cable that I strung across the dining room where we had our desks. From this zip-line, I hung clear plastic envelopes that held copies of invoices that I had typed up in Quickbooks. The details of the project would be on both the invoice, and a sheet of paper that I had at our meetings. Any client documents that needed to stay with the project were also placed in the envelope.
This seemed like a fairly simple and effective project management system. The problem was that this system was overkill for a firm comprised of two designers. I was spending a ton of time taking notes, typing everything up, printing it out and hanging it on the line. About 50% of the time, I was the one doing the work – there was no point in me documenting everything. I already knew what I had to do! And the other 50% of the time, I could have simply spun around in my chair and told Wilson directly what work he had to do. Essentially, it was a system larger than our firm. We learned then that company systems must grow with your firm. When you’re small, you won’t need many policies, procedures and systems to manage your design services. But as you grow, and get bigger – you’ll slowly need to add more and more. So, we took the zip-line down and went back to our previous project management system – talking.
The client problem
Simultaneous to this project management system failure, we realized that we WERE having problems delivering proofs to our clients. For whatever reason, I still can’t understand why, our clients were having a hard time receiving and opening .jpeg proofs from us through e-mail. Perhaps their ISP’s thought our attachments were viruses. Perhaps they had malware laden computers that wouldn’t let them open .jpegs. I can only imagine. Whatever the reason, we had a problem that we needed to fix. The first solution was that we started posting images to the internet, then sending a link. This worked much better, but we were posting all these images manually. I’m not even talking about using a service like Flickr or Facebook. I mean, we literally built a web page for every single proof and posted them online.
It wasn’t long before we realized how ridiculous this was, so – we built the original Prooflab. It was a very simple online tool. We would fill out a form and select our proofs. Prooflab would build a web page with our proofs on it and send us a link. We would then forward that link over to our client. From there, the feedback loop was just as if we had e-mailed the proofs. The client would either e-mail us or call us with feedback.
As we grew and changed over the next three years, it was becoming apparent that we would once again need to develop a system for managing our projects. Our staff had grown from two to six. We had switched from flat-rate billing to hourly billing. We were landing larger projects and we were gaining a large number of out-of-state clients. All of these things presented us with challenges that we thought we could solve with some web-based software.
The hunt for pre-built software
Our very first thought was to build our own web based system that would allow everyone within Go Media, and our clients to log into a central website where they could review their projects, proofs, communicate, log time, etc. etc. But then we realized how much time and money it would take to build our ideal solution. So, we scrapped that idea and decided there surely must be some web-based software already built for running a design firm. We probably spent about three months doing research on what software was available for running a design firm. There were indeed a variety of solutions out there. Today there is probably three times as many options.
Unfortunately, nothing we found worked the way that we ran Go Media. And had we decided to use one of these other project management solutions, it would have fundamentally changed who Go Media was. At the end of the day, a business is its systems. Despite the many hours and expenses involved in building a system like this – we knew we had to do it. There was no other way to capture our unique corporate culture. We believe strongly in legendary customer service, transparency, infusing the design process with fun, and open communications between designer and client.
It took us about a year and a half to build Prooflab version 2. It was a major leap forward in functionality from Prooflab 1. There was nothing earth-shattering about the functionality, but it was structured and functioned exactly as we ran Go Media. So, in that regard, it was special.
The basic structure of the site was as follows – both the client and the designers would log-in through the web. Once logged into the system, they would see a projects queue (a list) of all their projects. The list would include things like project number, title, client (or designer), status and deadline. You would click on a project to see the project details. The details of the project included items like: general description, project specs, hours logged, correspondence, proofs and design team. From there, the user could post/review proofs, send an e-mail or edit/request changes to the project. Oh, we also had a file repository. But that part of the system was so poorly designed and so buggy, that I don’t think we ever really used it. The system also sent out standard e-mail notifications. These covered general alerts like: “You’ve got Proofs,” “You’ve been assigned a new project,” and “You’ve got mail.”
Prooflab V2 was far from perfect. It was horribly buggy, parts were poorly designed and we found that we simply didn’t use some parts. But, despite its many warts, it was a huge success. It was much like a slow and buggy computer. On one hand it could frustrate the heck out of you. But on the other hand, you couldn’t live without it. Assigning projects, organizing specs, logging time and posting proofs became an organized and efficient process within the company. And, to my surprise, our clients loved it. They went out of their way to tell us how much better their design experience was now that we had the Prooflab. Some clients even asked how they might be able to use Prooflab for their own company. It seemed there was a need in many industries for project management software.
The Prooflab version two hasn’t changed much in the last five years. We fixed a few small bugs and turned off some capabilities that we never used. We realized early on that the next generation of Prooflab would require a complete overhaul. So, we kind of stopped trying to fix and improve it. However, we did continue to take notes on how we could improve it.
