Blank Canvas: Creative Resolutions

It’s that time of year again. January first always seems to bring out the best intentions in people, and us creative types are no different.

Some may choose to lose weight, get in shape or quit a bad habit. But Go Media is curious what you the design community wants to change, improve or quit in regards to your creative life.

I’ll kick things off by sharing what art-related resolutions I’ve made in 2011.

Most of my plans for the coming year are less on the creative side and more on the business side of my art. In general the theme for me is to expand the reach and availability of my art and creative services.

In particular, I’ve come to the realization that I’ve been offering a pretty narrow slice of my illustration talents — for the most part it’s been targeted to those seeking custom work. I had a bit of an “aha!” moment in late 2010 (which of course in hindsight seems obvious) that there are many more potential clients, customers and fans out there who don’t need to hire me for custom work, but would like to have some for themselves.

This will also help achieve the other goal I have for 2011 and beyond, which is to create more artwork for myself. I pretty much had a laser focus for the past 5+ years to grow my illustration business to something that was self-sustaining, and by doing so I focused completely on the illustration work I created for clients.

Of course the past years were not all about art, since in order to achieve the goal of running your own business you need to do, well, business. But it all revolved around commercial art. I’d like to get more into creating art I want to create, and being able to make it self-sustaining from a business standpoint.

I’ve actually spent most of the Christmas/New Year’s “holiday” working on putting these goals into motion. To paraphrase Newton’s laws of motion, it’s much easier to keep something going once it’s in motion that it is to get it started.

Part of this process also involves my third resolution, which is to get more involved with others in the creative community. Some of the other projects I’ve begun are being worked on in conjunction with other like-minded illustrators. I find it makes the process not only more enjoyable, but it helps keep you on point when others are working towards (or bugging you to complete) the goals you’ve taken on.

So that’s my 2011. Go Media wants to hear from our readers: what’s your creative resolution for 2011?

Go!

Dragon photo by Rollan Budi

Blank Canvas: Students — What’s Missing From Your Classes?

Go Media has a large student readership. We’d love to hear from you regarding your current classes and offered classes — what’s missing?

I know back in my college days, it was a far different environment than it is today. The school and professors were considered reputable in their field, yet I found some of their approaches to be out of touch. I imagine that situation never changes.

What’s not offered, or not given enough time in the classes you’re taking? What’s not available to learn that you feel are important skills for a designer to have in their arsenal for the future?

Are you missing out on new web technologies like CSS and HTML5? Is designing for mobile computing environments with iOS and Android sufficiently covered? What sort of information do you find yourself turning to design blogs like Go Media Zine for?

And let’s not be completely negative here — if your university is offering some kick-ass classes in areas that you feel are part of the future of design, let us know as well in the comments below.

Go!

Blank Canvas: Stock Photography

For this installment of Blank Canvas, Go Media Zine would like to get some reader feedback on stock photography. Do you use it? What’s your favorite site? Do you sell your own stock photography?

For the most part, when stock photography comes up for a project, I tend to use iStockPhoto. They have a pretty decent selection of both photography and illustration, and it seems easy enough to find what you are looking for.

That said, I think the primary reason I’ve used iStock is because the prices are low, the quality is decent for what you pay and I’ve just been using them for so long it’s easiest with an account and credits set up already.

I’ve dabbled with some other stock photography sites such as BigStockPhoto.com, but that’s about it. To be honest, I’m not too familiar with any other competitors out there.

As far as contributing, I’ve never contributed photography, but I have done so for some illustration work. I’d be curious to hear from any readers who do contribute photography to a stock photo site — let us know what your experience has been as far as exposure, pay/income and what seems to be the most popular.

It seems to me the way to make any decent money is to have a lot of stuff uploaded, since the royalties aren’t that high.

If you don’t use stock photo sites, where do you get your photography from? Shoot your own photos? Hire a photographer? An alternate resource we may not be aware of?

Go!

iPad Magazines: DOA?

