Category Archives: Features

REVIEW: Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

The Overlay Creator

The Overlay Creator panel is the DPS component that InDesign designers will spend most of their time in. The Overlay Creator panel, a plugin that works with InDesign CS5 and later, is the interface for adding multimedia and interaction to InDesign files for inclusion in digital publications. You can add a variety of interactive features to InDesign documents, not all of which are new to InDesign:

  • Image Sequences display multiple images, which has a variety of applications including time-lapse sequences, animated clips and 360-degree views. Image Sequences can auto-play or respond to user “scrubbing.”
  • Audio & Video insert audio and video assets into InDesign documents. Thanks to the multimedia features that have been added to InDesign in the past few years, adding audio and video is easy to do and the media controls generated by InDesign are good.
  • Hyperlink overlays will add links to your digital publications that link to online content, articles within the publication and more. Quick tip: Apple provides a method to write hyperlinks that send SMS text messages. Apple has a URL Scheme Reference that explains how to build these links.
  • Like the Image Sequence, the Slideshow overlay displays a slideshow in digital publications. Think of Slideshow as a traditional slideshow, incorporating InDesign elements including text and graphics, while Image Sequence is more of a “flip book” slideshow format with only images.
  • Pan & Zoom is one of my favorites, allowing users to pinch and expand images in digital publications. The designer has to think ahead when using Pan & Zoom and insert large images in their graphic frames. These can be scaled down to the desired default view, but the digital publication will retain the full-resolution image so it can be blown up when the user enlarges it. The DPS does not enlarge images on its own.
  • Panorama will combine multiple images into a panorama. This can be tricky because the user needs to load six photographs into InDesign with the right angle and order so it can be stitched together automatically. There are also some esoteric settings in the Overlay Creator including field of view and limit vertical pan. Reading through the instructions and a little playing around with the controls will help users grasp the Panorama overlay, and there are tutorials online for shooting images to be stitched into panoramas.
  • Web Content, which used to be called “Web View,” will embed online webpages or an HTML file within digital publications. It’s really surprising and very cool to see a webpage loaded in an InDesign publication, but it works and users can even interact with the webpage. The process is actually fairly easy to implement.

Creating interactivity with the Overlay Creator does a good job of condensing extensive interaction into a panel with a few settings, but I think Adobe’s development team can make the process more intuitive, particularly with bringing multimedia onto the page. The current InDesign has a lot of panels to sift through and the Overlay Creator adds quite a bit more chrome to the package. Keeping track of all the user interface elements involved with Overlay Creator was my biggest challenge, not bugs or a lack of interactive features.

The Folio Builder

The other component of DPS that resides in InDesign is the Folio Builder panel, where users combine articles into .folio files for publication and also finalize the document’s orientation. Working with articles and folios can be a mundane task but this part of the process is where designers can see their work on a tablet for the first time through the Content Viewer, an Adobe app available on the desktop or on the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World and for webOS.

Articles can be pulled from multiple documents, so you can build a horizontal and vertical version of a publication and combine it into one app in the Folio Builder. Creating two versions of a publication is not ideal, but it’s necessary if you want a publication that changes orientation properly. Adobe seems to be at least on the right track in creating “liquid layouts” in InDesign that will re-orient themselves depending on the orientation, which would be a wonderful new feature. Here’s a demo of the technology at Adobe MAX.

Adding articles and pushing folios up to the Content Viewer is most of what the Folio Builder does, but there are also some sharing features which I think is very important in a production environment. The Folio Builder panel’s menu has a Share option which will let users share a publication with other users who have an Adobe ID. You can also append a subject and message to the share notice. This is very useful but I would also like an interface in the DPS website where you can set up groups of multiple users so you can grant rights and share folios with groups of people at once. This is what I do when developing Facebook applications. Even though you can share to multiple individuals at once in Folio Builder, groups and shared rights make collaboration easier.

99 Free Valentine’s Day Fonts

99 Ways to Type I Love You

Download fonts individually below, or download all 99 in a single 2.75MB Zip archive.

NOTE: Fonts are all TrueType format, compatible with Windows and Mac OS X. To convert them for Mac OS 9 and below, download this free utility: TTConverter15.hqx.


101HangYourHeart (90,864 bytes)


101HeartCatcher (89,400 bytes)


101HeartFramed (181,972 bytes)


101HeartStringZ (33,972 bytes)


101LoveGarden (32,668 bytes)


101LovePoP (52,912 bytes)


101SWAK (140,480 bytes)


101WalkinHeart (29,504 bytes)


4MyLover (36,072 bytes)


ALLHEART (48,992 bytes)


Angel (33,648 bytes)


Aosval_2 (16,692 bytes)


Apheart (8,436 bytes)


BeMyValentine (85,812 bytes)


CandyHeart (80,448 bytes)


CandyKiss (43,968 bytes)


CLBValentine (49,824 bytes)


CoffeeTalk1 (34,488 bytes)


CountryHearts (51,888 bytes)


CraftopiaLove (26,884 bytes)


Cupid (45,460 bytes)


Cupids (109,132 bytes)


DeepLove1 (138,688 bytes)


DJLove (42,536 bytes)


FancyHeartScript (68,436 bytes)


FiolexGirls (78,228 bytes)


FLHeartDark (100,696 bytes)


FlowerHeart (77,140 bytes)


fts12 (51,068 bytes)


GabrielsAngels (195,720 bytes)


HAfont (217,084 bytes)


hamlake (87,876 bytes)


HamLakeRegular (37,396 bytes)

Comparing the HP EliteBook 8540w and the MacBook Pro


I’m a designer so a lot of friends assume I use a Macintosh, which is true. Some also assume I’m a Mac fanatic, which I disagree with: I have used Macs in my work for several years but I started with a Dell PC and have used PCs in various workplaces. I happen to think the Mac operating system is better and Macs provide a subtly better experience for creative pros in particular.

This article is about the 15-inch Hewlett-Packard EliteBook 8540w and how it compares to my 17-inch MacBook Pro, an older model from late 2006. This won’t be a full review—there are reviews out there better than I could write, such as this one—and I won’t be making a purchase recommendation. Consider this article a look at an elite PC laptop by someone who’s only used a Mac laptop in the workplace.


The HP EliteBook 8540w is built like a truck and takes the term “hardware” seriously. The EliteBook line is the top of HP’s business laptops and I expected solid craftsmanship, but while many PC laptops I come across are slick and plastic the EliteBook is built with brushed aluminum and is very tough. HP calls it their “DuraCase.” The MacBook Pro weighs a little more (3.1kg vs. 2.9kg) but it has a larger monitor. The 15-inch MacBook Pro from the same year weighs 2.5kg. Their sizes are pretty much the same except the MacBook Pro is significantly thinner and a little wider and longer.


The EliteBook’s DuraCase looks and feels tough. The MacBook Pro is durable too but not to the EliteBook’s level.

The EliteBook looks like a hunk of iron compared to the MacBook Pro, but the EliteBook also accommodates more jacks and connectors in its body. This is an example where HP focuses on function while Apple focuses on form, which should surprise no one. The EliteBook also complies with the MIL-STD 810G military standard, which sets requirements for resistance to vibration, water, dust and temperatures for products used by the U.S. Department of Defense. The well-known Panasonic Toughbook line of laptops meets the same requirements.

Keyboard and Touchpad

One feature I really appreciate on the EliteBook is the extended keyboard with numeric keypad. Numeric entry is so much easier with a keypad, and it also has a specific creative purpose: the page layout application Adobe InDesign requires numbers from the keypad for its character/paragraph styles’ keyboard shortcuts. I have never understood why InDesign does this, but it has been this way for years. Apple won’t produce a wireless version of the extended keyboard, and it’s not on any MacBook Pro.


The EliteBook has an impressive user interface, with multiple touch and mouse inputs and a full keyboard and numeric pad. See the blue lights above and to the left of the keyboard? Those are the buttons for the quick apps (see below).

The EliteBook also provides two touch input devices, the Touchpad and also the “TouchStyck” button in the middle of the keyboard. Combined these provide seven buttons—if you count the TouchStyck—and a trackpad. Apple is notorious for limiting the number of input buttons on their hardware. My MacBook Pro has one button and a trackpad, and the newest models don’t have a button at all. They register taps on the trackpad as a button click. The EliteBook keyboard and touchpad can look a little cluttered with all the buttons and input devices, but it does make the computer more versatile and adapt to users’ preferences. However, it’s likely a user will gravitate toward the one input element they like the most.

Power Adapter and Cord

The EliteBook’s power supply/adapter and cord is not very portable or easy to use, which makes traveling with it difficult. The power supply is like a brick compared to the smaller and lightweight Apple equivalent. I’m not sure it would even fit in my laptop bag! The other thing I noticed is Apple’s power supply has its own plug so I can plug it into the wall and not use the other cord. HP’s power supply has no plug so the other cord must be used.

DreamColor display

This EliteBook 8540w sports a new DreamColor display, which is designed to provide more accurate color reproduction. The DreamColor whitepaper (PDF, 3.2MB) explains all the display’s technical details but my personal impression with this DreamColor display is positive. The thing I really notice is the EliteBook puts out much more brightness than the MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is four years old though, so these can’t really be compared, but I don’t think the MacBook Pro was as bright as the EliteBook even when it was new. In terms of color, the EliteBook looks like it does a better job of capturing very strong colors including fluorescents and those on the fringes of the RGB and Lab colorspaces.

QuickLook and QuickWeb

One more thing the EliteBook can do that the MacBook Pro cannot is boot specialized applications without booting up the entire unit. This really surprised when I first learned about it, but HP has put this in its laptops before. The two apps are designed to provide timely information quickly without booting up:

  • QuickLook is an Outlook-like interface for calendar, email, contacts and task lists. It caches Outlook data while the computer is running so when it’s launched it can access some data without booting up. QuickLook cannot send mail, but the goal is to give the user information immediately and it can save changes to events, contacts and tasks and sync them with Outlook later.
  • QuickWeb launches a Linux environment and web browser for fast Internet access. This for me was the more useful of the two applications, and the user experience was good.

I should point out these apps don’t boot up instantaneously, but they do avoid the load times associated with Windows. These apps are useful but today many mobile devices and phones have instant connectivity, the same data and push/send capabilities. I wonder if the EliteBook’s apps will lose usefulness as mobile devices continue to develop.