About two and a half years ago we really started serious work on Prooflab V3. For about a year I would get a third of the way through the redesign then realize it could be better. I would scrap what I had been working on and start over. Finally, on about the third go at it – things started to click. Of the utmost importance to the version 3 upgrades was the fundamental structure with which Prooflab handled the organization of the information. Additionally, we were constantly asking ourselves how we could keep the interface as simple and ergonomic as possible. The system had to be so simple and intuitive that a baby could use it. And yet, it had to manage very complex projects and piles of information. With this in mind, we tried to build intuitive layers of information; giving the user only what they need at any given moment with a clear path to more information.
As of today (June 16, 2011) we estimate that we are about ready to start internal beta testing of the new prooflab. Assuming all goes well, perhaps we hit the market two months after that (maybe in August some time?).
WARNING! This entire blog article is an advertisement. Wait! I know what you’re thinking – either 1. “This guy is crazy,” 2. ”I’m going to stop reading this article immediately” or 3. “This is all just a clever device to pique my curiosity and keep me reading. Damn it! It’s working!” Whatever you’re thinking, please give me a few moments to explain.
Back about seven years ago as Go Media was just starting to grow, we decided we needed a blog to better market our design firm. The GoMediaZine was the result. The original intention was straight-forward. First, establish ourselves as authorities on design by sharing our design knowledge and trumpeting our accomplishments. Second, gain new design customers through our reputation as a design leader. When the Arsenal was born about a year later our customer base suddenly included fellow graphic designers. Accordingly, the content of the GoMediaZine also changed. We needed to produce content that would drive traffic to our design products (vector packs). The strategy was almost the same. We would build a community of potential customers by sharing our design expertise; this time through amazing (and FREE) design tutorials. We hoped that the community would become customers of the Arsenal. It was a classic win-win. As cliché as that sounds, we truly believe in it.
This concept of marketing through education is nothing new. But, typically, we would write articles and tutorials AFTER our products were already finished and available to the public. Recently, however, Jeff Finley has been working on an E-book to sell on the Arsenal. The E-book is an insider’s guide to the apparel industry. While doing some research on marketing e-books he learned that you should really be posting blog articles long BEFORE you launch your product. Basically, you’re priming your audience so that by the time you release your product, everyone is lined up down the street ready to buy it. I guess this makes perfect sense. Everyone does it. Whether it’s a movie, a video game or a new Apple product, the marketing hits the streets long before the product is available.
That brings us to this blog article, an advertisement. This article is an advertisement for the most ambitious and useful design tool that Go Media has ever produced: Prooflab (prooflab.us). This is the first in a series of blog articles I’m going to write about managing your design projects, posting proofs, tracking time, etc., etc. It’s a series of articles about the logistics and communications side of being a graphic designer. The goal of which, I hope, will be to entice you to try the Prooflab once we launch it.
Of course, one key to the success of educational marketing is that it needs to be genuine and provide REAL VALUE to the reader. It can’t pretend to be valuable, but in actuality be a long article explaining how great our product is. Furthermore, Go Media’s audience is very sophisticated. Our audience can sniff out an ad or some secondary motive in a heartbeat. Whenever we posts anything on the GoMediaZine that is overtly self serving, we are summarily bashed, and rightfully so. If we do not do a good enough job keeping the design community’s best interests in front of our own you let us know! So, of course, I’ve been struggling mightily to figure out how I could possibly write a series of articles about project management, specifically, project management for graphic designers with the punch-line being: “Prooflab is THE solution.” All the while, not being too obvious about it and simultaneously providing you with some valuable knowledge.
Well, I couldn’t think of any. Or perhaps my conscious wouldn’t let me. So, I’ve decided to take a different approach – 100% transparency. I will lay all my cards on the table. I’ve decided to have a true, real, and honest discussion about the various products and systems that graphic designers use to manage the design process. I’ll let the chips fall where they may. My hope is that once we’ve gone through this learning process, the conclusion is that Prooflab is indeed the ultimate design management tool. But if it isn’t, then we will keep improving it until it is. Our goal is to make Prooflab the industry standard.
So, where do we go from here? Well, I suppose I could use your help! I have some ideas of my own, but I would like to ask you – what should I write about? What questions do you have about proofing, time tracking, client communications, project management, design firm management, CRM, etc. Or if you would like to contribute in a real way to this conversation by talking about how you (or your firm) manages its projects – I would LOVE to hear about it. Basically, let’s make this a design community-driven discussion about how to best run a design project. And hopefully, we will all benefit.
You can add comments after this article, you can write me directly at: [email protected] OR, if you have a few minutes to spare, you can take this short survey that we’ve thrown together. I will include your thoughts and survey results in subsequent articles.
I may insert your thoughts directly into my text (with credit or anonymity – whichever you desire) or simply use them as primers to help direct my research. I truly appreciate your help on this. And I promise to remain as impartial as possible – I know you’ll call me out otherwise.
