November 21, 2011

Subscription vs. Purchase

I just received an offer from Adobe to upgrade from Creative Suite 5 Design Premium to Creative Suite 5.5 for $399 to buy, or $95/month for a year or $139/month, month to month to subscribe. Interesting idea, renting my software, but is it better?

Adobe averages an upgrade about every 1.3 years as best I can figure, some have been faster, like 5 - 5.5 some longer. So if I buy CS5.5 it's $399, if I subscribe for a year it's $1140 and if CS6 takes longer than a year to come out it would be more. Obviously if your a designer you know that Adobe Creative Suite is part of what you must have to do your job so subscription really isn't a benefit. However in some situations subscriptions might be an advantage. I was considering looking into getting an intern and one hang up is a lack of software for them, subscription might be an advantage there.

This deal came in the form of an email. I went to the link and a sales chat popped open and asked if they could help me with my decision. I assume subscription confuses people so Adobe is actively trying to help people with their decision. I went ahead and chatted with them and asked a couple of questions: (This isn't the whole conversation, just parts that pertain to this post).

Kenton: What does subscription mean?
Adobe: Kenton, purchasing the subscription is like renting the software.
Kenton: So what are the advantages of subscription?
Adobe: If you purchase the monthly subscription you can use it for any number of months and can cancel it when you do not need it.
Kenton: So what is the advantage of owning it?
Adobe: If you own the software, you will be eligible for any future upgrade.
Adobe: Once the latest version is released in future you can just pay the upgrade price and get the latest version.
Adobe: However, if you purchase the subscription, it is not eligible for an upgrade.
Kenton: If I subscribe to to CS5.5 for a year and in 9 Months CS6 comes out, can I subscribe to CS6 at that point and apply the 3 months left on my CS5.5 subscription to CS6?
Adobe: I am sorry, we do not have an option for that.
(Some of the information in this conversation is incorrect, please see the end for a correction from an Adobe Representative)

So it appears if you're a designer and you must have Adobe Creative Suite to do your job buying it is to your advantage. Your first purchase is a bit painful at over $1000, but once you have it the upgrade prices are easier to take. So keep that in mind when your asking for design school graduation presents.

Subscription based software is a growing phenomenon, I subscribe to the Wordpress Theme I use for most of my websites, (iThemes Builder). It will be interesting to see how this changes future of doing business as a designer.


Thanks to Jennifer Kremer from Adobe for posting the correct information in a comment. This makes a lot more sense and makes subscribing much better. Hopefully Jennifer will let the sales support team know there is a little misinformation going out over chat.

Here is some of Jennifer's comment:
...if you subscribe to CS5.5 now, when CS6 comes out you will automatically get CS6 via your subscription. You can learn more here:

November 08, 2011

Postcards are Popular

I seem to be doing a lot of postcards lately, but not all of them are for mailing. It seems it's really popular to have a postcard instead of a flyer to handout at trade shows, job fairs or just a little informational piece. Maybe it's because it's so easy to get them printed for so little money right now. Possibly it's the smaller size and versatility of it. Whatever the reason it can be a lot of fun.

The way printers have cut costs on printing 4 over 4, or full color on both sides, is by ganging up the work. You send in your job and they print it with a bunch of other jobs and then cut everything up into card sizes.

The advantage of this is obvious, huge cost savings. The disadvantage is no press check, so your file has to be right because you can't adjust the color on press. Also you usually have to adhere to pretty strict rules to be sure file comes out correctly. Another disadvantage is no spot color or spot varnish, just CMYK with an aqueous coating to protect the printing.

I personally have a couple printers I use for this kind of work. They've always worked well for me. The first is Molding Box and I talk to Matt. They're local and it's nice to know your printer in person. The other one I've used is is Modern Postcard. Bigger and more strict but they have their advantages too.

Here's a couple of pieces I've done recently.

This was a handout at a car show.
This was actually a bit more complicated because it had some scratch to win boxes on the back.
It was printed at Rastar with the help of Kae Lynne.