Apple is known for its product design and also for following form over function, but Mac fans wouldn’t have it any other way. However, the EliteBook shows that Macs aren’t the only PCs that are well-designed and I would say the EliteBook was designed with its purpose in mind. It does make for a big and clunky product in some ways but I understand the benefits of this. I found the EliteBook to be a useful laptop and professionals who want an excellent machine for work should look into it.

Interview with Heavenspot’s Chevon Hicks


While at Adobe MAX in Los Angeles I had the great opportunity to interview Chevon Hicks, a creative professional who is Founder, Creative Director and President at the highly regarded digital ad agency Heavenspot. Heavenspot gained a niche producing websites for motion pictures and Adobe is now their largest client. Creative Suite users will recognize their work: Heavenspot produced the demo materials for CS4 (“Double Identity”) and CS5, and helped develop as well as Adobe’s “Brilliant” site that recently won a People’s Choice Webby.

I wanted to distill some of Chevon’s ideas and comments into tips you can easily remember and apply to your own creative work or life.

Look for the best learning experiences when starting out.

Chevon started interning at a creative agency when he was 15 years old, and he credits that experience as a big help when starting Heavenspot. Interning is not a glamourous start to a career but if it provides an awesome learning experience and lots of “learning by observation” then it can be worth it in the long run. My own first job was as an ad designer at a daily newspaper, which set me up to be a very productive designer for the rest of my career.

Be a big fish in a small pond.

Chevon said running an agency is Los Angeles is tough—there are more high-profile clients but also a lot more talent in the city. It’s a lot more easier to be an expert in a smaller market, and while that might also mean smaller and less prestigious clients Chevon says overall it is easier to be successful in the smaller markets. Even where someone gets their start is not necessarily a big factor: Chevon hails from Gary, Indiana and came to Los Angeles later.


Be creative in other ways.

Chevon is a musician, DJ and animator as well as a designer. He used to play in a band with Amanda Ghost, now president of Epic Records. Chevon’s point is that great designers and creative professionals are often creative in more than one way and can leverage that experience in different ways that make their work better.

Find a niche—and stick to it.

Chevon says success often depends on gaining a specific niche for your work or business. Heavenspot started out as a website to showcase Chevon’s artistic work but eventually the firm gained a niche for developing websites for movies. Being at the top of that niche gives them a strong brand presence. Some creative professionals—including myself—will also say that a successful designer can generalize instead of specialize if the final product is solid.

Designers are sometimes tempted to take projects that don’t quite fit their niche, and Chevon says at least a few projects should not be taken if they don’t fit. “If you don’t say no now and then, your yeses are meaningless,” he says.

Be cool and be good.

Of all the factors for success, it’s not surprising that simply producing great work that turns heads is the largest. Chevon and Heavenspot produce very striking, sometimes Flash-intensive work and it always looks cool. It would be hard to judge whether their work is the best on the Internet but it’s definitely good and the combination of good and cool is a winning one.

Adobe MAX: Notes From The Press Party

It’s great fun to be a designer, developer and also a journalist because I get invited to some of the press events such as executive Q&As (which I totally missed due to yesterday’s keynote messing up the schedule) and press parties, which I attended last night at The Yard House in L.A. Live. I arrived late due to my Ajax For Designers session running long, but was able to have some good discussion with three important Adobe insiders.

  • Heidi Voltmer, Group Product Marketing Manager for Creative Solutions Business. Heidi’s domain includes the Flash Platform, which made probably the most news yesterday with the announcements surrounding Flash Player 10.1, AIR 2.0 and the surprise about building native iPhone applications with the upcoming Flash Pro CS5. A lot of my conversation with Heidi revolved around the question of Flash Pro and where it resides in the growing landscape of Flash Platform. Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder (previously Flex) seem to make more news and have better-defined markets than Flash Pro, and perhaps that’s because the original Flash application started it all. But I suspected (and Heidi confirmed) that Flash Pro’s market is being fine-tuned to appeal to the creative Flash designer. It used to be that Flash was good for everything from drawing animations to developing ActionScript applications—and it still is—but Adobe has expanded the Flash Platform application family and Flash Pro CS4 and CS5 are seeing new creative advances you won’t find in Flash Catalyst and Flash Builder. At the keynote, John Loiacono demoed a new text engine for Flash that will be familiar to InDesign users. I’ve always hated Flash’s type handling and Adobe is wisely improving Flash Pro’s appeal to designers like me.
  • Will Eisley, Director of Product Management for Adobe’s Creative Solutions Business Unit and also an instrumental member of InDesign’s initial product team. I was honored to meet Will because I’ve been an InDesign user since version 1.5, back when every printer and even my early mentors were telling me I absolutely had to use Quark to be relevant in the industry. I was even more honored when Will told me he already knew who I was and read my work on Designorati! That was a thrill. Anyway, Will and I talked more about Flash but how it relates to InDesign, the XFL file format and the creatives who use it. Will commented that I’m actually a rare breed who designs and also writes code, and I thought there were more designer/developer hybrids out there than he thought but we left that question unresolved. The concept that designers and developers are different groups fuels Adobe’s separation of designer and developer products, though they also strive to build tools to let designers make code-based applications without getting their hands in code. Flash Catalyst and InDesign CS4′s Flash exporting are prime examples. In the end I tweeted the designer/developer question to the Adobe MAX attendees, and one person responded that they consider themselves a “designer/developer.” I’m sure there are more of them, but maybe Adobe’s research suggests they don’t come around often.
  • Adrian Ludwig, Group Product Marketing Manager for Adobe’s Flash Platform. Our discussion was focused on the big news of the day, Flash Pro CS5 Beta’s exporting to the iPhone, and it’s exciting news but we also talked about the technical limitations that temper that excitement. There are still relatively few Flash-based iPhone apps on the market, and even though the ones out in the wild look good and perform well there are still questions about long-term performance and the viability of developing for iPhone with Flash when the iPhone doesn’t support Flash. Perhaps the greatest takeaway from all this is the fact that the Flash Platform can now be an iPhone app development tool and this gives every Flash user the possibility to be an iPhone app developer too—without needing to learn the Objective-C language.

Royalty-Free, Guarantee-Free: The Case For Warrantied Images

Experienced designers know better than to steal images from the Internet, use sample images from microstock (low-priced stock photography) Web sites without buying the full-resolution image, or use a model in a photograph without obtaining the proper release. There’s many other rules to be heeded when using creative of any kind in your work. But a new microstock provider thinks they have found one more pitfall that other stock providers don’t tell you about: the possibility that images aren’t legal before they even become available.


Vivozoom is a microstock provider based in London who sell their images at The two founders, Tom Donnelly and Lawrence Gould, are former Getty Images executives who saw a need for complete guarantees in the industry. Photographers may offer their images to a stock photography providers, and the providers may do as much due diligence as possible to ensure the image is legal, but there’s no guarantee—and many license agreements say as much.

Emphasis on warranty

Gould and Donnelly saw a business opportunity and created Vivozoom to be the first microstock Web site that warranties its images. Vivozoom launched their beta Web site at the end of May and the service has been up and running for a couple months or so, and their mission is to provide microstock photography that’s guaranteed to be free from legal complications. This means all photography has been checked and proven to be unavailable anywhere else (so a purchased photo won’t show up on another provider’s Web site) and all the proper model releases have been obtained. If a photo on Vivozoom turns out to be improperly licensed or released, they offer legal defense of their customers for damages and costs up to $25,000.

In a twist, photographers who wish to sell work on Vivozoom are accepted by invitation only and vetted by a team of editors and a creative director before acceptance. The vetting procedure’s criteria is image quality, documentation and provenance. There are only a few hundred photographers contributing to Vivozoom (in comparison, Shutterstock has 60,000).

Vivozoom was unique in offering warrantied images, but two other providers have also begun offering warrantied images. In August, Getty Images announced a Web & Mobile image catalog that offers indemnification “so you don’t have to worry about copyright ownership.” And in September began offering warranties for all images in its catalog—the only real difference is they will cover up to $10,000 in damages instead of Vivozoom’s $25,000, and it won’t protect images that are used on items for resale.

Is it necessary?

Is such a guarantee necessary? I’ve used stock photography from a variety of sources over the years and have never had a problem—the creative is safe enough. Gould concedes that there’s a wide range of protection available for stock photography and creative professionals and companies who are “higher up the food chain” gain the most benefit from such protection. Indeed, Vivozoom’s target market is creative personnel in corporations who are sensitive to the usual terms and conditions when purchasing and need the protection of a warranty.

The fact that Vivozoom is “aware of the intellectual property” when offering stock photography for sale makes it not only more palatable for corporations but also a more reassuring deal for the photographers who vend their images online. Photographer Trinette Reed, whose work is on Vivozoom, says, “As a customer I want to see professionally edited content for my project that I know has legitimate releases. I think this is very important. If you are not working with professionals, there is always a risk of not having legitimate releases and this can lead to serious legal issues down the line.”

My experience with Vivozoom


I had the opportunity to try Vivozoom out when I purchased photography for an annual report I recently designed. It was a good experience overall but a little quirky:

  • The selection of photography was great, even though there’s only a handful of contributing photographers compared to other sources. The photography was well-shot and looked great in the final product.
  • Upon login, you are taken to Vivozoom’s homepage which has…nothing on it. Just the navigation and search functions. I like seeing some photography on the homepage of a stock photography website.
  • I needed photos of children of diverse races and age groups, and it was hard sometimes to find just the right photographs. Searches for “Hispanic teenagers” and “African American child” were ultimately successful, but I had to sort through a lot of related images before I found the most perfect matches. This is to be expected when sifting through microstock, but with Vivozoom I had to dig a little deeper.
  • Vivozoom restricts reproducing a standard image more than 250,000 times—in contrast, allows up to 500,000 impressions. Both providers allow unlimited usage when purchased with an enhanced license.
  • Unlike many providers who let you select resolution on a per image basis, Vivozoom’s pay-as-you-go plans require users to opt for print or web resolution images. Opting for print resolution does give you access to web resolution. Designers like me who design for both print and the web will have to pay for the print resolution.
  • lets you purchase images individually with credits. Vivozoom does have a pay-as-you-go plan for a single print resolution image ($45 with enhanced license only) but standard license plans begin with five print resolution images ($49) or 12 web resolution images ($49).