Not many Adobe Illustrators are aware of the plug-in functionality of Adobe Illustrator. I don’t believe it’s promoted very well. There’s not a good one-stop shop to find plug-ins in one place, with reviews and user feedback. And it’s a shame, because there are many killer plug-ins out there for Illustrator.
Today I want to introduce you to a plugin that in some ways goes beyond my notion of a plug-in, since it adds so many features that you wouldn’t ever expect to be able to do within Adobe Illustrator: Phantasm CS.
Developed by Astute Graphics, Phantasm CS can best be summed up by saying it offers Photoshop-esque functionality to Illustrator. Want to apply Levels? Check. Need to access the Curves? Got it. Need to adjust Hue/Saturation? Bingo.
Phantasm CS is available for both Mac and Windows running Adobe Illustrator CS2, CS3, CS4 or CS5, and offers the user an insane array of extremely well-implemented features that you may have since long given up on having within Illustrator. To be honest, I haven’t used Phantasm CS very much because my mind says “you can’t do that in Illustrator”. With Phantasm CS, you can.
The main feature set that is available across all three versions includes the following:
- Duotone (including monotone, tritone and quadtone)
- Halftone (vector)
- Colorize mode
- Shift to Color
- Swap Channels
Applying any of these is easy enough: select the art you want to tweak, then head to the Effects menu and then to the Phantasm CS sub-menu. From there you select the effect and a dialog box comes up, with the option for basic or advanced settings.
Convert your art to grayscale, whip up a color vector halftone (seriously!), convert your colors to a duotone, adjust levels, curves, brightness/contrast — everything you think you need to do in Photoshop is now at your fingetips in Illustrator and remains editable vector art. It’s freaking cool.
And the effects don’t stop at vector art, you can also edit and tweak embedded images if you spring for the Studio or Publisher version upgrades.
If you are a seasoned Illustrator user, trust me you will have a tough time getting used to the fact that you can do all of this right within Illustrator. As I mentioned above, your brain will tell you “can’t do that” and you will need to re-learn that you now have the capability. That’s probably the biggest learning curve for Phantasm CS.
Phantasm CS has a trial version which gives you basic Brightness/Contrast control as either a Filter or Live Effect. This trial version does not expire and any Brightness/Contrast Live Effects saved with your file remain completely editable in both the trial and full version.
Astute Graphics has an extensive features page on their site so you can learn in-depth about everything Phantasm CS has to offer. Pricing starts at just £49.00 (approximately $75/€58) and for what you get, this seems more than reasonable.
I highly recommend you head over to the site, download the trial and give it a whirl. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
A quick round up of some interesting new and updated Mac utilities of interest to creative types.
Photoshop Automator Actions 5.0 (free/$19.95)
A package of Actions that lets you control many of Photoshop’s most common functions from within Mac OS X’s Automator, letting you add Photoshop functionality to your Automator workflows. If you find them useful, please consider donating at the developer’s website.
From the developer’s website:
Why would I use Automator instead of Photoshop’s own actions?
While Photoshop’s Actions palette provides a simple way to record and playback complex actions, it’s functions are limited to only things you can do in Photoshop. Since Automator workflows can span multiple applications, you can easily automate entire photo and graphics production pipelines. For example, you can can use Automator and the Photoshop Automator Actions collection to batch process the manipulation of your images and then automatically upload the results to a server, archive them to a CD or DVD, build and print contact sheets – and all with a single button press.
The Photoshop Automator Actions collection also provides sophisticated logical actions, which allow you to filter your images based on many EXIF and IPTC tags, color mode, size, orientation, and more. So, you can build build workflows that only perform edits on images that match specific criteria. For example, you could build a workflow that processes CMYK images one way, but performs different actions on RGB images.
Finally, while Adobe Bridge provides a simple interface for launching batch processes, it limits you to only operating on the files within a single folder. Automator has no such limitations, so you can process images from multiple folders, or even images located through a Spotlight search. And, with Automator, you have many more ways to launch a batch process. You can save your workflows as applications, turn them into Folder Actions, trigger them from iCal, or save them as OS X Services.
What’s new in version 5?
Version 5 brings compatibility with Photoshop CS5, as well as the final release of the CS4 actions. As always, there have been lots of bug fixes along the way including file naming, and image resizing – two problems that were introduced with the CS4 beta. Some actions have seen the addition of new parameters, and the v5 package ships with three new actions.
The new Diptych and Triptych actions automate the process of creating two-up, and three-up layouts. With full control over margins and spacing, diptych and triptych creation has never been easier.
The new Contact Sheet action replicates most of the functionality of the Contact Sheet script that is available as an optional install from Adobe. Of course, the advantage of having such power within Automator is that you can now automate the production of your contact sheets. Contact Sheet produces a PSD (either flat or layered) and gives you the option of displaying up to two lines of metadata beneath each thumbnail.
