Monthly Archives: July 2012


Adobe CS5 vs. Adobe CS6: The Upgrades and Differences

The Adobe Creative Suite family of products -spanning from CS1 to CS6, the latest incarnation on the market– has been extraordinarily popular amongst graphic designers, website developers and graphics editors of all types. This is with good reason; the products offered are great, extremely diverse and enormously powerful as digital design tools. CS6 has recently come out on sale following a May beta release that came out for consumer testing.

A lot of people who never got around to trying out the beta version are probably wondering what the big differences between 5 and 6 are before they decide to fork over either $1300 for the Design Standard version or $2,600 for the Master Collection that features everything Adobe has to offer. That said; let’s go over some of the design related changes that distinguish Adobe CS6 from CS5.

Listen to our podcast episode where we talk about what’s new in Adobe CS6

General Overview

In short, Adobe has really upped the ante with CS6. The new creative suite introduces changes in almost every single one of the 14 different design products both it and CS5 come with. Notable and major upgrades have been made to all the major design programs like Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Illustrator, Flash Pro, Fireworks, InDesign/InCopy, Premiere Pro and Encore among others. Photoshop, for example, has been upgraded with 62% more new features from the CS5 version.

Aside from expansions to existing features of CS5, Adobe has also added two completely new applications to its Master Collection and Production Premium versions; Prelude CS6 and SpeedGrade CS6. The first of these is a tool for video logging that helps transcode footage quickly and SpeedGrade is a professional color grading system for video editing.

The programs that haven’t changed between CS5 and 6 are: Flash Catalyst, Contribute, OnLocation, Device Central,Acrobat and Flash Builder.

The best way to examine such an enormous amount of changes is by having a quick run through some of the key differences in major design programs.


Key new features of Photoshop include a new and improved user interface, new Camera Raw 7, save for background and Auto-recovery, intuitive video editing, redesigned 3D and Vector engines, an excellent new video editing system for many formats and a completely re-engineered crop tool. These are just some of the completely new features in Photoshop CS6; there are many more.

Illustrator CS6

Illustrator CS6 also comes with a re-engineered user interface, new creative tools for creating patterns, image tracing ability, gradients on strokes, a customizable interface and the Adobe Mercury performance system for 64-bit support on Windows or Mac. Other new features for web, video and mobile uses are also included.

InDesign CS6

The versatile desktop publishing software has been upgraded to be easier and more efficient than ever. Time-saving tools include split window ability, content collector tools quick access recent fonts, grayscale and alternate layout. Other new features such as PDF form field creation and HTML content pasting or placing are also part of InDesign CS6.

Dreamweaver CS6

A fluid grid layout for cross-platform design, HTML5 code rendering that includes liveview and multi-screen preview; optimized FTP performance, enhanced jQuery Mobile and PhoneGap support (A bonus for mobile apps development) are just some of the new features in the new Dreamweaver. The latest version of this excellent page design software is sure to make web design easier and more intuitive than ever.

Fireworks CS6

With Fireworks you can create extraordinary website and app designs quickly and easily; knowing how to code isn’t even required. New features in the latest Fireworks include screen layout tools, jQuery Mobile theme skinning, CSS3 code extraction, increased memory management in Windows 64-bit editions and improved redraw performance for Mac.

In Conclusion

The New Adobe CS6 is truly a large improvement from its previous incarnation; the changes and new features that have been created for CS6 are numerous enough to fill a dozen pages and what we’ve explained here only covers the more important design oriented parts of what’s been done.

Whether CS6 is worth the $2600 USD price tag for the complete set of programs and apps is a subjective decision. The Adobe website itself offers per-program upgrades for those designers and programmers who just want to change up for only a few of their CS5 apps. This offers a nice budget option for enjoying the new features of CS6.

Amanda Gant is a respected, award winning technology writer and has been covering the tech industry for many years. When she’s not reviewing eCommerce web design in Chicago, she’s busy writing her autobiography and practicing her violin.


How to Pitch Your Design Business (or Anything) in 15 Seconds

How many times have you been asked what you or your design company does? I’m asked on a regular basis, and trust me, it really makes a difference if you have a clear, concise answer that paints a complete picture in seconds. According to Carmine Gallo in this video originally published on, the key to the succinct pitch is a message map. What is a message map, and how do you craft one that works? I could explain it, but I think Carmine does a much better job than I could at explaining it, and plus it is his video. Watch below, and think about how you can put these principle to work for your own web or graphic design business.