My overall impression is that Vivozoom is a well-stocked provider that makes you go through some browsing and purchasing hassles—subscribers probably will have the best experience, and that makes some sense because Vivozoom is targeting corporate customers who will pay for subscriptions. Designers like me who often purchase photos individually or in small groups will find the pay-as-you-go plans inflexible. But the quality of the work is great and my clients have been pleased.

The future

Gould and Donnelly hope to make Vivozoom a larger presence in the United States and international markets, and also develop into a provider of other media such as video. I think the subject of creative copyright and warranty is going to heat up in the next ten years, because the stock photography industry will most likely move toward offering warranties with images and other media—stories about violated copyrights flare up too often and no designer wants to be involved in one.

There will also be plenty of designers and unwitting users who filch material from the Internet. A lot of these people simply don’t know it’s illegal, but a lot know it is but find it too easy to pull graphics from their web browsers. Companies such as Google who strive to make books and videos available to everyone online only make the murky topic even murkier. “No one wants to halt the benefits that come with ease of use online,” Gould says. “But photographers and distributors deserve to get paid for their work while our customers deserve the peace of mind. In a culture where theft is euphemistically known as file sharing, how can these working professionals survive when perhaps the most underreported online crime is ignored?”

300+ Free Halloween Fonts

In honor of this year’s annual fright night, Designorati scoured the globe, peeking into every dark corner, every creepy closet, and under the bed for free Halloween fonts–living or dead. We found over 300 Halloween and Halloween-inspired fonts–and they’re all free!

The header and footer illustrations for this feature were created using only the text and symbol fonts from this collection.

Note: Fonts are Windows TrueType format. To convert for Mac OS X and below, download this free utility: TTConverter15.hqx.


10 Lil’ Ghosts (10,820 bytes)


101! ‘Ween (198,048 bytes)


4YEOHALL (57,560 bytes)


abaddon 25,884 bytes)


acadian 29,964 bytes)


acidic 126,492 bytes)


aftedc__ (35,292 bytes)


agatha 43,124 bytes)


ALCHEM__ (28,004 bytes)


alien 35,032 bytes)


Alien_heads (106,348 bytes)


allembert (18,956 bytes)


Ambrosia (39,068 bytes)


amphi 52,164 bytes)


anglosax (28,568 bytes)


ass 111,884 bytes)


ASTRO (47,424 bytes)


Avalon 44,360 bytes)


ba______ (13,364 bytes)


Badacid 22,528 bytes)


Bad-Seed-Bold (41,288 bytes)


barbw___ (118,916 bytes)


Bartb___ 81,312 bytes)


Barti___ 86,856 bytes)


Bartn___ 84,576 bytes)


batbats 97,980 bytes)


batman 25,924 bytes)


Beat-My-Guest-Regular (30,440 bytes)


BJREDRUM (86,748 bytes)


BJREVOLTA (63,028 bytes)


BJSKRATCH (40,392 bytes)


BJSUGAR (39,096 bytes)


Blackadd (34,004 bytes)


Blackfor (30,424 bytes)


Blades-Regular (21,124 bytes)


blasphem (75,344 bytes)


Blkchcry (56,732 bytes)


BLOBS___ 36,868 bytes)


Bloodfea (62,168 bytes)


bloodgut (46,540 bytes)


Bloodrac (50,120 bytes)


Bloody 45,264 bytes)


Bloody Stump 184,076 bytes)


bmovie (275,208 bytes)


bokonon 82,996 bytes)


BONES 76,360 bytes)


Bones2 292,780 bytes)


bos 52,172 bytes)


Bouh bouh (39,756 bytes)


Buffied 59,560 bytes)

Positive Procrastination: Getting Things Created

Hello I’m Bryan Tamayo, and I’m a Professional Procrastinator! I’ve been following David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) followings and I’ve tried many different systems in the process. I carried a hipster PDA in the beginning and now I carry a moleskin. I have found that for the everyday knowledge worker, the GTD system works well once it’s tailored to your lifestyle. My problem is that more than half of my work requires creativity. I needed more of a GTC philosophy–Getting Things Created. With that thought in mind I believe that for the creative community there is an important piece missing–Positive Procrastination!

Positive Procrastination (or PRO-crastination)

Why do we always think of procrastination as a bad thing? I agree that in most circumstances procrastination for a typical knowledge worker can be self destructive. However, for the creative community, procrastination can be an important element during the incubation period while awaiting insight.

Procrastination: is a behavior which is characterized by deferment of actions or tasks to a later time. Psychologists often cite procrastination as a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision. [1] Psychology researchers also have three criteria they use to categorize procrastination. For a behavior to be classified as procrastination, it must be counterproductive, needless, and delaying. (via Wikipedia)

Creativity: A mental and social process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts. Creativity is fueled by the process of either conscious or unconscious insight. An alternative conception of creativeness is that it is simply the act of making something new. (via Wikipedia)

In my workflow, procrastination is the Yin to the creativity’s Yang. I can’t have one without the other. Both are equally important in finishing my creative projects. Lets face it, procrastination is quite destructive unless you approach it in a constructive way.

Proactive Delays

Like many out there in the depths of destructive procrastination, I like to do active delays. Meaning, I will do all sorts of things that deal with the project being done, except actually doing the project. All while hoping that the lightning bolt of creativity will strike. This seems like a good example of destructive procrastination, but is it really?

When you have a creative project, instead of merely procrastinating, start the preparation of your project with small, yet pertinent tasks (thank you GTD). Thus you will create a compost from which your garden of ideas will grow.

Examples of Positive Procrastination Tasks

  1. Build a folder structure for your project
  2. Brainstorm for SOURCES of information that may benefit your project
  3. Look for & Listen to Music that will inspire your mood & thoughts of the target audience
  4. Gather previous related projects for reference
  5. Research competitors in your discovered SOURCES
  6. Create a trend research board or mood board
  7. Brush up on new software techniques (if related to project)
  8. Go trend shopping. Pretend to be your target customer. What would they buy from each store?

If you have some more Positive Procrastinations please put them in to the comments on this post.

The Wrap-Up

All of these are things you can do without actually doing physical work on the creative side of the project. In one way these tasks are simply busy work, but in another, more important way, they can be pieces of information used to construct a tight knit, complete creative solution. The more Positive Procrastination you do, the more you will keep your mind busy and off the pressure of developing a creative concept. It will till a rich soil in which your creativity may grow. Water daily, and your creativity should flourish!

Bryan Tamayo is an Art Director at Fossil Inc. You can read more about him on his blog or you can follow him on Twitter

Adobe CS4 and ROI: Is Productivity The New Killer Feature?


Last fall Adobe Systems released Creative Suite 4 (CS4) to good reviews, which was good news to Adobe since CS4 represents the bulk of their creative pro software products and includes industry standards such as Photoshop, After Effects and Flash. Adobe stayed true to their traditional upgrade cycle and released all the CS4 products simultaneously, 18 months after CS3 was released.

But over the past few years, the 18-month product cycle has forced Adobe to release upgrades that haven’t had as many groundbreaking features as those in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many CS4 applications saw more improvements in efficiency and productivity as fewer new tools and cool technologies have been included. In my reviews I considered this shift detrimental, but according to third-party research commissioned by Adobe productivity may very well be the “new killer feature” that delivers tangible savings to CS4 users.

The methodology

Adobe commissioned Pfeiffer Consulting, an independent technology research institute, to benchmark the productivity capabilities of CS4 and compare them to CS3 to measure productivity gains. More than 125 benchmarks were conducted across the design, web, video and digital imaging (Photoshop and Lightroom) segments and tested a variety of large and small real-world tasks and assignments including:

Dave Burkett
Dave Burkett
Dave Burkett.

Dave Burkett, Adobe’s Vice President and General Manager for Creative Suite – Design and Web Segments, said the goal of CS4′s productivity capabilities was to improve “deep usability”—refinements of the small steps designers execute every day in their daily work. “When developing Creative Suite 4 we paid close attention to our customers’ needs and pinpointed common tasks that matter most to them. We then focused on adding features and improving upon existing features in order to make those tasks more intuitive and less repetitive. Put simply, it now takes less clicks to achieve the same results.” Andreas Pfeiffer, who conducted the research, wrote that “the cumulative effect of small productivity gains in everyday operations is almost universally underestimated.”

The benchmarks were performed by professional designers and measured by researchers. No scripting or automation was used. The research does not take into account the time and money spent in training, installation and continued learning after the initial purchase, since such investments apply to previous versions of Creative Suite and don’t affect the measurements in productivity. For more information about the benchmark methodology, visit

roi-chartPfeiffer’s benchmarks were quite thorough and takes very small time savings into account. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

The findings

Pfeiffer found that “CS4 increases efficiency in a vast variety of operations, including many routine, everyday production tasks.” In particular, the following CS4 features provided substantial time savings:

  • InDesign CS4′s Live Preflight,
  • Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View and Live Code,
  • Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments and Masks panels,
  • Tapeless video support in Premiere Pro CS4, and
  • CSS export from Fireworks CS4.

As an example, Illustrator CS4′s multiple artboards feature allowed designers to consolidate related projects in one file and become more efficient when experimenting with color palettes and designs. I’ve been using multiple artboards myself in my design business: handling one or two Illustrator CS4 files is a lot easier than handling one file for every illustration. I work with a lot of logos and brands, which often have several versions for size and color, and multiple artboards help me organize my clients’ branding. Burkett commented that multiple artboards, according to the research, can save designers three hours per month.

The research on InDesign CS4 shows Smart Guides and Live Preflight can save a load of production time. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

Other examples, such as InDesign CS4′s Live Preflight, save time and money fixing printing errors by intercepting them early—research found that Live Preflight helped designers find and fix errors twice as fast than with InDesign CS3. Live Preflight is one of my favorite CS4 features because I haven’t had to mess with preflighting at the end of a project like I used to—violations are flagged immediately and I can fix them right away. Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments panel and Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View and Live Code features were shown to offer similar speed improvements.

CS4 was also designed with multiple media content delivery in mind, and is the first Creative Suite to fully integrate Macromedia software (Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks) so Pfeiffer also analyzed cross-application features such as Photoshop Smart Object support in Dreamweaver CS4, Flash CS4 Professional’s abilities in handling After Effects and InDesign content, and Dynamic Link technology that integrates assets between the CS4 video applications.