Free or Paid?
There are now two different Photoshop Automator Action bundles, the free bundle which includes 41 actions covering all of your day-to-day automation needs, and a $20 Pro bundle that packs 95 actions, delivering an incredible amount of high-end automation power. These two packages are available for Photoshop CS4 and CS5.
In addition to the actions, the package includes an assortment of sample workflows. The 73-page manual gives you a reference for all of the included actions, as well as an introduction to using Automator, and strategies for building Photoshop workflows.
Antetype Color Picker v1.01b (free)
An addition to the Apple System Color Picker and provides HSB, RGB and Hex support at the same time. It also allows visual picking of colors based on the HSB color system.
From the developer’s site:
We decided that the standard Mac OS X color pickers are not sufficient for us. Fortunately Apple provides the possibility to extend the system with custom color pickers and that’s exactly what we have done.
When working with colors in a creative way, the HSB color system is often a much better choice than RGB, since it is modeled after human perception of color rather than technical representation. However, in implementation, RGB or Hex values are usually needed and while switching between different color pickers works it is quite a hassle. So we created a color picker that shows and allows editing of those color systems and representations within one view. Combined with a well-proven visual way of picking a color based on HSB our color picker brings much-needed ease-of-use to the Apple system color picker.
Poster for Illustrator (free)
Makes it easy to convert any Illustrator file (.ai, .eps or .pdf) to Illustrator (.ai), EPS or PDF format. Just drag and drop files on the app’s icon, select the desired format and it will convert for you. Note: version of final file is the same of version of Adobe Illustrator that you use.
I can’t think of a use for this personally, but it’s probably one of those utilities that at some point you’ll be glad you know exists. One user on MacUpdate reported that the app helped in a situation where an EPS file kept crashing Illustrator CS3, and using Poster to convert to .ai fixed things up. The name of the app also confuses me, as this has nothing to do with posters…
— via MacUpdate
There’s been quite a brouhaha between Adobe and Apple as far as the lack of Flash on Apple’s iOS devices (iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch).
I’ve mentioned on GoMediaZine in the past that I believe Adobe’s best plan of action would be to offer development tools for HTML5 and for Apple’s iOS devices instead of trying to force their hand into Flash.
It’s obvious that Apple isn’t going to relent in the near future (if at all) and that Apple’s iOS products are a big success. Like it or not, they are here to stay.
Adobe has taken what I think is a great step towards offering designers and developers a way to use Adobe products to get content on these touch devices. We mentioned the Adobe Digital Publishing platform recently, but Adobe has just released further details, including iPad-specific information.
The tools will be released as an add-on for Adobe InDesign CS5, and will be available via Adobe Labs later this summer. The tools used will be the same tools used to create the successful Wired Magazine app.
Check out the brief video below to see what Adobe has up their sleeve. It looks pretty slick and I can’t wait to get my hands on it to try it out.
Kaleidoscope for Mac is an interesting new file comparison utility. It looks to be a great tool for both web developers as well as designers, and as far as I know it’s the first utility of it’s kind to do image file comparison.
The app is super snappy, and there’s lot’s of great little features when you poke around the single-window interface. You can set up multiple comparison sets with tabs, and add any number of files per tab.
The image comparison tool supports JPEG, TIFF, PNG, PSD and more. Compare files using Two-Up, One-Up, Split & Difference.
The text comparison tool will work with any text file: plain text, source code, HTML, etc. Choose from three layouts: Blocks, Fluid & Unified — and it even imports text from .doc and .rtf files. You can quickly jump from change to change and the app will highlight all the added, deleted and changed text.
And if you’re an advance geek, it also supports Subversion with integration for Git, Mercurial, SVN & Bazaar as well as Versions, TextMate SVN, Cornerstone, and the ksdiff Command-line tool.
There’s a 30-day demo, so give it a download and see if it’s worth the €29 (about $35) to you.
Apple’s Steve Jobs just posted a long open letter on the reasoning behind the decision to exclude Flash support on mobile devices such as the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Jobs lists six major points surround the decision, but wraps it up and confirms what I suspected was the driving force behind the decision. In Steve’s own words:
“We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform.
If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features.
We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers.”
Apple dealt with this during the transition from OS9 to OS X, and Jobs even notes in his letter that only now in CS5 has Adobe finally shipped a native Mac OS X version of the Creative Suite software. With the success of the iPhone & iPad, you can’t blame them for not wanting it to happen all over again.
The Floppy Disk is Finally Dead
I find it interesting that also this week, Sony announced it will be phasing out the manufacturing of floppy disk drives. Apple chose to do this in 1998 with the first iMac. Jobs implies in his letter that HTML5 is a new era for the web, and I believe he and Apple look at Flash the same way they looked at the floppy disk in 1998. Is it really any surprise?
