Monthly Archives: December 2007

Photoshop & "The Paradox of Choice"

Shopping for strollers this weekend (oh yes, it’s getting to be that time), my wife and I found ourselves adrift amidst dozens and dozens of similar models.  Multiple cupholders, detachable Cheerio hoppers, quick-release "infant inserts," heated leather-wrapped winches with built-in fondue pots (<–okay, I only wished for that last one)–it all makes your head swim.  God, how do you make The Right Choice™?

Finally I said, "You know, if we walked in here and there were only one stroller, we’d probably say, ‘Looks great, we’ll take it.’"  And with that, we chilled out, made a choice, and walked out happy.

This is just one example of the bafflement people face on a daily basis.  Whether it’s 175 kinds of salad dressing or 6 million possible stereo combinations in a single store (both real examples), says psychologist Barry Schwartz, this "infinite choice" is paralyzing.  According to the TED Web site that hosts his entertaining and enjoyable 20-minute talk on the subject,

[It’s] exhausting to the human psyche. It leads us to set unreasonably high expectations, question our choices before we even make them, and blame our failures entirely on ourselves.

His example about buying jeans ("I want the kind that used to be the only kind!") is particularly dead-on: "All this choice enabled me to do better… but I felt worse."  Why?  Because choice raises expectations, and "With perfection the expectation, the best you can hope for is that stuff is as good as you as you expected."

I think about this issue with Photoshop all the time.  For years I’ve argued that the problem isn’t that people can’t accomplish something; it’s that they think there must be an even better way to do it, and that they’re therefore failing to achieve perfection.  Thus they can get better results while feeling worse.

So, what can we do about it?

A simple response is just to hide things, offering "simple" and "advanced" modes, or the like.  Photoshop does this in a number of places, via menu customization (try the "Basic" workspace) and More/Fewer Options buttons in dialogs like Shadow/Highlight.  The thing is, this doesn’t work all that well.  People just say "Show me everything."  Why?  Because no one wants to be the guy who drops three grand on an SLR, then leaves it in moron mode.  No one wants a Ducati with training wheels.

A better solution, I think, is to make Photoshop more task-oriented.  We need to help people bring forward what’s needed, when it’s needed, and put it away when it isn’t.  We need to emphasize best practices–showing the constellations among the stars.  The Photoshop team can’t do this on its own: we need to help users blaze their own trails, then share the solutions with others.  We group these ideas under the heading "Lighting the Way."  Instead of offering unlimited choice, or putting irritating constraints on it, we’ll work to provide just the right choices most of the time.

Finding the balance is no easy challenge, but that’s what makes it fun.

Related interestingness:

  • In "Challenging the Apple Archetype," Cameron Moll argues for letting people customize their user experiences.  Rather than assuming that "Father knows best," we should help people tune things to taste–within reason.  He envisions "The LEGO archetype."
  • In the NYT, Janet Rae-Dupree talks about how "Innovative Minds Don’t Think Alike"–and the problems that can result.  "I have a DVD remote control with 52 buttons on it," says author Chip Heath, "and every one of them is there because some engineer along the line knew how to use that button and believed I would want to use it, too."
  • To dig a bit deeper into Schwartz’s ideas, see also his article "The Tyranny of Choice."

PS–I sometimes have to chuckle when people talk about the complexity of Photoshop, or any professional software for that matter.  Sometime I should post screenshots of what features look like while in development.  A dialog like Shadow/Highlight might have literally 50 or 100 control points that can be used to fine-tune the settings.  ("I’ll give you something to cry about!" ;-)) Much of the work in developing the app is to boil that complexity down to something workable–maybe four or five controls that offer the most bang for the buck.  The trick is to make things "as simple as possible, but no simpler."  ("A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.")

Photoshop news: Video training, printing tips, and more

  • Congrats to Scott Kelby & his whole crew on the launch of their new video training subscription service.  It looks like a terrific resource for the design & photography community.  Annual subscriptions cost $199 ($179 for NAPP members), or you can pay $19.95 a month ($17.99/mo. for NAPP members).  Previously, Scott writes, "Our online classes used to be around $70.00 each."  Check out Scott’s blog post for all the details.
  • Photographer and Photoshop/Lightroom expert Ian Lyons has posted a wealth of info on the subject of printing from Lightroom on OS X Leopard.
  • Design a video game cover, win fame and prizes.  That’s the promise of PhotoshopCAFE’s 8th annual design challenge.  Organizer Colin Smith writes, "This is possibly the largest and longest running design contest on the web.
    By the time we are done the prize pool will total somewhere above $12,000 in prizes. Best of all, it’s all for fun. There is no entry fees and no one makes a penny (except the winners).  It’s a true community event."  You can also check out last year’s winners & finalists.