So how much money does productivity save you? Pfeiffer’s analysis estimates show a substantial sum:

  • $5,753 saved with CS4 Design Premium compared to CS3 Design Premium
  • $10,563 saved with CS4 Web Premium compared to CS3 Web Premium
  • $11,404 saved with CS4 Production Premium compared to CS3 Production Premium
  • $4,020 saved with Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 2 compared to Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom 1

Burkett commented, “Ensuring that time- and cost-saving benefits were built into our Creative Suite offerings was always a priority, but is even more vital right now given the current economy. Users can now complete everyday tasks in significantly less time, allowing designers and agencies of all sizes to come in under budget, deliver ahead of deadline and maximize time spent on the creative aspects of the project.”

ps-chartsPhotoshop CS4′s OpenGL support and speed has always been one of its most promoted features, mostly because of its efficiency potential. Pfeiffer’s research supports this, but my view is that your mileage may vary. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

My view

I think CS4 is a major step ahead of CS3 when it comes to efficiency: it’s clear that many improvements in CS4 had efficiency improvements in mind. I’ve always thought this shift toward improving efficiency occurred because it’s become harder and harder to pack the upgrades with cool, exciting new tools when their toolsets are quite mature already. But it appears productivity might have been Adobe’s game plan all along.

As with many such objective findings in the industry, your mileage may vary. Photoshop CS4′s Adjustments panel was found to decrease the time making adjustments in half, but I actually do not like the feature: the new keyboard shortcuts are difficult and the panel is either too small to make adjustments or so large the panel strip takes up too much space. As another example, the research found Fireworks CS4 and Dreamweaver CS4 cuts down CSS creation and management time by over 80% but the CSS generated by Fireworks was not clean enough for my tastes and I still do quite a bit of coding in Dreamweaver.

fw-dw-chartsFireworks CS4 and Dreamweaver CS4 have various new improvements in CSS creation and editing that appear to save a great deal of time. However, my experience suggests not everyone will reap such productivity gains. All text and graphics ©Pfeiffer Consulting 2009.

But I am a fan of many other efficiency improvements, especially InDesign CS4′s Smart Guides and Live Preflight features and Dreamweaver CS4′s Live View feature. Flash CS4 Professional’s new object-based animation system, which was also cited as a major time-saving feature, can be difficult for experienced Flash users to get used to but does make sense in the long run. Ultimately, consumers should remember that Pfeiffer’s benchmarks were performed by experienced users of both CS3 and CS4—designers new to CS4 will have a harder time duplicating their level of efficiency—but, given training and experience, the time and cost savings could be substantial.

SIDEBAR: The Visionaire Group and Fast & Furious Show CS4’s Time Savings

Adobe is praising The Visionaire Group for leveraging the productivity benefits of CS4 in order to maximize the online campaign for the movie Fast and Furious. Universal Pictures, the studio that produced Fast and Furious, attributes the movie’s recent #1 position at the weekend box office to the online experience that sparked the enthusiasm of young car enthusiasts and hard-core moviegoers. An engaging Web site, rich-media advertisements, a downloadable desktop widget and a custom iPhone Web site were just some of the campaign’s key elements. J.P. Richards, vice president of marketing, said, “Our goal on Fast and Furious was to develop the most compelling creative content and Adobe Creative Suite 4 delivered way beyond my expectations, while doing it in half the development time.”

In an article published on Enhanced Online News, several CS4 features are called out including Flash CS4 Professional’s 3-D tools, a faster Adobe Media Encoder, Dreamweaver CS4’s Code Navigator and integrated Flash and AIR development with the Adobe Flash Platform.

Today’s economy

In the current economic climate, such findings are sure to command attention. “In today’s economy more than ever, investments in software need to be justified by clear business reasons,” said Andreas Pfeiffer of Pfeiffer Consulting. Adobe certainly showed good timing in paying close attention to efficiency and time-cost savings just before the recent economic downturn. According to Burkett, productivity improvement was a primary objective of the CS4 product line and it’s the first time product teams scrutinized this objective in such detail: “We took a new approach with CS4 and decided very early on in the development cycle to better understand how real-life projects could be enhanced with productivity improvements.” Customers were consulted to help pinpoint the most effective ways to improve workflow, and during development the product teams worked to improve raw performance and reduce steps required to complete a task. In some cases, the goal was to make it so users wouldn’t have to access a single panel to execute a command, although I’ve noticed that in some applications (such as Photoshop CS4) more commands have migrated to panels.

Even though productivity improvement was a primary goal, no metrics were developed internally to measure the applications’ success; despite this, Burkett and his team were pleased with the results. “We’re happy that these benchmarking tests were performed,” said Burkett, “as they allow us to gauge just how much of an improvement CS4 is over previous versions.” For more information on Pfeiffer Consulting, visit For more information on the CS4 ROI study, including the benchmark data, visit

crowdSPRING’s Attempt to Make Spec Work Acceptable

CrowdSpring logo

The subject of working on spec is so polarizing that some people don’t even want to talk about it—it incites too much anger on both sides. Some people believe it’s okay to produce designs and deliver them to the client, with the hope that they’ll get paid if the client likes it. Others feel a designer’s work is his product and no business will be treated with respect if they give it away.

This article is about a relatively new website,, which is one of a crowd of spec websites that is trying to make spec work acceptable to both sides. Before I get into some details about crowdSPRING and opinions about spec work in general, I want to outline my history with spec work. My first job was at a small daily newspaper which routinely offered spec ads to potential advertisers in order to secure contracts. They worked very well, but not always. Of course, sales reps got the commissions and I got nothing but my wage for my work, which often won the business. Savvy advertisers would have me produce spec ads, which they would run in our paper but also in other papers—in this way we were performing ad agency work (design and media placement) for free, all in order to make our advertisers happy.

In 2002 I was hired by another publisher specifically to do spec work (I was the “spec artist”) and it gave me the freedom to do very creative work. Again, my work won a lot of business but it did feel like a waste when I put time into a spec ad that ended up doing nothing. But sales reps routinely invest a ton of time in their clients—phone calls, coffee appointments, Chamber functions, presentations—without any guarantee it will win a sale.

Contrast this with the freelancer designer, who is not only selling the product but creating it too. I’m a freelance designer now and I rarely do spec work, unless the client requires it, there’s a lot of revenue at stake and the potential for success is high. As a designer my true products are visual ideas and solutions, and once I’ve presented those solutions to the client my product has gone out door.

I’ve found that some potential clients who ask for spec designs are untrustworthy, and if I don’t do the work up front they will move on to the next hapless designer. Most of my potential clients are scrupulous enough to not use my ideas if they don’t hire me, but not all clients. I have an affidavit that I give to potential clients who don’t use a spec design; the affidavit makes them promise they will not simply hire another designer to recreate my ideas. I’ve only had to use the affidavit three times; out of those three, one refused to sign.

I believe there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with spec work—it can certainly make the sale, and sales gurus such as Jeffrey Gitomer advocate doing such work up front to provide value first. However, I personally do it only on rare occasions because I’ve seen too many designers (including myself) get hosed because it’s just too easy for clients to steal the ideas and get them produced on the cheap.

What crowdSPRING tries to do

I spoke with Mike Samson and Ross Kimbarovsky, the co-founders of crowdSPRING, and I do think they have tried to make the best of a bad situation:

  • crowdSPRING does not take a cut of designers’ revenue—profit comes from the buyers. This can be looked at two different ways: if a buyer offers $1000 for a project and pays $100 to crowdSPRING, the designer isn’t getting all the money on the table but one can’t expect crowdSPRING to earn no money for being the middleman.
  • Buyers pay up front, so designers don’t have to worry about doing the work and not getting paid. crowdSPRING holds funds in escrow and pays out when contracts are awarded. Note that buyers can opt to not pick a winner if they don’t get 25 entries for their project; if the number exceeds 25, the buyer is required to choose.
  • crowdSPRING has a Pro section devoted to projects at or over $1,000. One complaint about spec websites like this is that the projects ask for a logo for $350 or a website for $600—both of which are wildly underpriced. crowdSPRING’s Pro section is also full of underpriced yet complex projects. Out of 97 projects posted on crowdSPRING right now, only ten are worth $1,000 or more; of these ten, six are priced at $1,000 and two are at $1,500, which is the most any project on crowdSPRING is worth. Agencies and freelancers who routinely work on four- and five-figure projects will find no projects worth their time at crowdSPRING.
  • My big problem with these spec websites is the lack of contracts. crowdSPRING applies free, customizable contracts for every project, and they appear to be solid.

A designer using crowdSPRING still won’t be able to avoid the fact that they are competing against at least 25 other designers, many of them with the same skills and quality. That is what I find interesting and frightening about crowdSPRING and spec work in general—in a massive community of designers, no one stands out and winning business is really a shot in the dark. When I work on projects or even design on spec, I try to discuss things with the client and have a relationship already built up with them. crowdSPRING eliminates that advantage and puts everyone on the same level, and I don’t think there’s any designer on the planet who could make crowdSPRING work for them based on quality alone. Most of it is luck, which is ultimately what spec work is all about—throw it out there and pray the client happens to like it.

No way around it

The good news about crowdSPRING is that designers’ rights are protected and buyers have no reason not to honor the deal—they pay in advance, so they’re out the money anyway. crowdSPRING is a superior way to leverage spec work when compared to doing spec work for a local client, without a contract in place and with no prepayment. However, there simply is no way around it: if you do spec work, there’s a risk you will do the work and get nothing in return. And it can happen a lot. Early in my career I tried, a website that basically put designers in front of buyers and encouraged spec work to win contracts. I did several designs on spec and did not win a thing. crowdSPRING can offer no guarantees that a designer’s work will be rewarded, and that ultimately is why designers treat speculative work as a cardinal sin.

What I’ve Learned from Emptying My Dishwasher

Bruce Colthart is a creative with a morning ritual. one that plays a vital role in Bruce’s work and day. And he’s not alone. What’s your dishwasher? What have you discovered about yourself doing low-concentration chores?