Interestingly, this week Apple finally opened up access to hardware acceleration on OS X 10.6.3 for plugins such as Flash, something Adobe has been telling Apple for years they need in order to optimize the Flash Player on OS X. So far it’s only supported on the newest of the new Macs, but it’s a start.
Jobs notes in his letter regarding the other Flash issue — namely their attempt with Flash Catalyst to provide a “packager” for Flash creations that would allow them to run on an iPhone in a “wrapper. I think most Apple-bashers on the Flash issue seem to have overlooked what Jobs points out: any app created with that sort of tool must rely on the lowest common denominator features across all mobile platforms.
Apple doesn’t want this. Apple wants developers to create apps using the unique features offered by the iPhone OS.
The Apple “Experience”
Some people look at a device as a “tabula rasa” — something that they should be allowed to do whatever they want on it. I believe the Android operating system is built on this approach. But not the iPhone OS.
Apple has always focused on the overall experience rather than a “jack of all trades” open-endedness with their offerings. They make their own operating system. They make their own software. They make their own hardware/computers. And now with the iPad and recent acquisitions, they now make their own processor chips.
It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that Apple has no desire to be a company producing a blank slate device that runs every last thing out there. They want to offer a unique and specific experience for the end-user. It is my opinion that they believe the best way to go about this is to use the tools specifically designed to create for the iPhone OS platform.
Adobe has called Apple to task on this decision, calling themselves open and Apple proprietary. But it’s not like Adobe hasn’t had their share of cutting users out of preferred authoring tools. It’s a no-brainer to see that Adobe acquired Macromedia primarily for the Flash authoring tool.
But in this process, they also acquired authoring tools such as FreeHand which was discontinued in favor of Adobe’s own vector graphics software, Illustrator. There has been no relenting of the frustration former FreeHand users have felt having lost their favorite tool.
Adobe has implicitly said that you need to move to Illustrator, and no roadmap as to what will or will not be incorporated into Illustrator. While not exactly the same, still it echoes the Apple decision that if you want to create iPhone OS apps, you do so with the approved tools. In a certain sense, Adobe has said that if you want to create vector graphics, you do so with the approved tools.
I’d venture to say that Adobe’s decision to end support for FreeHand and force users to migrate to Adobe Illustrator is really not that much different from Apple telling app developers that instead of writing lowest common denominator apps, you must use the free tools offered to create specifically for the iPhone OS.
I am sure out dear readers have opinions on this situation, and I would love to hear them. Please leave us your 2 cents in the comments section below.
Go Media friend Brad Colbow has a nice comic on this topic, and I’ll leave you with that.
So why is it that Photoshop never crashes for me?
I’m not bragging or anything, but instead actually interested in why this happens to some people and not others. Perhaps it’s the setup, perhaps the types of files. I’d like to get to the bottom of this, and I need your feedback to do so.
So let’s start off with a description of my setup, then an overview of a typical Photoshop document. First, here’s my rig:
- Mac Pro (2008) dual quad-core processors
- 14 GB RAM
- Dual-monitors connected to the stock dual-monitor card shipped with the Mac
- Creative Suite CS4 Premium (Photoshop CS4 Extended)
- Wacom Intuos4 graphics tablet
I use Photoshop more for drawing and sketching than for photo manipulation, but a pixel is a pixel; a layer is a layer; a layer effect is a layer effect. Here’s a typical Photoshop document for me by the time I am done with it:
- 8″ by 8″ (or larger) canvas at 240 DPI
- 15-20 layers, collected in layer groups with effects such as transparency & masks added
- RGB color mode
In addition, I am typically running Safari, my email program, iTunes, Illustrator, Acrobat, InDesign, Tweetie, an RSS reader and sometimes even recording or watching recorded video via EyeTV.
During the process I extensively use Photoshop CS4 features like the Rotate Canvas tool and other processor and graphics processor features. Rarely does Photoshop feel sluggish, occasionally do I need to wait for an extended progress bar, and as I mentioned at the outset crashes are virtually non-existent. At least no more often than any other random software application crashes on the Mac (which is rare as well).
What is RAM?
In case you are unaware, RAM (“memory”, aka ‘Random Access Memory’) is like a magic potion for your computer. Most (or all) modern operating systems use virtual memory, cache and scratch disks (even Photoshop uses it’s own scratch disk) to allow you to do many things at once (“multitasking”) with a limited amount of RAM. Basically these features use your hard drive to swap out things from the RAM to “make room” for the digital information.
Why Should I Care?
Hence, more RAM equals less swapping info with the hard drive. RAM is fast; hard drives are not. Even without RAM, you can still open 183 applications, but if there isn’t enough RAM to not only store them all in the RAM but also allow for enough room to store the information for your open documents, you’ll see slowdowns and eventual crashes because of the swapping of information to and from the hard drive.