Khoi Vinh, former design director of the New York Times website, has a recent post where he opines that the current crop of iPad magazines (and tablet-based magazines in general) “run counter to how people use tablets today and, unless something changes, will remain at odds with the way people will use tablets as the medium matures. They’re bloated, user-unfriendly and map to a tired pattern of mass media brands trying vainly to establish beachheads on new platforms without really understanding the platforms at all.”

What he fails to expound upon is the phrase “the way people will use tablets as the medium matures”. What is this? How do users use tablets now? It seems like he lumps every tablet user into one category. I’d like to know how he sees average or typical tablet usage.

As a recent iPad owner and a voracious reader, one of the most compelling reasons to pick one of those gadgets up was for the extended reading capabilities. Sure, I was using Instapaper on my iPhone (and still do), but having content formatted for a screen closer to the size of a book or magazine makes a huge difference. In fact, it’s increased my long-form reading habits on digital devices. I see magazines fitting into this space.

Later on, Vinh vents: “In my personal opinion, Adobe is doing a tremendous disservice to the publishing industry by encouraging these ineptly literal translations of print publications into iPad apps. They’ve fostered a preoccupation with the sort of monolithic, overbearing apps represented by The New YorkerWired and Popular Science. Meanwhile, what publishers should really be focusing on is clever, nimble, entertaining apps like EW’s Must List or Gourmet Live. Neither of those are perfect, but both actively understand that they must translate their print editions into a utilitarian complement to their users’ content consumption habits.”

Magazine apps like the Must List are indeed slick and fit well into the “snack food” category of news/information apps, but the Must List seems more of a glorified sidebar with slick interactive design. Where do extended pieces with some journalistic oomph (and great design) come in?

Pandering to “top ten” list information might be a great sidecar app to the full magazine app or website (or even the print magazine), but I think Vinh is looking towards lowest common denominator readership.

While I may agree with Vinh that shoehorning the print version into a tablet format isn’t the way to go, one can hardly fault publisher for trying to minimize their production times and costs. InDesign Magazine has a free sampler issue out, and I have to say I like the format for a tablet-based magazine. Good content, great design. Perhaps I don’t fit into that demographic Vinh has in mind.

I do agree with Vihn that magazine apps have “an impediment to my normal content consumption habits. I couldn’t email, blog, tweet or quote from the app, to say nothing of linking away to other sources” — however things like these I think will come in time. Let’s start with getting magazines on these devices, working out a delivery system, and then adding some rich functionality. I do have to say that I am surprised this type of functionality isn’t being embedded into the magazine apps already.

To be honest, I find most device-specific magazine apps to be redundant with the coming of HTML5 and the internet in general. Publishers should be able to push out rich content without proprietary formats that work on all devices, all tablets, from all manufacturers. I’m no web developer, so perhaps there are technical limitations I am unaware of. Perhaps a solution can be found through the solutions Adobe is working on. I’d just hate to see content and design reduced to presenting the most inane information just to target Vinh’s mysterious “average tablet user”.

Header image via John Karakatsanis

Adobe Illustrator: Opening Tricky Files

Sometimes files just don’t want to play nice. And usually when that happens, there’s a deadline looming.

Knowing ahead of time how to get out of a tricky situation can make the difference between having time to do the job at an easy pace, or pulling your hair out.

I’ve come across two handy Illustrator utilities — one software, one a tip — that might just save your neck if you ever get yourself into the situations addressed by each of these.

Opening new Illustrator files in an older version

It’s happened to all of us: we’re not running the latest version of Illustrator, and a client or fellow designer sends over the CS18 version, which of course we have no way of opening. Sure, one can ask the sender to do a “Save As…”, but usually our priorities are not those of others. What to do?

A tip over at MacOSXHints.com has one possible workaround: place the EPS document into your current version of inDesign and then create a PDF from it. The resulting PDF you should be able to open in Illustrator, and from there get access to vector logos or any other elements you need access to.

Opening Illustrator files in a different format

Poster by Matteo Discardi is an OS X donation-ware utility that does one thing: drag some Illustrator files on the app (.ai, .eps or .pdf) and a small prompt window pops up that allows you to change the file to any of those three formats. Why not just open the file and do a “Save as…”?