So think about a post card as an alternative to your usual handout.

July 23, 2011

Color Calibration, Differing Opinions

What tools do you use for: Color Calibration, from my LinkedIn Group, In House Designers

Color Calibration is a touchy subject with many differing opinions. I've done pretty much everything to have my screens match my proofs and have come all the back around to the thought that it really doesn't matter unless you work in the dark, have an expensive monitor, and spend the time and money to use a color calibration system often. After all that, if your not doing the same thing all the time it doesn't matter anyway. So it makes sense for for a photographer, and a pre-press department to spend the time and money to calibrate, but what about designers?

That's my opinion anyway, but Arnold Kirschner an active member of the In House Designers group had a different opinion that I found very interesting and wanted to share.

What you are doing is the first step. Go for the highest highlight with detail, the same goes for the shadows and set them in by whatever means is the most comfortable for you. I use curves because you can get a better idea of how other tones are being effected by looking at the graph. Next pick a part of the image that you want as the mid-tone area and set that. On the RGB value scale I go for these numbers:240-120-15 (or 20). From that point on I use CMYK measurements because it's easier keep a percentage no higher than 95% and no lower than 5%. When checking the value of a color try not to blow out anything when detail carrying tone have to count. Example: for a red it's better to have c1%-m100%-y85%-k (black) 0% than to drop out the cyan altogether. You will still get a bright red with detail protected by leaving in that cyan.

As colors get darker the lowest primary gets higher. At some point the wanted colors reach maximum (99%) but the low color, the darkening color, can still go higher and at about 50% the color that you want to keep will start to go neutral, example: (all numbers are in the CMYK order) A red will start to gray up when, 50-100-100-0. For inkjet or press try adjusting the color to: 20-100-100-25. The black will darken the color without making it neutral while the cyan will and is the neutralizing color. This principal hold true across the board.

With enough experience you can pretty much know what values will work for just about any color or tonal step.

There is much more to say about this but the principal is sound and will start you on the way there. I even won a very nice bet by color correcting a job with the monitor set to BW. No color display. If I can do it anyone can do it.

I hope this helped a little. There is much to know.

Arnold Kirschner teaches a class called  "Photographer's Photoshop". It's currently not available online but I'm working on him to do it.

Thanks Arnold, I'm going to check it out.

May 06, 2011

How Do Designers Survive?

I have been doing graphic and web design for 5 years. In the past while my passion and creativity has dwindled due to the disrespect for this profession and too many of the same issues. I would get hired for my portfolio and then get told to do something that I know is wrong and does not follow design standards. I have tried both defending my designs and just doing what they want. Neither one of these things works or makes them happy. Furthermore, don't forget to maintain office etiquette and a smile at all times while they sh*t all over your work that they claimed to love so much in the interview!

I find most clients think they know what they want already and expect you to carry out that vision. How is that design??? I am a button pusher who takes the blame for the end product; which of course sucks under these conditions!

My friend recently came up with an analogy that is pretty funny. He compared this type of work to going to cooking school and becoming a pretty good chef. Unfortunately, the only job you could get is at an average restaurant where the food is not very good. Furthermore your boss is not a chef but makes you cook the food that he learned from a recipe online somewhere (with his own twist of course) and don't forget to cut the vegetables into perfect squares! This restaurant "has a reputation to uphold"! Trying to make a suggestion as a chef will get you labelled as "hard to work with" or kicked out.

So I ask, what is the point exactly? I have run into this situation over and over and am seriously considering quitting. I truly love design, but I can't remember the last time that somebody let me do it. I'm 31 now and feel like I have to start from scratch in a different career. Do you have any advice? Inspirations? Your own rant? Thanks for reading.

From Nadia, LinkedIn Group In-House Designers

First of all take a deep breath Nadia. I quit once, but design isn't just what we do, it's a part of who we are. We may not need to be a designer but we do have to have a creative release, and preferably one that makes us a living.