So the idea here is the more RAM you have, the faster things should be on your computer (this is true for Mac or PC). RAM allows you to work on larger files, have more software running at once, and work with larger files faster.
In chatting with other Photoshop users, one thing does play a big factor in your RAM situation: the maximum physical limit you can install on a machine. Computers are built to support a maximum amount of RAM, and once you hit that limit there’s nothing you can do about it. It seems those with older or entry-level laptops are the most affected here.
When I replaced my aging PowerMac G4 with the Mac Pro in 2008, believe me I wanted to go with a far less-expensive iMac. But back then it all came down to the RAM. The iMac back then maxed out at possibly 8, but definitely 6 GB of RAM. From previous experience, this was not sufficient. I knew I would want a minimum ceiling of 10-12 GB of RAM in my new computer. The Mac Pro holds up to 32 GB of RAM. While overkill, it was the only option that fit my needs.
Today the iMac handles up to 16GB of RAM, so when I finally do need to upgrade my main machine I will be able to go for an iMac (or the equivalent) when that time comes.
What’s Your Setup?
My question to the readers: does Photoshop crash on you on a regular basis? If so, what version of Photoshop and how much RAM do you have installed? If not — well, the question is basically the same. I’d like to hear from the readers on this so we can nail down the role RAM plays in your Photoshop usage.
And it also may be a “heads up” to those looking to buy a new machine to keep an eye out on the specs for the RAM cap on that new machine. A tool at a good price is no good if it doesn’t add to your productivity.
It’s that time of the, um 18-month release cycle again. Time for a new version of Adobe’s Creative Suite. This time up: version 5.
For this initial overview, I’m just going to talk about the new stuff in Photoshop and Illustrator since those are the apps that I am most familiar with.
Mostly I am going to talk about what I think are the most compelling features from an illustrator/designer’s point of view.
We’ll start off with the granddaddy of Adobe software, Photoshop. Oh, and I have not used any of these new versions — but rest assured I’ll have a copy once they ship in late May 2010. Full review to come then.
Photoshop CS5 levels the playing field with the Mac and PC versions with the Mac version finally being 64-bit. All the CS5 apps are also now native Cocoa apps on OS X, which means they finally run using the new PS X code, and not the legacy Carbon code previous versions of the Creative Suite used. this is a Good Thing. Well, at least if you aren’t running a PowerPC Mac. Cocoa is Intel-only.
From my experience, even running CS3 on a PowerPC Mac was pointless as the processor just couldn’t handle it.
I’d have to say Photoshop CS5’s flagship feature is the Content-Aware Fill. If you’ve seen the videos, it looks amazing. Probably the closest thing to the “magic button” people think of when they think of Photoshop.
You can literally draw a loose selection around an object in a photograph, hit the proper delete button, and Photoshop will seamlessly figure out how to replace the background where the former object was.
It’s what you think of when you think of a computer. It also looks like magic.
Not to be outdone, the selection tools have also become more powerful, again working almost as if by magic. Adobe really out did themselves on these two features, at least as demonstrated by the videos.
What I like about these two features is that they extend and enhance the way users already work, making those tasks easier, In fact, they are no longer tasks at all.
Personally, I get sick of feature bloat when new “wow” features are added to make for good PR, but in reality the end user would prefer the tools they already use work more the way they want them to work.
In Photshop CS5, I think this may be the case with the above features. I’m looking forward to working with them to see how they hold up.
The last new feature that I think will also be a Big Deal is the new brush features, particularly the Mixer Brush and the Bristle Tips.
What these bring to Photoshop are new natural media painting tools that look to rival Corel Painter. Corel Painter seems to be the painting app, and it seems Adobe has been paying attention.
In conjunction with a Wacom and a tilt-sensitive stylus, this could be huge. I think it will also enhance every aspect of using brushes within Photoshop, so even if you don’t “paint” in Photoshop, these should still enhance your workflow quite significantly.
Adobe may be featuring the new Perspective tools on their feature page for Illustrator, but from my perspective (also shared by Illustrator guru Mordy Golding, who’s actually been using CS5), the big new feature is Variable Width Strokes.
When Is A Stroke No Longer A Stroke?
Mordy Golding did a special edition of his weekly “Fridays With Mordy”, where he does live interactive screencasts showcasing features of Adobe Illustrator.
With the launch of CS5 on Monday, he did a “what’s new” episode to give all us vector junkies a guided tour of the highlights.
Mordy said that he thinks Variable-Width Strokes are not only worth the upgrade price for Illustrator, but perhaps for the entire Creative Suite. He thinks they might even be the best new feature in CS5 overall.
So what are they? As the name implies, there’s a new tool that will allow you to change the thickness of a stroke at arbitrary points along the stroke, each of which will flow into each other.
Imagine a stroke that started out at 10 points thick, then grew to 17 points thick, then tapered back down to 3 points thick. It’s like having manual control over a brush on a stroke.