Simple: files that crash Illustrator when attempting to open them. We’ve all been there. Having the file in a different format might make the difference between being able to open the file and access the vector goods you need, or spending hours on emails and phone calls trying to get the original designer to send the file in a different format.

Discardi also offers another vector file conversion tool, Pongo, which will take any Illustrator CSx file and convert it to your choice of .jpg, .png or .svg — not so much a neck saver but a handy way to quickly get a raster version of a vector art file. Worth having in the toolbox.

WebP: Google’s New Web Image Format

So here’s one I didn’t see coming: Google has announced a new image format for use on the web. Named “WebP“, Google claims

To improve on the compression that JPEG provides, we used an image compressor based on the VP8 codec that Google open-sourced in May 2010. We applied the techniques from VP8 video intra frame coding to push the envelope in still image coding. We also adapted a very lightweight container based on RIFF. While this container format contributes a minimal overhead of only 20 bytes per image, it is extensible to allow authors to save meta-data they would like to store.

While the benefits of a VP8 based image format were clear in theory, we needed to test them in the real world. In order to gauge the effectiveness of our efforts, we randomly picked about 1,000,000 images from the web (mostly JPEGs and some PNGs and GIFs) and re-encoded them to WebP without perceptibly compromising visual quality. This resulted in an average 39% reduction in file size. We expect that developers will achieve in practice even better file size reduction with WebP when starting from an uncompressed image.

There is a conversion tool, and Google says that an alpha transparency layer is coming soon to the format, which will give it PNG-style transparency. Oddly, the conversion tool is only currently available for Linux users!

Google’s WebP info pages contain a Gallery showing comparisons between JPG and WebP images. Since browsers can’t yet support WebP images, they are inside some sort of “PNG container” as they mention on the site.

The surface claim here is that Google wants to modernize compressed image formats for use on the web, to make downloading webpages and images faster. Obviously, as an advertising company the faster a page loads, the quicker you see their ads.

Seeing as how the format is Open Source, I can’t really see any downside to Google being the originator of the format. The GIF format ran into issues since it was patented, which led to the development of the PNG format. The patent on the GIF format has since expired, according to Wikipedia.

The real question is this: will it be adopted, and how widespread will the adoption be? The first step is for browsers to support the format, then those who create images. Will the major graphics software developers support WebP, such as Adobe? I think that will be a deciding factor. Using a command-line prompt to convert images is not going to help the adoption rate.

Some independent graphics software developers have already jumped on the WebP bandwagon. Pixelmator has already started adding WebP support to their software. But I think it’ll take seeing WebP support in software that is more widespread across the graphics and web industry before we will see any widespread support. Yes, I am talking about Photoshop and Illustrator.

So as creative types, I’m curious what our readers think of the new format, and how likely you think you’ll be to use the new format if/when Adobe and the like start supporting it. Will the file size savings be worth moving over to a new format, one that may present compatibility issues at the outset when sharing files with others without support for the format in their software?

Is the file size saving something that concerns you as a graphic designer or a web developer? How big of a role does it play in your creative process?

Go!

Adobe Illustrator CS5 HTML5 Pack

Adobe recently announced the release of their HTML5 Pack for Adobe Illustrator CS5. It’s totally free for Illustrator CS5 users. Here’s a quick rundown from their site:

  • Efficiently design for web and devices by exporting Illustrator Artboards for unique screen sizes using SVG and CSS3 media queries.
  • Create web widgets with Illustrator by generating dynamic vector art for data driven web work-flows.
  • Take advantage of the latest enhancements to SVG and Canvas to generate interactive web content.
  • Map artwork appearance attributes from designer to developer tools—export from the Illustrator Appearance Panel to CSS3 for streamlined styling of web pages.

It’s interesting that this was released around the same time that Apple relaxed their rules about how iPhone and iPad apps can be developed, specifically in allowing tools like Adobe’s Flash-to-iPhone compiler found in Flash CS5.