Speaking of Photoshop contests, I groaned while watching Die Hard 4 last night and said to my wife, "Man, they must have been feeding the screenwriters ‘Preposteroni, the Pasta for Hacks.’"  I was all proud of my little funny, but upon Googling the term I found that, yep, someone already thought of it–and amidst a Photoshop contest, and on my birthday, no less. ;-P

What's with Adobe & the shady server name?

Thanks for all the feedback on this morning’s post about Adobe, Omniture, and (non) spyware in CS3.

In truth, I think I did miss a key point: in this instance the objections seem to center not so much on whether Adobe apps are contacting a server, but rather that the server is named “,” rather than something obvious and communicative like “”  People are rightly asking why that is, and unfortunately I don’t know the answer.  I’m way out of my depth on the details of IP addresses, ports, etc., so I hesitate to comment further.

Instead I’ll work on getting some details from people with more expertise.  Given where we are in the holiday period, it may take a little time.  I’ll post more info as I get it.  Thanks for your patience.

This is a great example of why I said that “Adobe could and should do a better job taking security concerns into account.”  Even if an application’s behavior is ultimately innocuous, it’s important to be transparent and forthcoming about what’s going on.  I don’t want software sneaking around behind my back any more than the next guy does, and Adobe (like all companies) needs to make sure it’s not abusing users’ trust.

[Update: I posted updates here and here. The complete set of posts is here.]

Adobe ate me baby!!

Ding ding ding!  We have a winner.

Every year around this time, the online community latches onto some story (CS3 icons last year; “Microsoft to buy Macromedia” before that; etc.) and goes nuts with speculation.  The specualtion is all the more thrilling given that the affected companies are only lightly staffed right now, making it hard to provide a meaningful response.

This year it’s “Lies, Lies, and Adobe Spies“–a story noting that some Adobe apps contact a Web address associated with Web analytics company Omniture.  The story is getting echoed & amplified on Valleywag (“You’re not the only one watching what you do in Adobe Creative Suite 3… Adobe is watching you, too”), CenterNetworks (“I am not suggesting that Adobe is doing anything wrong…” but then “Shame on Adobe, shame“), Daring Fireball (“Assuming this is true, it’s a disgrace, whatever the actual reason for the connections” [emphasis added]), and I’m sure elsewhere.

Whoa, Nellie.

As I say, now is the perfect time for people to throw around whatever wild assertions they’d like, given that so many people are out of the office and can’t respond.  Even so, I’ve been able to find out a few things.  According to Doug Miller from the team, “Omniture is Adobe’s web analytic vendor for There are only 3 places we track things via Omniture anywhere in or around our products.”:

  • The welcome screens (these things) in some Adobe apps include a Flash SWF file that loads current news, special offers, etc.  These requests hit servers and are logged, like regular browser-based traffic, by Omniture.
  • Adobe Bridge embeds both the Opera browser and the Flash Player, both of which can be used to load Adobe-hosted content.  These requests are also logged.
  • Adobe apps can call various online resources (online help, user forums, etc.), and those requests are logged. [Update: To clarify, those contacts are made only if the user requests them–e.g. by choosing Help->Adobe Exchange.]

This, as far as I’ve been able to discover, is the extent of the nefarious “spying.”  If I learn anything else when more people get back on email, I’ll update this post.

Now, let’s get down to brass tacks:

  • There are plenty of reasons, from phishing to Facebook to the NSA, to be concerned about & to debate security & privacy.  But when people cry wolf, making no apparent effort to find out the truth (yeah, let’s assume it’s a disgrace–and please don’t ask anyone at Adobe), they actually make it harder to pay attention to the significant issues at hand.
  • I’m a huge advocate of improving the desktop experience through online connectivity.  There are lots of details to get right here as we work to find the right balance between privacy & connectedness.  Let’s absolutely have those conversations–but let’s not drown them out with a bunch of shrill, irresponsible FUD. (That would be a disgrace.)
  • Adobe could and should do a better job taking security concerns into account.  Including Apple’s Bonjour technology in CS3 apps was meant to make it easier for users to connect to their servers, but the company’s (unintentional) lack of communication caused people to suspect the worst (over the holiday break, naturally).  It’s because we know what these technologies are doing that we may not remember to see them as others might, and to explain what’s going on (and what’s not).  As I say, as the line further blurs between the desktop & online experiences, Adobe & all companies will need to do a better job communicating & giving users choices.