Not only that, but each side of the stroke can have individual widths away from the center. And on top of that, it works with brushes, extending the level of control you have over these objects to an amazing degree.
As someone who works in Illustrator the majority of my day, and works with a lot of line art based illustrations, I am pretty stoked to start using this. It could change the way I work from now on.
Again with the brushes…
Illustrator users now also have a new natural media painting tool in their arsenal that mimics an oil or acrylic brush, all while remaining in resolution-free vector art.
“Little Big Things”
All of us Illustrator geeks were bugging Mordy on Twitter about “yeah, big new fancy features — but what about fixing the tools we already use?”.
As Mordy put it, there are a lot of “Little Big Things” in Illustrator CS5, some of which are more compelling to me than the flashy things.
A big one for me is Command-click Selections (Control-click on the PC). If you used InDesign, you know this feature, and wanted it in Illustrator. And now it’s (finally) here.
What is it? Simple, but powerful — have a stack of items, but need to select the fourth one down in the stack? Now you just need to hit the Command (Control) key and click on the stack — each click with select the object below, in order.
Next up is “Paste Into”, which is part of the new drawing modes (Draw in Front, Draw Behind and Draw Into). No need to create clipping paths anymore. Just like in InDesign, select an object, copy, select another object and Paste Into. And better than a clipping mask, the object you pasted into retains all it’s original properties as well.
Illustrator’s Artboards feature has also been greatly refined & enhanced as well. Rename them, order them up on their own new panel, and other tweaks.
Honestly, as an Illustrator power-user the features I described above are enough to make me want to upgrade. But I tend to be a bit bleeding edge when it comes to my tools.
I currently work on CS4 and feel that I got every penny’s worth out of my $600 upgrade, when compared to the time it saved me, the frustrations it minimized and the ease at which I could create my artwork.
Photshop CS4 was the killer app for me in CS4, but I think Illustrator will trump this time around.
One thing that will change for me is the decision not to go with the Design Premium this time, but rather Design Standard. I can literally count on one hand the number of times I launched Flash or Dreamweaver since getting CS4. I’m sure those versions will suffice if I do need to do anything in either, however I’ve moved away from Dreamweaver for my website recently, opting for a hand-coded solution that I will update manually.
As far as Flash, well I rarely used it before, and I pretty much never use it now. I think I’ll pocket that extra $100.
Speaking of upgrade pricing, those of you going for the Design Standard like me will be coughing up $499 USD, and if you want the Premium version that’s an extra $100. And that’s for CS4 upgraders. If you’re on CS1 or CS2, tack on another $200 to each of those tiers.
If you do the math, $500 over the 18-month release cycle comes out to $27.78 per month if you keep up to date regularly. Personally that seems more than reasonable if the software enhances your workflow.
Based on the upgrade price for older versions, in the long run you save $300 over 36 months (if you upgrade every-other version). A hundred bucks a year. to me, passing up on using the new tools just isn’t worth it at those rates.
Adobe isn’t paying me to coerce you into upgrading, I just like to break things down into digestible numbers. I really don’t see the benefit of denying yourself enhanced tools to save $100 a year. Raise your hourly rate $1 an hour and be done with it. I hear so many people complain about X feature — something that’s been improved in a newer version — yet they refuse to upgrade for the “outrageous” fees.
Personally, I’ve found something compelling enough in each Creative Suite release to warrant the upgrade, and have yet to be disappointed.
So, we want to hear from you dear readers: what’s your favorite new feature? Something I’ve mentioned, or another of the new features? Or does nothing interest you? And I am sure some of you will take issue with my stance on upgrade pricing. I want to hear from you as well. Sound off in the comments section below.
It’s that time of year again fellow creative types. Well, actually that time of the 18-month release cycle for Adobe’s Creative Suite upgrade.
I know many users out there have a feeling of “didn’t I just upgrade?”, but in fact the release cycle is indeed every 18-months and this one is right on schedule.
Come April 12th, Adobe will be hosting a live CS5 launch announcement event where we will all find out about the new features to be added.
Some of you may already be aware of some of the sneak peek videos Adobe has released for the amazing new Content-Aware Fill feature:
This looks amazing for photo editing, almost like magic!
But our question to you, dear readers: even before knowing about what’s to come in CS5, are you considering upgrading? What’s your typical policy on upgrades?
If past pricing is any indicator, upgrade pricing for the Design Premium bundle will probably be around $500 USD.
Personally, I try to always stay current with the Creative Suite upgrades, and I have heard snippets of features to the Photoshop brush tools that make it very compelling to me.
I’ve also been told by the product Manager for Adobe Illustrator that there will be a “mind blowing” feature coming to Illustrator CS5. And no, I have no inside info as to what that feature is.
I love adding new tools to my arsenal that increase my productivity and enhance my workflow. I found the CS4 upgrade to be more than worth it, and if CS5 offers anything in the way of those features, I won’t hesitate to get me upgrade license.