Some people [like] silently to start off their day. Some do so demonstratively, prostrate, facing Mecca. Some stare intently, while sipping a flavored (gag!) coffee, at birds flitting in a grove of trees outside their kitchen window. Me, I empty the dishwasher, dutifully, as early as I can muster as each new day breaks. That invisible domed area around my sink, including several cabinets and part of the kitchen table, are my cathedral. Just me and my various selves, some eager to chatter, some still sleeping. I especially prize the one that has the presence of mind to start brewing coffee (no fancy timer on my pot) and while later thanking him for not serving up decaf or a carafe of hot water.

Don’t get me wrong – I hate seeing the dishwasher full each morning. I have better things to do – including doing nothing – than to sort, relocate and pack away a bunch of warm and fragile items, most of which I didn’t sully in the first place. It’s just that I’ve trained myself to deal with it and make it disappear earlier rather than later. And in the process, have taken a zen-like approach to the task at hand. It’s now a contemplative and free-thought sort of time wher I listen to my personas speculate, discuss and vie for my attention. The result is profound insights about me and my life, on a daily basis which i’ll try to summarize below.

Continue reading “What I’ve learned from emptying my dishwasher” at Bruce’s blog.

New Spring 2009 Colors Debut; Download Exclusive Swatches Palette

Any good graphic designer knows the new, hip graphic and industrial design colors are dictated by the fashion world. Today the fashion world proclaimed the top 10 colors for Spring 2009. And Quark VS and have the exclusive on Spring 2009 color palettes for download and instant use in Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, QuarkXPress, and just about any other design application.

Pantone Fashion Colors Spring 2009

New Spring 2009 colors as shown in the downloadable palette.

Twice yearly, at the start of the Spring and Fall fashion shows, Pantone surveys fashion designers to collect feedback on prominent collection colors, color inspiration, color philosophy and each designer’s signature shade. This information is used to create the PANTONE® Fashion Color Report and serves as a reference tool throughout the year to fashion, industrial, and graphic designers alike.

According to the report, blue and purple lead the top 10 hues for spring ’09. The palette also includes pops of vibrant color representing the optimism of the season, combined with sophisticated neutrals to ground the palette and provide stability in an unpredictable economic climate. A spectrum of greens rounds out the report, evoking a sense of freshness and new beginnings.

“New York’s fashion designers encourage hopeful attitudes with lively colors, while sophisticated, grounded hues address the need for stability in times of economic uncertainty,” said Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute.

The top 10 spring ’09 colors for women are:

  • PANTONE 18-4043 Palace Blue
  • PANTONE 15-3817 Lavender
  • PANTONE 14-0754 Super Lemon
  • PANTONE 15-1626 Salmon Rose
  • PANTONE 18-2328 Fuchsia Red
  • PANTONE 14-1307 Rose Dust
  • PANTONE 16-5804 Slate Gray
  • PANTONE 16-6339 Vibrant Green
  • PANTONE 16-0435 Dark Citron
  • PANTONE 14-5714 Lucite Green

Fall ’08 [download palettes of the Fall 2008 Colors from Quark VS] saw blue and purple rise to the forefront of fashion. As is often true, colors evolve from season to season, and spring ’09 is no exception. Palace Blue, a favorite among designers this season, takes a steadfast, classic, spring navy-like tone and makes it sparkle. Paired with just about any color in the report, it offers many intriguing spring combinations. Taking purple in a lighter direction, Lavender presents a softer, more summery hue, extending the mystical aspects of purple available last fall.

As yellow continues to make its mark on the world of fashion, tangy Super Lemon brings a fun, optimistic outlook to the palette. Its luminosity is determined to evoke a smile and attract the roving consumer’s eyes. Taking a cue from its lemony neighbor, friendly and approachable Salmon Rose also conveys an optimistic outlook. The subtlest of oranges, Salmon Rose is flattering to most complexions and is beautiful with a summer glow. Think sensual and seductive Fuchsia Red for clothing, as well as lipstick and nail polish selections, this spring. With its blue undertones, this cool red is a real show-stopper, adding a sense of elegance to the palette.

Stabilizing neutrals provide practicality in a changing economic landscape. Not your average beige, Rose Dust breaks away from the typical neutrals associated with spring by adding dimension with subtle rose undertones. And with its bluish-green undertones, cool Slate Gray is a nuanced neutral that can be paired with any of the other nine colors in the report.

Three greens, each with their own distinct personality, round out the color palette for spring ’09, perpetuating the idea of freshness and renewal. Vibrant Green, the quintessential spring hue, brings a true verdancy to the palette in a time of revitalization. Dark Citron, a citrus-inspired green, is calmer and more serious than most, offering an element of sophistication to the mix. Reflective Lucite Green, a clean, clear subtle hue, adds a slight shimmer.

Hot off the runway, download your new Spring 2009 colors in a pre-built swatches file—exclusively from Designorati and Quark VS (169kb). Includes Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) palette for all Creative Suite CS2, CS3, and CS4 applications, as well as .AI and .EPS versions of the swatches palette for use in QuarkXPress, pre-CS2 versions of Adobe applications, and other products; in .zip format for Windows & OS X.

INTERVIEW: Jim Petersen, Adobe Branding Director, Speaks About Acrobat 9 Design

Acrobat 6

The Acrobat 6 Professional splash screen was one of the last appearances of Acrobat’s “running man.”

Acrobat 5

The box art for Acrobat 5.0.

Acrobat 7 Pro

The box art for Acrobat 7.0 Professional. Note the move from the “running man” to an abstraction of the PDF trefoil.

Acrobat 7 Standard

The box art for Acrobat 7.0 Standard.

Acrobat 8

The box art for Acrobat 8.0 Professional.

As designers, we’re very sensitive to the branding experiences out in today’s world and we notice when a product is rebranded. Over the past few years Adobe’s Creative Suite applications have had major branding revisions (first with CS in 2003, and again with CS3 in 2007) and these have attracted attention from designers and branding experts alike, with mixed responses both positive and negative. There’s parts of the CS3 branding that I like and others I don’t, but what has struck me over the past few years is not the Creative Suite rebranding but the branding for Acrobat—little Acrobat, the application that seems to march to its own drummer, doesn’t match the Creative Suite product cycle and caters to more than just creative professionals.

The running man and the trefoil

Longtime Acrobat users will remember the “running man” graphic that graced most early versions of Adobe Acrobat. Acrobat’s “running man” was probably as recognizable as Photoshop’s old eye icon or Illustrator’s Venus icon, which were also used over the course of many versions of those applications. In January 2005 Adobe released Acrobat 7.0, which dropped the “running man” in favor of a very cool three-dimensional abstract graphic based on the PDF “trefoil,” the ubiquitous three-pointed swoosh that graces the PDF file icon. At this time Adobe introduced the Acrobat product family (Professional, Standard, Elements, 3D) and gave each product its own variation of the abstract trefoil packaging. I liked this.

Acrobat 8.0 came out in November 2006 and sported another kind of trefoil graphic, this one seeming to convey motion and not dimensionality. As with the previous version, Acrobat 8 had multiple products in its family and each sported its own variation of the “motion” trefoil. I wasn’t used to seeing three distinct packaging designs over the course of three versions of one Adobe product, but I figured this would be the end of it. And now Acrobat 9.0 is shipping with yet another redesigned package—this one not really based on the trefoil at all but more of an airwave/broadcast motif.

So what gives? When I see this kind of indecision in a brand, it makes me think something’s not right—like there’s a struggle behind the scenes between multiple creative ideas, or something more damaging like Quark’s rebranding and subsequent re-rebranding a couple years ago. Rather than speculate I went straight to Jim Petersen, Director of Brand Strategy and Design at Adobe Systems. I have to hand it to Adobe: they are always very willing to share and discuss the thought processes that go into all their products.


Here are the main points I gathered from our interview:

Adobe seems to think about branding a little differently. Jim repeated a few times the notion of the Adobe brand serving as a “foundation” or an “enabling brand” to allow customers to “connect despite clutter and make engaging experiences” for their audiences. I think many companies think of their product brands as guideposts to steer consumers to the right purchase—twentysomethings buy X, fiftysomethings buy Y, women buy Z. But I think Jim was thinking about the Adobe product brands selling not just the products themselves, but the means to create those creative, engaging experiences we strive to create. A major function of branding in this case is to help customers choose what’s right for them.

Adobe Reader 8 icon

The icon for Adobe Reader 8 sports the PDF trefoil.

So what does this mean for Acrobat? Well, my hypothesis is that Adobe sells PDF, not Acrobat. I learned from Jim that the “running man” icon was retired because research showed that consumers considered the PDF trefoil to be the true icon of the whole PDF/Acrobat technology. That was the major impetus behind the rebranding of version 7. Color was also added to the packaging in order to classify all the new Acrobat products in the family. This was also the first version of Acrobat that had the white background, since CS had just adopted the “white box” branding style. The shared white branding element brought the two products together and gave them a “family flavor” that has since expanded with CS3.

Designing Responsibly, Sustainably

Veteran designer Valerie Casey had been pitching new packaging and product-design strategies to corporate giants with less-than-stellar environmental resumes. Hesitant to even broach the topic of sustainability at the risk of scaring off her potential clients, and anguished at her own cowardice, she began, there on the plane, to write a “Kyoto Treaty” of design, a call to action for the design industry to turn away from environmentally irresponsible, profit-driven practices and commit itself to sustainability.

That impromptu manifesto has now been formalized as the Designers Accord, and a broad coalition of 100,000 designers, engineers, and corporate leaders have committed to the ideal of environmentally and socially responsible design. The accord gives actionable shape to the role and responsibility of designers. Adopters must publicly declare their participation in the accord, initiate a dialogue about environmental responsibility with every client, put programs in place to reduce their carbon footprint annually, and teach employees about the importance of sustainable values in design.

Via Good Magazine. Read the rest of this story.

Learn more about the Designers Accord.

Photoshop Express First Impressions

Photoshop Express is a rich Internet application (RIA) developed with Flash and Flex and designed to bring the Photoshop experience to the masses. According to John Nack’s blog, a sneak peek was given at Photoshop World in September 2007 (here is a screenshot of that demo) and it was officially released in beta form last March. Terry White also has a good blog post here upon its release.

Photoshop Elements Express Lite? What’s its niche?