And so, at last, I’m pleading for a little common sense, and for people to give Adobe the benefit of the doubt–or at least to check the facts before screaming “Your Privacy Is An Illusion!”

[Update: Please see this update as well.]


PS–Tracking user habits can be a good thing that benefits customers by helping software creators notice trends & improve their tools.  When Adobe has pursued this kind of thing, it’s always been on a strictly opt-in basis.
PPS–I’m just miffed that if people are going to besmirch a whole company, they don’t also bother to extend the common courtesy of a crude Photoshop job. 😉

Print your own beating heart & more

Zeppelin inspires art

Given all the iconic images that Led Zeppelin has inspired over the years, a chance to add to that legacy sounds like a dream commission:

  • A few weeks back I saw Led Zeppelin’s complete works being advertised on iTunes, and the graphic up top struck me as in the vein of Obey Giant auteur Shepard Fairey.  Sure enough–he was asked to do the work.
  • UK-based illustrator/animator Steve Scott got the nod to create an animation that would accompany the band’s recent reunion concert.  "So after four weeks of hard work there I was watching Led Zeppelin play Kashmir live in front of the world’s largest monitor–a 28 x 12 meter giant–and 20,000 screaming fans."  Here’s the result (B.Y.O. contact high); screenshots are on the main page of his site.  See also The Society of Victorian Mutants & other solid illustrations on his site. [Via]

Sharks eating cameras, Infrared shooting, & more

Holiday break = catching up on photography online:

  • The Nikon D80: Great camera/delicious shark meal (i.e. lousy shark-be-good stick). [Via]
  • The NYT features a great perspective on a slide, showing ballplayer Luis Aparicio coming into third in 1962.
  • Photojojo has a solid round up of resources on shooting holiday lights (with a camera, thankfully).
  • Gear:
    • PopPhoto talks up The New Infrared Revolution, made possible by digital cameras.  Too bad that for most cameras the process of removing the IR filter is somewhat expensive & renders the cams unable to shoot regular photos.  The accompanying gallery of IR shots includes some good (and some sorta marginal) stuff.
    • The Zigview S2 Digital Viewfinder “clips onto the optical viewfinder of your DSLR, adding a swiveling live 2.5-inch LCD display that can not only be extended on a cable as a remote, but can also automatically trigger the camera when it detects motion.” [Via]
    • "Your popup flash doesn’t have to suck," reports Adobe’s Terry White in reviewing the $30 Lightscoop.  My wife tried to score one of these for me for Christmas, but thanks to publicity from David Pogue & others, they’ve been sold out.
  • Artistry:
    • Patrick Winfield achieves a kind of fragmented impressionism in his Polaroid composites (not entirely safe for work). [Via]
    • The Nocturna installation uses stereoscopic imagery to unusual effect (ditto on the warning).
    • For whatever reason, gigantic “people pictures” were all the rage in the early 20th century.  [Via]
    • Speaking of large images, Nils Nova’s Opposition of Memory uses very large inkjet prints to create an interesting optical illusion. [Via]
  • Matt Kloskowski shares an omnibus list of 28 Lightroom Resources. [Via]  On a related note, Carlo from South Africa writes in to note that he’s uploaded a set of B&W presets.
  • I get a kick out of Sony’s new ad campaign, illustrating the importance of timing by showing famous photos ruined by some intruding object.  Unfortunately I can link to just this one example, though others appear in banners, etc.

What's Russian for "Photoshopping"?

Ah, Russia–home to 50-rouble copies of your favorite Adobe apps.  Photoshop team member Heather Dolan recently returned from a service trip there & reports that pirated software remains ridiculously easy to obtain.  When a street merchant learned that she was from Adobe, his response was to double his asking price for the Creative Suite!  (You’ve kind of got to admire the chutzpah…)

Even so, Adobe’s business grew by 260% in Russia this past year.  And what’s more fun, Photoshop was honored at the KinoBlender film awards.  Moscow-based Adobe marketer Olga Manannikova writes, "This award was conferred on the brand ‘Adobe Photoshop’ for most often and successful unintended mentioning in Russian movies in 2007."  The team attended the event & got a groovy little trophy & everything. [Via Winston Hendrickson]