So leave us your opinion in the comments section below, we want to hear what the community has on their mind about CS5.
Photoshop is the workhorse of the design industry. It’s an industry standard. But even Photoshop’s biggest fans will admit it can be quite daunting for basic tasks.
So what to do for either users who don’t need the full version of Photoshop or have a limited budget? Quality, low-priced pixel-based image editors on the Mac are surprisingly rare.
Flying Meat Software has a fantastic alternative: Acorn. Priced at only $49.95 (and read on for details on the free option). It’s a suprisingly powerful app with some features Adobe could learn a trick or two from.
If you’ve used Photoshop, or any image editor, you’ll get up to speed quickly with Acorn. It’s got everything you’d expect, and some things you won’t.
I’d have to say Acorn’s “signature” feature is it’s all-in-one Tools panel. Here you access all the standard pixel editing stuff: Move, Zoom, Crop, Brush/Pencil, Eraser and the like. I wasn’t expecting to also have vector shape tools.
The tools panel consolidates not only your tools, but also your Layers. Again, I was surprised to find not only Layer Groups, but also a huge range of blending modes for layers as well.
All the tools for which you’d want tablet support indeed have tablet support, although I’d have to say Photoshop comes out on top here. The anti-aliasing is limited to a checkbox. Opacity levels can be set for drawing/painting tools as well.
I didn’t find the pressure sensitivity to be all that great, and I also experienced brushstroke lags at times. I’m working on a dual quad-core MacPro with 14GB of RAM, so I have plenty of power.
- Live Filter Preview Animations: This blew me away—open up the Filters window, and start clicking around. A small preview window in the panel will show you an animated preview as the filter is run through the gamut of it’s option. So much easier to see what a potential candidate filter will do to your image. Big thumbs up here.
- Screenshots: Acorn has a lot of excellent tools for taking screenshots and having them pop open right into Acorn for editing. And need to grab a quick snap from your webcam? Acorn has you covered. And even more amazing, Acorn can grab a layered screenshot, where every last element on the screen is saved into it’s own Layer/Layer Group. Impressive.
- The Brush Editor: Acorn has a pretty full-featured Brush editor, with plenty of flexibility as far as what you can tweak. Not as full-featured as Photoshop, but more than enough for the target users of this software.
- Drawing tools & Tablet Support: As I mentioned above, I didn’t find the drawing tools to be standout. They do the job, but there’s no way I could use Acorn as a replacement for Photoshop for my main drawing/sketching software. At least not as-is. Too much lag, and the tablet support is passable. That said, this isn’t a power-user app so I can’t be too hard on Flying Meat.
- Web Export: a big disappointment was the Web Export feature. Acorn seems like a perfect app for prepping a screenshot, however there was no way I could find to resize the image when exporting for the web. Seems you need to resize the document itself before saving for the web, which to me is a big downer.
- Photoshop compatibility: I have no idea if it’s even possible for Flying Meat to offer the ability of saving layered files in a .psd format, but if so it’s not there. It’s stated on the Help that Acorn can open some very basic Photoshop files, as long as nothing fancy is going on with the image/layers etc. No layered TIFF files either. Again, I’m not sure this is a major issue for the target customer of the app, but it’s worth noting.
- Guides: There are none. As of version 2.3.1, just enable the Rulers and then you can drag down guides just as you can in Photoshop.
- Keyboard Support: while there are extensive keyboard shortcuts throughout the app for choosing tools and applying commands, one odd omission is the ability to toggle numeric fields up on down using the up/down arrows on the keyboard. You need to either enter the specific number, or drag the slider.
A Mighty Oak
Sure, Acorn has it’s limitations if you’re making a one-to-one comparison to Photoshop. But considered on it’s own, Acorn is a mind-blowingly awesome pixel editor app for $50. If you don’t need Photoshop or the full Creative Suite but do have a need for a pixel-based image editor at times, Acorn is an absolute no-brainer.
The number of features that are packed in to this seemingly simple graphics editor is really quite amazing the more you start working with it and digging into everything it offers.
As I mentioned at the start, Flying Meat is offering up a reduced set of features for free after the 14-day trial period runs out. You can still open images and crop, filter, rotate, add layers, add text, and touch up images. Here’s what’s disabled in the free version:
- Web Export
- Brush Designer and Brush tool (the Draw/Pencil tool is still enabled)
- Layered Screen Shots
- RAW Image Import
- Copy Merged
- Clone Tool
- New Layer Groups
- Free and Perspective Transform tools
- Custom Plug-ins
- AppleScript support
- Bézier Curve tool
- Shortcuts for adjusting layer opacity
- Start Window always comes up at launch
I’d have to say that’s a pretty generous list of features that are still included in the free version. Head on over to Flying Meat and download Acorn. I think you’ll be quite impressed.