Back in the good ol’ days there was just Photoshop, and you either needed it or you didn’t. Of course times have changed and now we have Photoshop, Photoshop Extended, Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Lightroom and now Photoshop Express. With Elements and Photoshop CS3 Standard the trend has been to make Photoshop more accessible and pare down some of its more advanced niche features. The question now is whether there will be overlap and competition between Elements and the new Express, because I see some similarities between the two. Photoshop Express touts a very well-constructed “My Photos” browser that reminds me a lot of the Organizer in Photoshop Elements, and in my review of that product I also commented the Organizer reminds me of Bridge CS3, yet another digital asset management application. The “My Photos” browser in Photoshop Express is the most bare-bones of them all, and it works well. I uploaded some photos and was able to do some simple organizing and viewing with ease. For those whose photo management experience has only been Flickr and Picasa, Photoshop Express will be a huge improvement. The quality and power of the Flash/Flex application is tremendous!

The big question on people’s minds is, what niche does Photoshop Express serve? I think it’s fairly clear that the niche is made of general consumers who don’t necessarily have powerful hardware but do have an Internet connection, and also take and share a lot of digital photos with similar users. Flickr users are in this category. What Photoshop Express is attempting to do is to combine the management and sharing of photos with basic image editing.

The most basic of image editing

The editing capabilities of Photoshop Express are basic but also very slick to handle. There are only 17 editing options, some of which are self-explanatory:

  • Crop & Rotate
  • Auto Correct
  • Exposure
  • Red Eye Removal
  • Touchup: a cloning tool without the controls you’re used to in Photoshop; it works very similar to the Touchup tools in Lightroom.
  • Saturation
  • White Balance
  • Highlight
  • Fill Light
  • Sharpen
  • Soft Focus
  • Pop Color: Photoshop Express will give you options to “pop” a selected color in the image.
  • Hue
  • Black & White
  • Tint
  • Sketch: one of three actual Photoshop filters to make it into Photoshop Express.
  • Distort: a combination of Photoshop’s Pinch and Twirl filters.

The cool thing about editing in Photoshop Express is that every move is non-destructive, just like in Lightroom. Checkboxes next to each active editing option will allow you revise or remove your previous edits. Photoshop Express often works like Variations in Photoshop: select “Hue,” for instance, and you’ll be shown several thumbnails of possible hue shifts to choose from. There’s also a slider so you can fine-tune your editing (though no fields to enter specific numbers or values). You can always view the original photo with the “View Original” button, but the edited version is what shows up in your galleries and photo collection. If you download your edited images, they will come out as JPEGs so you can’t edit your photos further with Photoshop.

Once again it’s all about community

kuler, the other high-profile Flash application that Adobe has released, is big into community: users have profiles, saved color schemes and sharing is emphasized right on the main page. Photoshop Express continues this with “My Gallery,” a public page each user can use to show and share photos. Users have to first create an album in their “My Photos” browser. One really cool thing about the galleries is the fact that Adobe gives you not only 2GB of free space but a subdomain on their domain (mine is, but you won’t find anything there yet!). The gallery experience is excellent, with fluid motion and multiple setups for thumbnail views (try the 3D views!). I think there’s still a little work to be done with the controls (hint: use the arrow keys!) but this beta application already feels like a 1.0 release.

Quark Quitting Desktop?

by Jeremy Schultz and Pariah S. Burke

We’ve been hearing a rumor the past few weeks. doesn’t normally trade in rumors–that was the job of the late–but this particular rumor has been gaining momentum, and it fits with facts we already knew. Moreover, the rumor, once a whisper, is now being spoken aloud in some rather public places, by some rather public people.

QuarkXPress has always been synonymous with desktop publishing. Along with Photoshop, it helped launch and define the industry and change the way printed materials are created and published all around the world. However, nothing in either the software or desktop publishing industries is forever. After nine years of bloody battle with competitor Adobe InDesign, it appears Quark might be ready to throw in the towel.

The rumor is this: In the coming days, certainly by the end of First Quarter calendar 2008, Quark, Inc. will announce a total migration of its flagship product QuarkXPress from a desktop publishing application to an enterprise-level server publishing solution client. In other words: Quark will discontinue selling individual copies of QuarkXPress for use on standalone desktops. To continue using QuarkXPress beyond version 7.3, the rumor goes, will require utilizing QuarkXPress as a network client to an enterprise-grade publishing server such as QuarkXPress Server or Quark Publishing System.

Yeah, yeah. You’ve heard it all before, haven’t you? Next we’ll tell you Quark is selling out to Adobe, right? Although Quark declined to return our phone calls requesting an official response, this particular rumor has some traction.

Writing on the Wall

This rumor has been communicated to us over the past year on separate occasions by three confirmed Quark employees, two other anonymous sources claiming to be Quark employees, as well as several representatives of other companies that do business with Quark. Most recently–and most loudly–the rumor was given voice from the podium of the Des Moines, Iowa InDesign Users Group meeting Tuesday, 19 February. According to sources present at the meeting, Jim Maivald, InDesign XML guru extraordinaire, conveyed the substance of the rumor as fact to attendees and other speakers.

Depending on your point of view, all of those spreading the rumor may be easily discounted as misinformed. In fact, we would have scoffed at the whole thing had it not matched up with information we already knew and certain well established facts.

In November 2006 Raymond Schiavone took the reins as Quark CEO. Schiavone’s last position was that of CEO at Arbortext, Inc., a company that began as a desktop software company but which Schiavone transitioned out of the desktop market and into enterprise publishing systems.

Even more compelling are Schiavone’s own statements. In a September 2007 interview with Quark VS Schiavone admitted to telling Quark senior staff: “QuarkXPress has lost against InDesign. That fight is over.” In the same interview he went on to qualify the statement by saying: “What I meant by that is that we’re not going to compete with Adobe. I don’t want to be someone else’s company. I want to be our own company. There are other things that are our strengths that Adobe doesn’t [do]. That’s a losing proposition to be another person’s company. I want to focus on innovation, not replication.”

QvI: What are some of those innovations, those “strengths that Adobe doesn’t” have?

RS: While I can’t give you specifics because development is underway, I can tell you that we are making enhancements to our server-based enterprise products and developing new products that will comprehensively serve the digital publishing needs of our current and potential customers and expanding capabilities in our QuarkXPress product. You’ll be hearing more about all of these initiatives next year.

Quark VS publisher Pariah S. Burke, interviewed by his own publication, responded to Schiavone’s statements with a prediction that Quark would complete a move to an entirely server-based publishing systems company by the time Quark released version 9 of its products:

I think QuarkXPress will continue to have utility on its own, but its primary role will be to function as a desktop client for an as-yet unrevealed enterprise-grade suite of systems.

XPress 8 will be the first stage, I predict. It will have few new features designers really want, but will offer greater scalability and automation important to managers of large publishing workflows. It, and Quark CopyDesk 8, will offer tight integration with XPress Server and new enterprise systems Quark will announce over the course of the next two years. [Schiavone's] realistic goal for the XPress 8 generation of products will be to make the market take notice of Quark again, to open a dialog with large workflow managers who will help refine Schiavone’s vision for XPress 9.

By the time XPress 9 and its matching systems do release (probably less than 12 months following the release of version 8), QuarkXPress will be little more than a client application. All the real power will reside on the server-side systems…

Ultimately, I believe the average small-office, home-office user of desktop publishing systems will completely forget about Quark before QuarkXPress 10 because Schiavone only cares about small and medium sized businesses now; once they’ve fulfilled their purpose as stepping stones to enterprise, Quark will have no further use for them.

I also think QuarkXPress 10 won’t be desktop software at all. It will be a server-hosted, instance application, which isn’t feasible for SOHO and small studios. Similar to the way QuarkXPress License Server functions today, companies will purchase blocks of licenses. But, instead of installing the XPress software on users’ systems and letting the License Server manage the number of concurrently running copies, users will log into their workflow systems and use a copy of the QuarkXPress client that actually runs on the application server rather than their local computers. The change from desktop to server-hosted, I believe, will begin in earnest with XPress 9, which will have a desktop installable as an aid to assist Quark customers in transitioning to the new server-based software. Beginning with XPress 10–or 11, if the outcry is great enough–the individual installation version will be removed. Companies that can’t afford the hardware required to run such a setup will be unable to use XPress.

After 2012, I don’t think Quark will care too much about desktop users because it won’t offer products to them.

If the rumor is true, if Quark will anounce in the next few days or weeks its departure from the desktop market, Burke’s predictions will be coming true much sooner than he feared.

Jeremy Schultz is a graphic designer and is the owner of his design firm, Jeremy Schultz, specializing in graphic design, web design, illustration and multimedia.

Pariah S. Burke is a design and publishing workflow consultant with Workflow:Creative, the author or co-author of four design software books, a freelance graphic designer, and the publisher of Quark VS and Designorati.

Geo-Cluelessness Makes For Good Humor

The reputation of Americans as a nation someone out of the clue loop about the human makeup of the planet we all share is something of a legend. According to a recent National Geographic-Roper survey on geographical literacy:

  • Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map—though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
  • 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It’s the largest country in Africa.)
  • Half of young Americans can’t find New York on a map.

Moreover, this video on YouTube references the same survey to sound the call that fully 20 per cent of British youths cannot locate the U.K. on a map. Perhaps the USA is being a bit unfairly singled out here.

Regardless, one way we deal with such sobering news is to make light of it, and this is not necessarily a bad thing; through humor vital messages can be delivered, and we can have a good laugh besides.

One example we’ve seen recently is a map of what may (or may not) be Europe in the popular comic strip Luann, drawn by cartoonist Greg Evans. In this strip published in American newspapers on Sunday, 17 Feb, the main character is asked by her parents what she learned in school today … and Luann gives them a literal gallimaufry of people and places.

In the middle panel is the cartographic joke; a thing looking vaguely like Europe but mixing everything up; Great England jostles just off shore between the British I’ll and Europe; North England shares space on what might be the Scandinavian Peninsula with Denland and Iceway; continental states include French, Mexico, Grease, and Ohio, the numeral 7 appears in several countries for no apparent reason, and a long word describes the mulligatawny in the center of the landmass – rendered unreadable by the multiplicity of colors, shapes, and boundaries.

Of course, the character here isn’t ignorant – she’s a high-school student doing the best she can with a welter of information being relentlessly dropped on her daily, making this more a commentary on where ignorance can spring from than what damage it might cause.