I've been doing this a long time. Many bosses/clients just have a hard time telling us what they think. They're afraid they'll hurt our feelings, or don't understand the design process. There are some that know why they hire a designer and let the designer do their job and appreciate what they do. Those clients/bosses are why we keep doing it.

There are always going to be those that don't appreciate what we do. They don't appreciate talent and the value of it. They download music for free, they use pictures off the web with no regard for where they come from or the time and money that went into creating the song, image or design. Best we can do is try to educate them and hope they learn.

Right now The Web, Crowd Sourcing, and Social Networking are changing the way we work. Let me tell you a story. Go back in time to the early 80s. The Mac was a new shiny toy and every corporation had to have one. Thing is they just assumed that by having a Mac and giving it to their administrative assistant they could get great designs. They would push the design button and beautiful design would come out of it. Well it took a little while but after a time they realized the Mac is a Pencil, it takes a designer to make the design.

Crowd Sourcing (i.e. iStock, Stinky Logo) is changing the way creative people work. We will adapt and people, the smart people, will realize that there is a designer behind that webpage. Social Networking is cheap, free even, so everyone is doing it, and doing it themselves. After a while there will be so many people pushing crap on Twitter and Facebook that it will take creative people to push the good stuff to the top and the junk will settle to the bottom.

My advice is be picky. I know it is hard in this economy; you want to take what you can get but only do what you feel good about. Then explain your process to them, don’t let them think design is about your mood, tell them the science of color psychology, the research that goes into design, why things are on the page to lead the eye, that logos are designed to elicit the desired response from potential clients, not just look good on a business card. The people you want to work for will understand, the ones that don’t should go to the nearest Crowd Sourcing site and they’ll get what they want, cheap designs they lay on the page.

January 31, 2011

Does Branding Enhance the Users Experience?

Sitting on a plane headed home in that end of trip fog, tired, glad to be headed home to family and at the same time I'll be missing eating out and having someone else make my bed. I took note that on this trip a strong brand really did make for a better experience for me.

Let's start with a simple example of how a weak or inconstant brand can hurt the user experience. You buy a product and the packaging design is different from the manual design and the logo on the product doesn't match the logo on the box. Did you get the right instructions; is the product I bought old in a new box? No wants to feel unsure about a purchase, but branding inconsistencies can create doubt in your customers. Your logo, website, packaging, documentation, font, company personality, colors and much more all go into your brand. Having a strong brand communicates that your company is professional, organized and knows what it is doing. All of which give your customers piece of mind.

This particular trip it was my pleasure to stay in a Hard Rock Hotel. I've never stayed in one before always assuming it would be too expensive. This trip however it was a cheaper option than the nearby alternatives. As this was a business trip the hotel wasn't something I was particularly concerned with but upon arrival I was immediately taken by the interesting surroundings and friendly employees—it's fun to look around and see the music memorabilia. Once in my room I was struck by the consistency of one particular branding element. They use a tribal tattoo as a branding accent and it was everywhere, but it was subtle. The edge of a mirror, pattern on a towel, a custom ironing board cover, a bag that held an extra roll of toilet paper. You can see a bit of it on the Hard Rock Website on the bar at the bottom of the main images. There were other subtle branding elements everywhere. Classic Rock played in the lobby, elevators and even in the room when you entered it. The walls were covered in music memorabilia donated by different musicians and the other artwork was related to music in some way. Even the iron had a neon light around the base. They could have purchased cheaper irons but by going that extra step it added to the overall appeal of the brand.

It also became evident that the Hard Rock has a target market they were appealing to. High tech TV system, lots of black, simple clean designs, leather, the right brands of alcohol in the fridge, the attire of the female staff, the masculine fragrance of the shampoo and soap, this is a hotel for guys. Which isn't to say woman won't like it, I'm just saying this strong brand hit the mark and the mark is primarily men.

I had a great time and would stay in a Hard Rock again. Does a strong brand enhance the user experience? I'd have to say yes, in this case it did.