We have quite a few Russian folks on the Photoshop team (Irina, Domnita, Nikolai, Iouri, Alex, plus others who’ve moved on).  I asked localization czar
Iouri Tchernoousko how to render the product name in cool-looking Cyrillic characters.  Ta-da:


Iouri noted, "In Russian, you say it pretty much just like you would in English, but in a much lower tone of voice. :)"

As long as we’re on the subject,

  • I dug this illustration in the NYT, from artist Valentin Kalininskiy.  Achieved with the help of ФОТОШОП, maybe?
  • Check out this crazy monitor-testing routine.  (Do Russian Circuit Cities keep crossbows lying around?  And whose consumer electronics need to survive ball-peen hammer attack?)  I’m sure I could ask a friend to translate, but the language barrier adds to the inexplicable fun. 🙂 [Via Ellis Vener]

Cool new Photoshop plug-ins

Lots of good plug-ins have emerged in the last few months:

  • Alien Skin has unveiled Image Doctor 2.0, a set of tools that tackle a variety of retouching tasks.  The Smart Fill feature in particular promises some nifty results (roll over the image).  They’re offering a 10-20% discount via  More info is in their press release.
  • Nik Software has announced the new Color Efex Pro 3.0.  Offering “52 filters and over 250 effects,” the software’s U Point control system “lets you identify and isolate objects within a photograph by placing a Control Point on the object or area to be affected.”  I got to see it in action at PhotoPlus this fall, and it does look cool indeed. [Update: Get a discount & learn more via photographer/instructor Moose Peterson. [Via]]
  • The guys behind Filter Forge, the visual editor for creating your own Photoshop filters, have announced Filter Forge Freepack 1, “a set of seven photorealistic metal textures and effects.”  They plan to release seven Freepacks over the course of the coming year; see details.
  • Mr. Retro is now offering Vol. I-IV of their Machine Wash image filters in a single bundle for $49.95. [Via]  These filters came in for some love in designer Cameron Moll’s well-known series on “That Wicked Worn Look.”
  • onOne Software (publishers of numerous former Extensis products) have announced that their plug-ins are now Leopard-compatible.  The goods include Genuine Fractals, Mask Pro, PhotoFrame, PhotoFrame, Intellihance Pro, and PhotoTools.
  • Pixels Vistas’ PhotoLift plug-in adjusts local contrast in images.  According to developer Matthew Hollingworth, it’s “like ‘clarity’ in Adobe
    Camera Raw, but on steroids.”  The plug-in is Windows-only for now, with a Mac version on the way.

All I want for Christmas is my dang RAM back

I’ve recently become fascinated–fixated, maybe–by watching my Mac’s resource usage numbers.  I’ve got a pretty cherried-out MacBook Pro (top of the line a year ago), and yet more often than not the system lags as I hear my hard disk thrashing.

I’ve traced the problem, I think, to Microsoft Entourage and Rosetta.  I can boot up my system & see a nice big swath of unused memory (all green) ready to rock.  Almost immediately, however, the blue "inactive" memory slice starts ticking upwards, at a rate of several megabytes per second.  I rebooted my machine this week, then took a shower; when I was done, here’s what I saw (note the blue). I’m running just a Web browser on a system with 3GB of RAM, and yet I’m down to 16MB free? Super!

The problem seems to be that the invisible Entourage "Database Daemon" app bleeds memory like a stuck pig.  Killing the process arrests the inexorable growth of the blue inactive memory.  I don’t know whether the fault lies with Entourage or with the Apple Rosetta emulation technology on which it runs.  Doesn’t matter much to me, though: my expensive computer bogs terribly as a result.

Facing this situation, some of my colleagues have given up and moved to Apple Mail.  I’m sure Mail is great, but it doesn’t play well with our Outlook-centric calendar system, and I’ve got 8 years worth of mail organized in Entourage. Switching horses isn’t a small matter.

Now I’m drumming my fingers more than ever, waiting for Microsoft to release–at long last–their Intel-native upgrade to Office for the Mac.  I couldn’t care less what other features it offers, as long as it stops bringin’ me down (ELO-style).  It’s kind of sad to hit that point: I was once a great fan of Entourage (so much better than Outlook), and of its Mac Outlook Express forebear.  It was thoughtfully designed, replete with useful shortcuts, and able to handle whatever I threw at it.  Alas, the app hasn’t received much love in many years.

So come on, Office team: tell me to keep hope alive!  The new year–and new software–can’t come soon enough.