And as far as the damage geo-cluelessness can produce, nobody does satire better than the esteemed Onion News Network, who gives us here a report on America sending billions of dollars to Andorra, a prosperous western European microstate, because someone thought it was in Africa:

Nation Of Andorra Not In Africa, Shocked U.S. State Dept. Reports

This image, a screen capture, shows the detail of the map of Africa the State Dept. was working from. They were sure that Andorra was in the purple area marked ??? somehow (noting also the nations of Mumbamu, to the north; the infamous Claw Island, and “Congo”, covering the northern fourth:

A US State Dept Map of Africa from The Onion News Network

Andorra: They were sure it was in there, somewhere …

This all simply stands as proof that humor can make the unfunny contemplatable, and this can perhaps give us the courage to address the situation. And, along the way, we’ll have a pretty good laugh, and a memorable joke or two.

Extensis Unveils Universal Type Server

Today at MacWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco, Extensis, makers of Suitcase and Font Reserve, as well as Suitcase Server X1 and Font Reserve Server, will unveil an all new server-based font management system. Universal Type Server (UTS) runs on Windows and Macintosh servers, connects to Windows and Mac (PPC and Intel) clients, includes all the best features of both Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server, and is faster than you ever imagined a font manager could be.

Let me establish something right off the bat: I dig the latest versions of Extensis Suitcase–Fusion (version 12) on Mac OSX and Suitcase for Windows (version 11). They aren’t perfect, and I have my gripes. For instance choosing between activating fonts permanently or only until the system is rebooted requires remembering a keyboard shortcut or changing a preference every single time a font is activated. (Do you know how many keyboard shortcuts the average designer has to remember?! Well, yeah, I suppose you do.) Although not perfect, the current versions of Suitcase fit my font management needs better than any other font manager on either platform. For many of the publishing and production workflows I’ve optimized or consulted upon, Suitcase Server is also the best available solution.

Sure, Suitcase takes a moment or two to startup on standalone desktops and even longer to make connections with a Suitcase Server. Of course there’s an ever so slight delay between changing a preview type or size and seeing the change reflected in the preview pane. Adding more than a couple of new fonts takes time, too, naturally–sometimes quite a lot of time–but then, Suitcase is not only indexing the fonts but analyzing them as well, storing them in the Vault for protection (if the user has enabled that feature). Fonts pushed to clients from the server will get there sometime in the next few minutes. Heck, for all the little pauses and delays, Suitcase does it’s job pretty quickly. I had come to terms with that fact, with using the delays as an opportunity to rest my eyes, stretch my legs, or sip my coffee. I was comfortable with all that. I was grateful that Suitcase and Suitcase Server work as fast as they do.

Then, I saw Universal Type Server.

Faster than a Speeding Bullet Glyph

Do you remember when you upgraded from a 56k modem to broadband Internet access? Whether you logged on for that first marvelous moment at the office or home, surely you remember the awestruck grin that slowly split your face from ear to ear as the Web was suddenly just there. No waiting. No picture placeholders to eventually be replaced by pictures. One second or or wasn’t there, the next it was. If you’re like me, in that moment you felt like thrusting your fist into air and yawping in triumph, shouting to Mount Olympus: “I… have… the power!”

Oh, yeah, seeing Extensis’ Universal Type Server the first time is like that.

Built from the ground up as a whole new server/client font management system, UTS is a blazingly fast Java-based server fronting an ultra stable, light-overhead SQL database. It’s completely cross-platform, with the Universal Type Server running on Windows- or Mac-powered servers and connecting to either or both Windows- and Mac-hosted Universal Type Clients. For Macs, both UTS and UTC are Universal Binaries, running under either PowerPC or Intel processors. It’s the use of modern, open architecture technologies that enables the speed.

The client starts up instantly. No delay. It’s just there. Fonts are activated or deactivated in a blink. And font previews? Truly real time live previews. Change the preview text or point size and the preview window updates without even a fraction of a second delay. And, that’s not just fonts on the local computer. That’s with fonts from the server. Instantaneous previews across the network, without the fonts installed or locally cached. New fonts are analyzed, indexed, and added before I can find a distant object to rest my eyes upon.

I was shown a stable beta version and cautioned that it might not be as fast as the shipping release. That notion makes me laugh out loud. How much faster can you get than instantaneous?

Suitcase is a 56k dialup modem. It’s screaming fast, but only until someone builds a broadband font manager. Universal Type Server is a broadband connection. When UTS is released this spring it will break the speed limit you didn’t even know was slowing you down.

A Classically Sleek Chassis Meets Superior Handling

UTS client on Mac

[Click image to zoom] Universal Type Client running on Mac OSX.

At first glance the Universal Type Client looks very much like the current versions of Suitcase. All my favorite parts are there. Multiple panes provide concurrent access to user- or administrator-built font sets, font details with configurable data columns, and the preview pane. New is the Attributes pane, which lets the user classify fonts by classification, keyword, foundry, file type, and/or style directly in the main application rather than through clumsy pop-up dialog boxes. Just select one or more fonts (contiguous or not), and check the box beside the keyword, style, or other desired attribute in the Attributes pane. Assuming that your UTS administrator has given you permission to affect font attributes, the new data is added to the SQL database and instantly reflected on the server and all clients connected to it. The font list can even be filtered and sorted by any of the attributes. Spotlight-like live search enables rapid searching of a large list of fonts for a particular name, class, foundry, or family.

Gone are the New Set, Add, Remove, Activate, Deactivate, and Attributes buttons from Suitcase’s toolbar. In their place are the three most important buttons–Activate (permanently), Temp Activate (until system restart or until disconnecting from the server), and Deactivate. Finally! Permanent and temporary activation options have been restored to one-click simplicity. The Attributes pane takes care of managing font attributes while the other functions have been moved to the menu bar. Fonts can also be added via drag and drop if enabled for the user.

Connecting to the server is simple and can be done on the local network or across the Internet, which will help remote and traveling employees keep fonts in synch with the office. Server administrators can even allow fonts to be copied to client systems so workers can use them without maintaining a live connection. (So much for relaxing on that long flight.)

UTC includes the Font Sense auto-activation plug-ins for Adobe InDesign CS2/CS3 and Illustrator CS2/CS3 and QuarkXPress 6.5/7 that have become standard with Suitcase, but there’s a new feature by popular request–auto-activation even if the UTC isn’t running. According to Extensis, many customers complain that they must keep Suitcase running in memory to maintain access to fonts. UTC no longer requires the application to be running. If non-active fonts are required upon opening a document in one of the supported applications, the auto-activation plug-in or xtension will call to the Universal Type Client, activate the needed font, and then close the client, freeing any system resources it would otherwise consume. Support for auto-activation from within Adobe InCopy is planned for a future release.

Common Server Sense

The Universal Type Client is excellent, a clean, uncluttered interface with agile steering and plenty of horsepower (I did mention it’s fast, right?). But the real difference between the UTS/UTC system and Extensis’ current font management offerings is on the server.

Suitcase Server and Font Reserve Server are applications nearly identical to their clients. They run on a server consuming system resources they shouldn’t. Does the average design or production workflow need advanced font management for use on the server itself? Of course not; no one designs on the server. Instead, a font management server should be light, easy to configure, and focused on the tasks of administering users and their access to fonts. That’s Universal Type Server.

UTS Main Screen

[Click image to zoom] The Universal Type Server main interface showing workgroups, roles, users, and permissions.

UTS is a complete break from past server font managers. It’s entirely Web-based, making it accessible on the server itself as well as remotely from any authorized workstation or mobile device. An art director working on a project can create font sets and assign them to users from her own desk while the IT department keeps the server itself safely under lock and key. In fact, an administrator can access the server from anywhere in the world via the Internet. Need the intern authorized on the Acme account fonts at 11 PM? Call the production manager at home. (Managers and directors remember to turn off your cells on vacation!)

Experiencing Production Video For The First Time

Adobe CS3 Production Premium

This is not a review of Adobe CS3 Production Premium—most of my expertise with Adobe video software is with After Effects, which I use for my most spectacular multimedia for the web. However, for Christmas I wanted to finally produce my wedding video, two years after the event. Back in 2005, when we were planning the wedding, I insisted that I could produce the video myself and we could save the videographer money for the honeymoon in Paris. I didn’t win many discussions about the wedding plans, which is as it should be, but I did win that one and so I used two camcorders (one shooting in high definition) to record the ceremony and reception. That was all well and good, but immediately upon returning home we had work to worry about and needed time to settle in, and one year passed and then another without making any headway on the wedding video. My wife abandoned hope that I would fulfill my promise to produce it, but it was always in the back of my mind and on my to-do list.

I got a copy of Adobe CS3 Production Premium, which is physically imposing: it’s one of the only CS3 bundles to still have printed manuals, so it comes in a box larger slightly wider than a car battery. It comes with Premiere (video production), After Effects (special effects), Encore (DVD and Blu-Ray authoring, plus DVD menu construction) and Soundbooth (a relatively recent addition for sound production) along with Photoshop, Flash and Illustrator for creating graphics and Flash. For the wedding video I worked mostly in Premiere and Encore, making my way through with relative ease compared to the quality of the final product. Here’s some of my impressions of the experience:

  • The hardware demands of Photoshop and other graphic applications don’t compare to video. My computer is a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, but working with video made its fan hum louder than I’ve ever heard it. There were times it couldn’t handle the load, and times when it kept going but just barely. My internal hard drive is also pretty well full, which made matters worse. The ceremony video was around 30 minutes and the reception was 40 minutes, so I spent a lot of time away from the computer when it was rendering the final product for Encore—and again when Encore was burning the DVD. It was a taxing and stressful experience, but it just illustrates the amount of RAM and processor strength needed to do this kind of work. No wonder the big studios require whole farms of rendering machines.
  • Anyone can do iMovie and iDVD, but high-quality work requires more professional software. Don’t get me wrong, I think iMovie and iDVD (and similar applications, such as Adobe Premiere Elements) are wonderful—I grew up creating simple graphics with SuperPaint, but nowadays kids can create complete videos with the same ease thanks to these applications. They all come with templates and graphics that allow you to make an entire DVD that looks great. However, if you want to create DVDs or Blu-ray disks that are just as good as the commercial videos you buy at the store, you’ll want something more powerful. That used to be Avid workstations and other expensive gear, but many studios now use off-the-shelf software such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe’s suite of applications. Both of them are what you need to go from good to great.
  • The Production Premium apps feel different than the other Adobe apps. If you’re a Photoshop user, you probably remember the addition of those wonderful “scrubby-sliders” with Photoshop CS2: dragging on a setting’s name will change that setting. (Quick tip: hold Shift when doing this to increase the drag rate tenfold.) However, scrubby-sliders have been in After Effects and other Adobe video apps for years. Despite this, the video applications look and feel much different from Photoshop or any of the other Adobe creative applications. Gray title and menu bars dominate the workspace. The default workspace is a full-screen grouping of panels, monitors and timeline that look like Flash if you opened every panel and spread them all over your screen. I’m not used to such a messy workspace but video seems like a different medium to work with and it’s helpful to have all that in front of you. I might tweak my Flash workspace so it has more panels in sight at all times—I think it would help with motion-graphic work like this.
  • It’s unbelievably easy to do amazing work. Thanks to Soundbooth and Premiere, I was able to extract the audio from my video clips, clean up the ambient noise, bump up the vocals and make some mediocre audio sound a lot better. I didn’t use a microphone, but when I was done it sounded like I had. Encore had excellent tools for building DVD menus and mapping out the buttons’ behavior. The wonderful thing about Production Premium is that it takes such a complex thing like video and make professional work accessible, even for someone like myself who has little experience with video.

