Monday, April 22, 2013

Work Smarter, NOT Harder :: Why you should sometimes use PicMonkey instead

So, obviously, I am an art educator but did you also know that I am quite well versed in graphic/digital/visual design overall? It's something that I have been doing for 10+ at this point while going the many paths my career has taken me in the way of printed marketing material, creating or refreshing visual brands, doing web design and publication, and designing multi-media presentations (powerpoint, keynote, prezi, etc.)

While it might seem strange and also strongly support the argument that I am nothing less than a workaholic, I really enjoy doing visual design work. It's always challenging for me to be able to create (or re-imagine/spruce up) something and it is really gratifying and relaxing for me because you can literally start with a blank (digital) canvas and then let your imagine go wild! As it goes, I have become the go-to gal where I work for visual design work that has essentially made me their in-house graphic designer. I always love being able to support and help my colleagues in this way - I see it as a way of sharing the things that I have been blessed to be able to do. It has taken a few years (yes - years!) to "train" everyone to understand that I do my best work when it isn't requested at the 11th hour but even when it goes like that, I always try and churn out the best thing I can and honestly? Visual design work comes pretty easily for me and through the years I have really been able to hone my workflow and technique so that if/when I need to pick up pace? I can deliver whatever is called for.

Two weeks ago my department head (whom I adore and would do anything for!!) emailed me asking me to take an old poster design (see below on the left) and fix it to have new information so that it could be used for my school's soon to be inaugurated outdoor theater. (I will share about this at some point if I can!) She said that nothing fancy would have to be done with it, she just wanted new info to be "plugged in" but since she knows very little about how digital and graphic design is done? Well... she didn't know that it can't just be done like that without it looking pretty bad. I worked up a fresh design from her original and gave her what you see below on the right with the goal to maintain the feel and look of the original design, including the new information, and also making it look a lot more polished. The whole thing took me maybe a few hours start-to-finished that included researching some inspirational ideas via Google Images and then whipping it up in various visual design software.

Perhaps all of this is small potatoes or "Greek" to you but I gotta tell you that when I "whipped up" the newly designed poster, I kind of really mean it as it is suggested to mean and that is that it was sort of a cake walk of sort. I mean, I can use photoshop and illustrator but honestly? There is something out there that is even more useful than that! And that is PicMonkey (formerly known as Picnik).

PicMonkey saves time, money and hassle - EVERYTHING you see here was done in PicMonkey (with upgrade)
Why is PicMonkey is a great web-based platform that makes visual design a little bit more approachable (and take up a LOT less time) usually?

  • It's drag-and-drop in a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) kind of way 
  • It requires very little technical knowledge like photoshop or illustrator or even gimp need in order to get it to work the way you want it to.
  • It is completely affordable since a lot of what it offers is for FREE and requires ZERO registration.
  • You can upload already existing photos and/or graphics to it and then do effect work on them and/or add text or graphics to make things look that much more snazzy. 
  • Overall, it makes photo editing and simple visual design very approachable and even enjoyable.
  • Even if you pay for the upgrade, it's only $5/month OR it's $33/annually and it opens you up to a whole bunch to graphics that aren't totally canned in addition to macros/actions for photographic editing - also, all of these bonuses are regularly updated to match whatever is trending in graphic design at the time. 
  • It's a GREAT alternative to not having to pay for vector graphics one by one since it has that regularly rotating inventory to begin with. 

One drawback of PicMonkey that is a little hard to explain to you all is the fact that it can be hard to fully originate a working file. This means that you can't totally start something from scratch in PicMonkey and for my purposes sometimes I will create a blank file in Photoshop - with the dimensions that I want and everything to begin with - and then I will import that into PicMonkey and then export it back out again (to Photoshop) if I need to. Does it sound like extra work that I have made for myself when I otherwise could have done everything in Photoshop? Well... I at least save money doing it like this by not having to buy vector graphics one by one OR I save major amounts of time by not having to make them first and then bring them into Photoshop.

Now, for those of you who are veteran visual designers, you are probably either laughing at me or scoffing at me and insisting that what I am doing is not REAL graphic and/or visual design. Well, let me tell you - and I am not trying to sound haughty or like a jerk - I don't really care about if people think I am legit or not. As far as I am concerned and from actual experience, NOBODY CARES or even asks how I accomplish most things I need to get done. My philosophy is almost always to work smarter not harder and don't get hung up on the details because doing so will actually keep you from getting anything done at all let alone doing something well. In my opinion and experience, what I do sometimes (with PicMonkey in the mix) adds to the success rather than subtracts from it.

Of course, you can't do every single thing with such ease in PicMonkey. Some stuff is better left to Photoshop because it is faster and a lot more painless. Working with layers IS a lot easier in Photoshop and being able to save in editable format (with layers) is something else that Photoshop does and PicMonkey simply does not allow. Other things like pixelating things for censorship and privacy (like what I might do here on the blog sometimes) is also a lot easier in Photoshop because it requires being able to create and manipulate layers. Still, it's completely do-able to do as much as you can quickly in PicMonkey and then import it into Photoshop and do a little more specific things per whatever you need. (See below)

Here I photoshopped in a layer of texturized revolver graphic and pixelated out the location information for privacy

Here is the finished poster with a different graphic since the criss-crossing revolvers are not quite to friendly for our purposes of them hanging around school. I expected that they would be edited out but for the purposes of having a visual placeholder until it was decided what would go in there (which was the locomotive)...

So there you have it! And perhaps if you have never tried PicMonkey before? Now I have convinced you that you must do so. And by the way, I am not plugging the service because they have compensated me in any way and I am telling you about it just from my own personal fandom.

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