In effect, Apple now allows Adobe use their Flash-based tools to develop apps, and Adobe releases tools to allow Illustrator CS5 users to develop non-Flash interactive content for the web — which in particular means developing interactive content for the iPhone and iPad. And of course for Android, since most Android phones still do not have the capability to run Flash content.

Note that this has nothing to do with Flash content displaying on Apple’s iOS devices, but interestingly offers an alternative to Flash for developing interactive web content. The two are only loosely related, but I find the shift in attitude from both companies very surprising and welcome.

I’m glad to see Adobe offering these tools and stepping up to the plate. Sure, they have a lot riding on Flash and would prefer creators to use their proprietary formats. But designers need to have tools to develop in whatever environment is applicable to their project. If a client wants HTML5, Adobe needs to offer the tools to do so before someone else beats them to it.

Adobe Evangelist Greg Rewis has an extended video demonstrating the use of the HTML5 Pack for use on the web. Looks pretty slick:

Review: Phantasm CS plugin for Adobe Illustrator

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:

  • Brightness/Contrast
  • Curves
  • Desaturate
  • Duotone (including monotone, tritone and quadtone)
  • Halftone (vector)
  • Hue/Saturation/Lightness
  • Colorize mode
  • Invert
  • Levels
  • Shift to Color
  • Swap Channels
  • Temperature/Tint

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.

Roundup: Mac Utilities for Designers

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

Photoshop CS5: Performance Tips

So I recently jumped the gun and upgraded to Photoshop CS5 on the Mac. And I wasn’t too happy about it.

Let’s just say that the performance levels were not to my liking. In fact, Photoshop CS5 performed worse than CS4. I was even more confused because Adobe touted the 64-bit nature of Phototshop CS5, which was supposed to bring all sorts of performance gains. I saw none of these, and in fact the opposite.

The Rotate View tool was sluggish and jumpy, brush resizing via the keyboard was jerky at times, zooming in and out was full of hiccups and lag.

Lest you think I’ve been holding on to some old outdated machine, I’m running a Mac Pro dual-quad 2.8 Ghz with 14 GB of RAM. And like I said, CS4 was blazingly fast for me. I was really disappointed in the upgrade. In fact, I was reverting back to using CS4 for my Photoshop needs.

Reaching the end of my rope, I finally did a Google search. Lo and behold I found the Mac Performance Guide article all about Optimizing Photoshop CS5 Performance.

The series of articles explains that most of the tips for CS4 were valid, but there were a few things specific to CS5 that could use a little work. In particular, the one tip that helped me was the Cache Tile Size tip. Seems this obscure little setting in the preferences has a huge impact on Photoshop CS5’s performance, and oddly it’s set by default to a number that kills Photoshop’s performance by up to 80% in some cases!

There’s also a Memory Allocation issue which — as the author suggests — is a bug and needs to be fixed by Adobe. The author Lloyd Chambers(@digilloyd) kindly offers some “warmup” scripts as workarounds to these issues in the meantime. The basic gist is that Photoshop CS5 doesn’t properly allocate the max RAM setting you’ve told it to until it’s opened a file of that size or larger (at least that’s the idea I gathered).

I dropped an @ reply to Photoshop product manager John Nack via Twitter, and waiting to see what his take is on the default setting for the cache tile preference and the performance hit.

If you’re a Photoshop CS5 user and have any other performance tips, please sound off in the comments below.

Header image background photo via Nathan Eal

Adobe: Create Digital Magazines for the iPad

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.

Kickstarter.com: Fund Your Creativity

Have a creative project that needs funds from supporters to get things going? Not sure where to start or how to get the word out? Look no further than Kickstarter.

I can’t do a better job than Kickstarter themselves did explaining their service:

“Kickstarter is a funding platform for creative projects. We’re a great way for artists, filmmakers, musicians, designers, writers, illustrators, explorers, curators, promoters, performers, and others to bring their projects and ambitions to life. Project creators inspire people to open their wallets by offering products, benefits, and fun experiences.”