The video ended up turning out wonderfully and my wife and I spent Christmas Eve watching it. The most thrilling part of it was the anticipation of adding improvements to the DVD (such as photo slideshows, which are easy with Encore) and doing more video work in the future! Doing something creative with a totally new medium was one of the most exciting things I’ve done in recent memory. Combines Quality Training With An Online Community logo

I had the privilege of taking some online courses at, a new training venture that serves up online tutorials and training videos and competes with the likes of Total Training, and now Kelby Training, just announced recently. The training market for creative professionals is getting more and more crowded, and I know that creative professionals have less time nowadays for training and less dollars for training (companies are investing less and less into building employees’ skills) so it can be a real trick finding success in the market. However, has some things going for it that none of the other major players have, and I think will do very well if it can market itself and get the word out early.

Spectacular presentation is connected with Splash Media, a media company based out of Dallas that boasts some high-quality video gear, a production studio and very high production values. The training sessions I attended were at least as polished as anything from the other company. The Web site itself is well-designed, signing up is easy, and the videos themselves stream without a problem. It is recommended that you have a high-speed Internet connection, but that goes for any streaming video of this size and duration. All pages have a tag cloud in the corner so you can see available and popular from any page on the Web site.

I have to say something further about the production values of the training videos, because they really are excellent. I attended a few of Russell Preston Brown’s “Photoshop Laboratory” sessions, and the set and costume design looks like something out of Bill Nye the Science Guy. You can debate all you want whether or not Brown should be dressed and act like a mad scientist, but when a training video has the same production values as a television show then it must be something special. Other videos are shot on a sharp soundstage and the sound itself is also clear and crisp.

xTrain actually feels like coursework

Some training experiences end up feeling like instructor demonstrations or warmed-over information from the instructor’s latest book or DVD. The cool thing about online training is that the educational experience doesn’t have to be lost, and xTrain has some fresh ideas that help preserve it:

  • Course resources, such as handouts, links and books that help you continue learning after the course has been taught
  • Exercises that present a challenge to students and allow uploading of the result to the Web site to share with other attendees
  • Quizzes and tests that require you to demonstrate your absorption of the information
  • Course certificates that are e-mailed to you upon completing a course and passing the final test. These certificates are also stored with your xTrain profile (more on this later).

Most courses have exercises and some resources, but some are more thorough than others. And in the past, not all courses offered tests or course certificates, but xTrain has been working on filling in the gaps and every course should have a test by the time you read this. Another little glitch is the fact that tests can be taken over and over and don’t know when users are using the browser’s “back” button so it’s possible to take a test over and over until you get enough answers right. According to my contact, xTrain is working hard to secure tests and exercise files for every course, and they are also preparing to announce more classes and faculty. Landing some elite instructors and industry figures as faculty will make xTrain a major player in the field.

I took a couple full-length courses (some courses have several sessions) and passed their tests, gaining my course certificates. It’s funny because I didn’t think I would really care about earning those certificates since they’re generated on the fly by the Web site and there’s no printed parchment, but there really was a sense of accomplishment that came with going through all the material, passing the test and earning the certificate. I felt like I accomplished more on than I did at Photoshop World or when listening to my various training DVDs.

The faculty are among some of the best

A training company is only as good as its instructors, and it can be hard to find great ones. Many of the great ones are exclusive to a particular company, such as Deke McClelland with does not yet have the stable of instructors that the other companies have, but it already has several great names among its faculty of 20:

I am particularly glad to see Rob Sheppard on this list because I admire him as a writer (see my reviews of his books here) and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as an instructor. He has 12 courses offered on xTrain, and they are among the best on the entire site, with extensive chapters, resources and tests that really test your skills. On the other hand, Photoshop World instructor Jack Davis is listed as a faculty member but he has no courses listed to his credit. Some of the other instructors are not well-known in the industry, but I didn’t come across a bad course so they all have their skills. Bryan Peterson is one instructor in particular who was new to me but was very knowledgeable and fun to learn from.

Note that I’m using the term “instructors” and “faculty” at different times in this section. In keeping with xTrain’s emphasis on the learning experience, they call their group of instructors “faculty.” I love the distinction, as it sets them apart from the other training businesses.

Photoshop World + =

The real killer feature on is its online community of learners (note the use of “learners” rather than “users,” another example of the educational emphasis). Once you have created your profile you can include your biography, goals, portfolio and also show the results of your exercises for certain classes. Any certificates you have earned will also show up in your profile. If you find a learner who you like, you can make him/her your friend and start racking up the friends just like on MySpace. There’s now over 10,000 profiles on so there’s plenty of creative professionals to network and learn with.

At first I wasn’t sure how xTrain would find its niche in the training community, but I think this online community will be the thing that does it. No other training experience that I know of offers the kind of personal networking that xTrain offers (well, as “personal” as you can get on the Internet). There’s a lot more xTrain could do with it too, such as creating forums so learners can socialize and discuss topics outside of the coursework. A model for this type of social interaction would be online user groups: they used to be a very popular way to discuss industry topics and get to know people online, but I think they spiraled downward once spam infiltrated the system. The “social community” model that MySpace, Facebook and other Web sites have popularized can be fully applied to xTrain for a unique training experience.

Conclusion is fun, entertaining, illuminating and has a great future ahead of it. It is also a young Web site with a faculty of 20 (some experienced, some not) and it doesn’t have a live training business to fall back on like other companies do, and it has only just begun offering DVDs. In any case, xTrain has a real opportunity to be a leading training provider if it continues its high production values and fully leverages its learning community to the fullest. A subscription is $25 per month ($20 if you subscribe in December) and you get out of it what you put into it.

Identity Crisis! Has Broad Appeal

We imagine most organizations approach the idea of remaking their public faces via routes that are as individual and unique as the organizations themselves. This thought stayed with us as we devoured the latest book from Jeff Fisher, Identity Crisis!: 50 Redesigns That Transformed Stale Identities Into Successful Brands (HOW Books, 216pp, ISBN-13: 978-1-58180-939-8, ISBN-10: 1-58180-939-8, US Street Price $35).

The redesign needs came from a variety of sources: tired logos, dated logos, no logos, and took a variety of routes to their eventual destination–50 new, fresh identities that took the look of the brands they represented and brought creative rebirth to each.

One good example is that of Ruby Receptionists. Prior to 2005, it was a firm known as WorkSource Inc., whose remit then (as now) was to provide virtual receptionists to small and medium-sized businesses who didn’t need to (or didn’t want to) kit out with a full-time receptionist. Through the case study we are shown that the firm doing the re-id, Portland’s Sockeye Creative, identified the bigger picture–WorkSource didn’t merely need a new logo, but a new ID approach, because the old one didn’t really fit the way the company plied their trade. Sockeye nailed it with a name that tugs classic societal heartstrings, evoking an era when front-line employees served the customer with precision and pride, and the image of the crackerjack front desk secretary from those days.

Each example of the 50 (covering a wide range of companies serviced by a wide array of professional creatives) delves into the concerns, process, and perils of traversing the re-ID journey in just such detail, providing interest as well as illumination. While not a ‘how to’ book, a professional will see this as a ‘how might I/we’ book; Fisher shows a touch, as he did in his previous HOW book(The Savvy Designer’s Guide to Success) for lively prose that makes you feel as though you are being talked to, and the enthusiasm of a passionate, expert explainer. He also provides a valuable ‘setting of the table’ in the prelude section “Identity Crises In Public”, which is a short, delightfully-opinionated view of some recent rebrandings, including Sprint, Intel, Nextel, AT&T, and even the new Quark, Inc.

One thing we found in showing the book to some of our non-design-oriented friends was how popular it became amongst them. When they saw us reading it, they though maybe it was yet another design book for designers; when they got a chance to look into it, they couldn’t put it down–we had to pry it out of their hands just to get it back!

We’ve long felt that the public at large is more interested in design than they think they are, and for us, Identity Crisis! serves as evidence, aided and abetted by Jeff Fisher’s friendly style. This book will find a home not only on designer’s shelves but also the bookshelves of those who just plain like design and good writing.

The Gallery Of Regrettable Type: We’ll Pass On This Party

Contributor Jeff Marshall sends along this example of a party for the eyes, proving, sometimes, too much is indeed more than enough:

Florida's natural package

All those type sizes! All those colors! I was still drowsy from sleep when I looked at that; that scene of the two all-fruit fruit juice nugget factory workers fleeing in terror from the explosion at the factory cleared that up. I just hope they made it out okay. Reuters, are you on this one?

Type wise, while we wouldn’t say the type choices on this are inappropriate, there’s just something that’s much too much about this one. Maybe it’s the combination of embowed type and slanted type and unless it’s bowed with the brand name, the type really isn’t working with each other. It’s just a big chaos. There ought to be some way of dialing this back just a bit while still keeping it a riot for the eyes. How that would work, we’ll leave as an exercise for our readers.

Remember, if that type puts a tear in your eye, we want to see it too (just accept it). Thanks be to Jeff for his submission; your submssions be to here!.