Out of This World: Graphic Design in the Realm of Pulp Fantasy

While many comic book fans, science fiction aficionados, fantasy artists and some designers appreciate pulp sci-fi/fantasy novel and magazine covers from the 50s, 60s and 70s, it’s a world of genius design and visual art that’s often overlooked. These sleazy, sensational and sometimes shocking covers depict barbarians, astronauts, aliens and robots in ways that use both gleeful abstraction and stone-faced realism– but they also feature surprisingly strong design elements that still hold up today.  This article will take a brief look at the history of this art form, explore the design elements that make up its core and discuss how these covers still hold influence in the modern world.

A Brief History

  • 20s-40s – Pulp sci-fi and fantasy covers have their roots in the world of pulp novels and magazines from the 20s, 30s and 40s. These books were the young men’s magazines of their time and their covers were meant to sell a copious amount of copies. They depicted dashing men, sinister gangsters and beautiful women engaged in various acts of violence. Their titles were big and bold, and their taglines grabbed attention with phrases like “She was betrothed to a dead man” and “One beautiful dame, two kill-crazy thugs and three million dollars.” They were similar to many movie posters, but they were much more graphic in terms the sex and violence they suggested. Though these novels and magazines were consumed as avidly as people consume reality television today, the cover artists and designers were often given no credit for their work. Ironically, these non-credited covers were often the strongest selling point of the entire publication. In fact, publishers’ opinions that covers were the most important part of the pulps were tendentious—sometimes the stories themselves were written to reflect the covers instead of the other way around. It must be said, however, that many artists who worked in the pulps went on to become household names.
  • 50s – In the 50s, science fiction and fantasy emerged as a strong entity within the pulp scene. Many covers in this decade showcased a combination of art deco style and a sort of Cold War Futurism, depicting space age cities, flying cars and a variety of rocket ships. This era also saw some classic novels republished with more fantastical covers, which is a trend that has never quite went out of style. Toward the end of the decade and the beginning of the next, some covers began taking on abstract imagery, as demonstrated below.
  • 60s – The mid-60s marked a serious turning point in pulp cover design. As the rest of the world turned psychedelic, the pulps also took on many of those characteristics. Wizards, spacemen and alien worlds were all rendered in striking arrangements featuring strange colors. This decade moved away from the fantastical realism and faux futurism of the 1950s in favor of headier concepts and the pursuit of weirdness. Even Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy got a makeover courtesy of Ace Books, as demonstrated below.
  • 70s – In the 1970s things really began to take off. Many people see this as the golden age of heavy hitters like Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo, who rendered rugged astronauts and savage barbarians with stunning realism. Depictions of monsters became more terrifying, landscapes became more hellish and the violence moved toward a new level of gruesome spectacle. Images of horror started to take center stage, and things just got plain weirder as evidenced here.
  • 80s-Present – In the 80s it seemed like science fantasy digests and novels either moved away from the realm of pulp entirely or took it to an even greater extreme. Since then, the pendulum has moved back and forth several times as far as pulp popularity is concerned. As we will discuss in the next section, many elements of these pulp covers live on today and still hold up very well from a design standpoint.

Common Elements

Though some pulp covers were horrifically messy and poorly designed, the vast majority of them are quite strong, especially considering their typically frowned-upon subject matter. These were great artists and designers who understood that their work needed to function as both the cover to a novel or magazine and a great piece of visual art. Let’s consider the following:

