PicMonkey vs. Photoshop

Is PicMonkey a Tool or a Toy?

A friend of mine aspires to launch a photography business. She has been learning composition and lighting from an established photographer. She has already done some portraits, and she had been booked for a wedding. We were “talking shop” about cameras, lenses, and editing. She mentioned she uses PicMonkey for editing. I wasn’t familiar with PicMonkey initially, but my first instinct was that a pro-oriented tool like Photoshop would be a better choice for a professional result. That is just my default recommendation based on the axiom that you usually get what you pay for. However, I knew I was ignorant of PicMonkey.

I’m not a fan of ignorance, and I don’t want to rest on my own assumptions, especially if my assumptions would lead me to pay for Photoshop if it were not uniquely necessary and powerful. I started Googling to find out more. The initial results I found were quite warm toward PicMonkey, but they seemed a little suspicious to me. I came across articles with titles like these:

PicMonkey: Photoshop for Broke People

Making Professional Looking Pictures Using PicMonkey

Don’t Want to Learn Photoshop? Use PicMonkey Instead!

Those aren’t the actual article titles I found, but you get the idea. The sentiment from those articles was that photographers and designers who want to save a buck can use PicMonkey and avoid purchasing Photoshop. I didn’t dig too far, but I didn’t find anything overly critical of PicMonkey. My “too good to be true” alarm started going off. I wanted to explore both sides of the issue, so I posted questions on social media to get some feedback from friends. Much to my surprise, the official Twitter account for PicMonkey (@PicMonkeyApp) actually replied. Here is the conversation, unedited, for your edification:

Here is PicMonkey’s response:

Well, that wasn’t too much help since I hadn’t yet used PicMonkey. Since I had the ear of PicMonkey on Twitter, I started checking out PicMonkey and found a few other questions worth asking:

I haven’t received answers yet from PicMonkey, and it has only been about an hour. But based on my initial findings, here is my conclusion:

Let me make something clear by rehashing a point from an earlier tweet: I am not trashing PicMonkey. For certain things, it is fantastic! If you need a lightweight, cloud-accessible solution for editing images for a blog or social media, PicMonkey is wonderful. For crying out loud, you can’t even install Photoshop on a Chromebook! If you are preparing images for standard definition or even full HD (1920×1080) displays, PicMonkey will work well. If you just want to make fun edits to images to print out at home and slap on your refrigerator, go ahead and use PicMonkey.

But if you are a professional photographer or designer and your work will be printed larger than 9 inches at the largest dimension, you shouldn’t even consider PicMonkey. For professional results, use professional tools.

Did Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Makes a Personal Attack on the Marketing Profession?

Jessica Stillman from Inc. wrote a provocative piece containing Jeff Bezos quotes. The title is, “7 Jeff Bezos Quotes That Outline the Secret to Success,” and you don’t have to scroll far to find something that moves counter to generally accepted wisdom.

This statement leaps from the page:

“The balance of power is shifting toward consumers and away from companies … The right way to respond to this if you are a company is to put the vast majority of your energy, attention, and dollars into building a great product or service and put a smaller amount into shouting about it, marketing it. In the old world, you devoted 30% of your time to building a great service and 70% of your time to shouting about it. In the new world, that inverts.”

Once I realized Jeff Bezos was advising people to spend less on marketing, I cringed a bit. My defenses shot up. At AJ Design and Marketing, LLC, I hang my hat on providing marketing resources and design services. How can this well-respected business giant say something like this that would hack away at the value proposition of little guys like us? And yet, when I pondered his words a little more deeply, I realized that Bezos is saying the same thing I’ve advised clients and prospects before: work on your business before you work on your marketing.

I was recently contacted by the owner of a small and growing boutique with about 1,500 likes on Facebook. The owner knew I had helped develop the site for 105 West Boutique, and she was interested in a website for her similarly positioned business in a different market area. Yes, 105 West Boutique had only about 40,000 likes on Facebook the day their website went live. Yes, they currently have more than 65,000. But I can almost guarantee that the owners of 105 West wouldn’t have invested $4,000 – $6,000 in web development when they had 1,500 likes on Facebook and and $20,000 in annual revenue. Where some designers or site developers may have tried to pitch a website as a way to solidify the business, this owner of the up-and-coming boutique needed different advice: solidify the brand and build a stronger cash position. Then when the business supports the capital investment, build an online sales channel that is appropriate for your current and anticipated volume, with room to grow a bit.

What Jeff Bezos advised, though it seems hip and almost contrarian at first, is what smart businesses have done for eons: Build your business on your core competency, that thing (or those things) you do better/faster/less expensive than anyone else around you. Don’t invent a new way to snooker people into becoming customers; invent a new way to make people’s lives better or easier. Get really good at serving people, and in today’s “new world,” serving people will lead to the growth you desperately want.