Kickstarter is not an investing platform – creators retain 100% ownership of the completed project. Kickstarter does take a 5% cut of the funds generated however.

Projects are hand-curated, although they say that projects aren’t chosen by taste, but rather by being appropriate to the service. In particular they are looking for “projects that offer rewards rather than begging for help. Projects with a history of effort or a path to completion. Projects that fit our focus on creativity. And don’t worry whether your project is “important” enough. Small, fun projects that a few friends knock out on a Saturday are some of our favorites.”

Some of the projects Kickstarter does not support are: “charity projects, raising funds for business expenses (rent, payroll, etc), soliciting donations to causes (medical bills, etc), or having people fund your life (travel, living expenses, etc). Additionally, Kickstarter can not be used to solicit investment or loans; projects may not offer financial returns under any circumstances.”

This sounds like a killer setup for creative types. Just a quick browse of the featured projects page and you can see how useful this service has the potential to be. I love the aspect where similar to a “pledge drive”, contributors are offered exclusives from the project as a thank you for larger contributions.

Kickstarter is currently in beta, but you can sign up to have your project considered.

Blank Canvas: How Do You Learn?

For this installment of Blank Canvas, I’d like to hear from our readers on the topic of learning new design and illustration techniques and software.

Obviously here at the Go Media Zine, we offer plenty of design and illustration tutorials, however not everyone learns best from a computer screen.

Creative types have a wealth of information online nowadays, however many out there learn best from a classroom setting, one-on-one tutoring or perhaps even good old fashioned books.

If you are one of those who keep up to date and expand your arsenal online, what do you prefer as the format for your content — step-by-step tutorials, video walkthroughs, “quick tip” articles or in-depth analysis of techniques?

For our student readers, do you augment your classroom studies with outside sources? If you’re already a degreed pro, what do you use to keep current, and have you considered going back to the classroom?

Inspiration Sea

Inspiration Sea is a worldwide community spreading inspiration through art. It allows designers of all kinds (graphic designers, illustrators, web designers, photographers, etc.) to showcase their best work. Users can sign up for a free account to gain access to features like commenting, the message board, the job board, favorite designs they like, and more.

To be able to post inspiration on the site, you must have an invite code from someone on the site or win one through contests that will happen.

If you go to the Launch Giveaways page, you will be able to see that started this coming Monday, there will be a weekly contest for 5 weeks. Giving out prizes like Arsenal Coupon Codes, invite codes, and 2gb flash drives.

Inspiration Sea looks like a great new way to share and discuss your creations with other creative types, kind of like a Flickr for creativity. Users can vote and comment on each creative work, allowing for interactive community-based critiques.

Blank Canvas: Design Contests

There seems to be quite a growing number of websites such as 99 Designs offering design services by way of “contests”, where the client will submit specs for the project, and the designers will then submit actual designs in order to “win” the payment.

While I can see the appeal of these types of services for the client (get designs for free, only pay for the ones you like), I feel this devalues the worth of a designer’s skills. You don’t get to have 5 mechanics work on your car and then only pay the one you felt did the best job. You can’t eat a meal at 5 restaurants and then only pay for the food you found the most delicious.

I’ve read articles and blog comments in defense of these types of services, but none of the arguments was very compelling to me. It reeks of spec work, and the team over at No Spec agree.

Student designers looking to bolster their portfolio, “hobbyist” designers doing it for fun, and the like are the typical arguments in favor of these services.

I suppose it’s the choice of those who participate if they wish to work for the chance of getting paid, but in general I think it sends a message that logo design work is so “easy” that people are willing to do so for even just a chance of compensation.

I much prefer the eBay-style approach of sites like iFreelance where projects are posted and the illustrators and designers bid on the job. No work is done for free.

Go Media wants to hear from our reader, especially as we know many of you out there are students: what is your take on these “design contest” types of sites? Have you participated? Sound off in the comments section below.

Go!

Kaleidoscope: Text & Image Comparison Utility

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.