  • Lettering – Besides the art itself, the book’s title was its most important feature. Titles were almost always rendered completely in capital letters, and often feature primary colors outlined in white. They make good use of both traditional fonts and jagged or bubbly fantasy fare. The title is often placed over negative space (which is sometimes a misty landscape, strange night sky or actual outer space) or offset from the image entirely in a field of its own. Unlike many modern book covers, the titles featured on good pulp fantasy work always stood out and were never obscured with poor color choices or busy imagery.
  • Colors – Complementary colors were sometimes used to great effect—a blue background picturing an alien world or underwater civilization might feature a yellow title plastered across it, boldly proclaiming the book’s outrageous name. More often than not, backgrounds were dark and foreground images, particularly the skin tones, were set in a glowing, bright hue against them. Color contrast was generally strong, but adhered to years of tradition to remain tasteful.
  • Layout – Pulp covers usually featured one dominant image, generally depicting one person or object, two people, a person and one object or a person and a creature. There are exceptions to this rule that were very successful, but for the most part this formula was adhered to. This main image was then surrounded by a strange background that might contain moons, castles, ghosts, skulls, mountains or architectural designs. Sometimes the image itself only comprised part of the cover, and the rest would be reserved for a solid color, upon which the title and credits would be imposed. Layouts, above all, allowed the title of the book or magazine to stand out even among startling or sensational images.
  • Imagery – Though the images presented in pulp fantasy can be either extremely reserved or feverishly explicit, there are some standard themes that persist throughout the three decades. Astronauts, armored warriors, robots, barbarians, magicians and women in various states of undress were the usual subject matter. They were paired with terrifying creatures, spaceships, cities, castles and weapons. Doorways and planets were also common, as were images of body horror and violent conflict.


The Beauty of Perseverance

A good designer can take something useful away from any strong design and there are plenty of strong designs in these old pulp covers. There are elements of these designs, however, that retain prominence in modern pop culture. Many novel covers carry on the strong tradition of depicting something that never happens in the story, which is a holdover from the golden age of pulp fantasy. Comic books carry this torch as well, all the while adhering to the principles of logo placement, layout and imagery established all those years ago. Movie posters often strive for a retro design, and they often look toward these pulp classics for inspiration.

Fantasy art might always remain outside the ‘canon’ of fine art, but these treasures and relics prove that there is value in what high society might consider camp and schlock. These are extremely strong and memorable designs that convey exact ideas and generate immediate consumer interest—and isn’t that what good design is all about?


adam farwellAdam Farwell is an online publisher for the custom design t-shirt printer Blue Cotton. He blogs about design, marketing, art and the various creative projects he’s involved in.


A Look Into The Science of Web Design

When working on a new site, one mistake that often occurs is focusing too much on the art of the web design and not enough on the science. Aesthetics aside, everything from layout to font choice should be guided by user testing to ensure that the website is not only pretty but also functioning at its best. Here are some surprising findings that you should keep in mind when designing your next website.

Eye-tracking studies can reveal where your visitors are focusing – and what they’re missing.

Want to know if your visitors are focusing where you want them to? Eye-tracking technology will actually follow their eye movements as they view the page, providing a gaze map which tells you where they look and where they stop to read. Data from multiple users is then combined to give you an overall picture of where they are focused the most. Typically, you’ll see that people start by scanning the main sections to see what the site is about, and they pay the most attention to the top most section of the site, particularly the upper left corner. However, each layout will give you different results, so it’s worth running a test. If you have many photos, lots of text, or a multiple column layout, you may find that your readers react very differently to your content.

Red is better than green for call-to-action buttons.

Okay, this may not be the case across the board, but that’s what one study from the website CareLogger found through A/B testing. The simple change increased their sign-ups by 34%. It may have to do with contrast. Green may match better with the rest of your site, but that can actually be a detriment. It may blend in a little too well. Choosing a color that sticks out from the rest of the design can draw your user’s attention to it.

Photos of human beings perform better than graphics.

Two separate A/B studies found that images of people can make a big difference for your conversion rates over other types of graphics. The site Medalia art found that when they swapped pictures of the paintings they were selling for photos of the artists, visitor engagement improved by 90%. The website EmptyMind replaced a large phone icon for the contact us page with a photo of the site owner, and conversion rates jumped 48%. Why? It may have to do with people emotionally connecting with the image of another human being.

You have three seconds to get your visitors’ attention.

Studies have found that, on average, people make decisions about the page they visit in three seconds – or less! That means you only have this short window to convince them to stay on your site or to take the action you want them to (like heading to the shopping cart or signing up for your newsletter). When designing, take a step back and look at what information you can glean from the site in that short period of time. Is it clear what the site is all about? Are you drawing attention to the right things?

jake downsJake Downs spends most of his time reviewing digital printing technology and researching the best web design and SEO practices. When he’s not doing any of that, he’s usually golfing.