It turns out that Jeff Bezos isn’t such a bad guy after all. Yes, I went a little provocateur with my title (ok…a LOT). But I never really believed Bezos has a personal vendetta with those in the marketing profession. However, if marketers position themselves as those who facilitate spammy overselling tactics, then yeah, maybe “spend less on marketing” applies. But not to me. Ever since I started parlaying the hybrid business and design toolkit into my life’s work, I have felt that it is my responsibility to help build stronger clients. And that sometimes means advising a client away from an option or a project that would benefit me and toward a solution that benefits them.

Telling the truth, even when it hurts. That’s business-friendly graphic design.


Moving Completely Over to the “Light Side”

apple-iieBack in the mid-1980s, my Dad bought an Apple IIe to help him manage his growing medical practice. That was the first computer I had access to. Eventually, he upgraded to an Apple IIgs — with a color monitor even! Knowing what Apple has become since the Mac and the iPhone, these tidbits of my early computer exposure now seem really cool.

But it was the 1980s. My Dad didn’t know then what Apple would later become. We surely didn’t know anything about being cool. Alas, he eventually made the decision to get a PC. I’m not sure of the exact specs, but I think the most capable PC processors in those days were the 386, eventually superseded by the 486 and the 486DX. Apple was a faint memory as we started learning MS-DOS and Windows 3.1.

Returning to My Roots

Fast forward to 2011. I had been designing for a few years with CorelDRAW 11 on a PC. My body of work included personal projects and volunteer work for my church. My portfolio landed me an interview and a temporary design job within the marketing department at Self Regional Healthcare. What was on my desk when I arrived for work? A Mac Pro with a 22″ Cinema Display. I realized after my first week that I had begun to come full circle when I tried to close a window on a Windows PC by moving my mouse cursor toward the upper left corner of the screen.


That process of moving full circle was occurring in August of 2012 as I ordered a MacBook Pro for my business. Later that same year, my son traded a small fortune for a brand new iPod Touch (5th Generation). My wife then decided she would try out the iPhone after seeing her sister enjoy hers. The following Christmas, my other son received an iPad Mini. Without realizing it and without really straining for it, we had become an “Apple family” in just a couple of years.

The latest come-home-to-Apple moment was when I decided to jump on a mid-cycle upgrade opportunity and buy an iPhone 5s to replace my aging Motorola Droid RAZR MAXX.

So far, the hardware and software has been brilliant. I did have a SIM card programming issue that Verizon fixed quickly, but everything else has been great as expected. Many of the apps I used regularly on my Droid (Zoho Invoice, Evernote, Wunderlist, Pulse, etc.) are cross-platform. It was really just a matter of installing what I needed and logging in.

Conventional Graphic Design Wisdom?

All professional designers use Apple products, right? At least the good ones do. That is what I thought subconsciously. It just seemed that everybody who was producing really good work was using a MacBook or an iPad. And I guess, from all appearances, I’m perpetuating that generalization. But the truth is that while I was enjoying my new MacBook Pro, it was the PC that had put me in position to afford that MacBook.

When you observe the AJ Design mobile workspace, I have the shiny MacBook Pro. And yes, now I have an iPhone as well. But we would do well to remember that these tools are a means to an end. An Apple product never created anything. What a designer creates is far more important than the tool that he uses.


Password Security Is NOT Optional

If you own a website, there is a good chance someone is trying to hack it right now. Forget a website … if you simply own a computer that is connected to the Internet, you are probably being targeted. Is this some kind of conspiracy-theory-driven fear tactic designed to sell security software? No. Sadly, this is pure anecdotal evidence from the last 30 minutes or so.

One of my websites is powered by WordPress. To beef up security, I use a plugin called Wordfence. I got an email alert from Wordfence that my actual administrative username had been locked after 20 failed login attempts. Of course, I hadn’t tried to log in at all today, so I knew it was a potential attack. Sure enough, I was locked out of the site. But the site was secure. The hacker tried to get in but was met with a strong password (thank you, LastPass).

Wordfence has an intriguing feature called Live Traffic that allows you to see the IP addresses of any users or search bots that have recently accessed the site. I was curious to see the attempted login activity and was shocked to see that there were multiple login attempts from nonexistent admin-sounding usernames. I checked another site I manage and found a similar thing there.

I’m not scared, and neither should you be. But one reason I’m not scared is that my passwords look sorta like this:


And yours should too.

Learn the security options available to you for your website and/or your computer. Stay smart and prevent hackers from even attempting to access anything. But if all that fails and a hacker is knocking on the door, make sure you have a strong password. Use a service like LastPass.

If you use good security practices, you don’t have to worry about global, distributed brute-force attacks like this.

Infographic: A Visual History of Google Algorithm Changes

Snow Storm Pax has pummeled the Southeast United States for three days. It is now moving on to the Northeast, but we in the South are still reeling. Most 2-wheel-drive vehicles are safest in their driveways. Most businesses, schools and government offices are shut down. But for any self-employed folks with a to-do list calling, today is a day of catching up. OK, maybe it’s a day to catch up after spending the morning enjoying fun times in the snow with family or friends.

Before settling in for a couple of hours of moving forward on projects, I wanted to share this excellent infographic from Hubspot and Moz on the evolution of Google’s algorithm. If you own or manage a website, you will be interested to take this in. Click here to see infographic this full size.

A Visual History of Google's Algorithm Changes

Christmas Cards - ready to mail

Making Friends in Business

AJ Design and Marketing aims to provide business-friendly graphic design. Initially, that’s a nice goal or slogan that is full of promise. But over time, given enough opportunities to back it up, I’ve found that offering business-friendly graphic design creates a lot of friendships with the businesses and organizations that rely on my services. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you want friends, you need to be friendly. And if you want friends in business, you should be business-friendly.

This year, I sent more than 80 Christmas greeting cards to clients, vendors, and other friends of my business. It was a chore to hand-address the envelopes and add a personal note to the cards, but what a joy!

I thank God for each of my clients and other friends,
and I wish you all a warmly blessed Christmas season!


Our Analog/Digital World

I saw this sign and had to chuckle:

There is more than a little goofiness to the over-use of QR codes. But a QR code — even a regular ole’ URL — would have been quite helpful in this context.

Never forget that calls to action need to be easy to follow!

Support: A Non-Negotiable Quality for Vendors

I posted about problems with comments on my site a while back. This was especially frustrating because I know that blog comments are of particular importance in a holistic approach to SEO. I want people to be able to discover and discuss my site’s content. If comments don’t work, that causes the conversation to be one-way. It was also embarrassing because the “website guy” shouldn’t have problems with his own website, right?

As it so happens, my business was unaffected (so far as I know) by the dysfunction of comments on my site. Not only did projects keep pouring in, but web development projects kept coming too. I have so much work to do that I don’t have time to curate my finished projects for my portfolio. Truthfully, I’m actually engaging in a subtle form of procrastination on another project by taking 10 minutes to write this post.

Thankfully, comments are now fixed. To whom do I owe gratitude? Hostgator. The ace troubleshooter in the Hostgator tech support department fielded my question and worked through the issue with me from the server end. I’m not even completely sure what he did, but comments now work. We tested posting comments from Safari, Firefox, Chrome, and the Android OS browser. It worked like a champ!

Having cheap hosting is great, but having access to a team of support professionals is invaluable. Having a value-priced web developer is nice, but having access to a troubleshooter who can solve future problems for you is critical.

The next time you are evaluating a vendor for hosting or any other service, make sure you consider the total package and not just the upfront price.

Do you run Quickbooks and an online store? Meet your new best friend: Webgility

Several of my clients have e-commerce capability planned for their websites. While it is much easier to do business on the web than ever before, it’s still not for the faint of heart. Customers have options. Millions of them. And if your front-end or back-end isn’t ready for prime time, you had better not even go live. What happens when someone picks up an item and brings it to the register at the same time as a customer on your site clicks “Buy” and confirms their order? Problem.

Enter Webgility and their eCommerce Connector. In short, the eCC synchronizes Quickbooks activity with the activity on your website. Once eCC is in place and properly configured, sales that occur at the point of sale will automatically deduct inventory quantities from your website. And online customers will be added to your Quickbooks customer list. No more manual data entry, oversells, or backorders. This will save time, money, sanity, your marriage, your reputation, etc. You get the idea. Making beautiful websites isn’t easy. But making beautiful websites that integrate with Quickbooks? That’s business-friendly graphic design.

I’m excited about deploying Webgility solutions on a couple of websites that are in my development queue right now. Expect to read future blog posts once we go live. And certainly, contact me if you want to discuss a new project. But if you would like to get started with Webgility’s eCommerce Connector on your own, feel free to click here to learn more and save $20.

Problems with Comments

Hi everyone,

All two of my loyal readers (including you, Mom) may not really care, but I have recently been made aware that some users are experiencing problem when attempting to post comments on my site. I had wondered why it was so quiet in here! So where does the guy who helps people build websites go to get a befuddling problem with his own website fixed? To another more specialized web developer, of course. We’ll get it sorted out soon.

In lieu of comments in the actual posts, if you want to participate in the conversation, go over to Facebook or my Contact page.

Hopefully, this will become more of a two-way street.

Best regards,