Fireworks: From Macromedia to Adobe to ... oblivion?

Fireworks: From Macromedia to Adobe to ... oblivion?
When Adobe completed its aquisition of Macromedia in December 2005, it can’t have been much of a surprise that their competing Freehand application was shown the door less than 2 years later in favour of Adobe’s own (arguably inferior) Adobe Illustrator.

And with Adobe’s long-standing association with the print-based design industry, non-print digital designers who had grown to love and rely on the more web-orientated Fireworks vector graphics program must have wondered whether this, too, had more days behind than ahead.

A Cloud with a not-so-silver lining

In fairness, Adobe has till now kept Fireworks as an integral part of its Creative Suite (CS), designed as it was to compliment the evergreen Dreamweaver. There were even attempts to bring it into line with its stable-mates through updates to its UI and functionality.

Some changes worked better than others: the shoehorning-in of the print-biased text-rendering engine from Photoshop really just ruined Fireworks’ formerly reliable screen fonts.

Then in May 2013 came the announcement of Adobe’s move to their new CC (Creative Cloud) subscription model and the parting of ways for Fireworks and its Creative Suite cousins.

Development of the standalone web vector-graphic program would cease. The CS6 version would stumble on whilst Adobe cherry-picked the best bits for a new series of modular ‘Edge tools’ to use as add-ons for their core products (If you like you can even sign up to help with the development of these ‘next-generation solutions’).

But if you're a purely digital designer, are you going to be happy to buy Adobe’s print-orientated software suite to then have to buy digital graphic tools as extras - just to come close to Fireworks’ functionality?

Rose-tinted color filters ...

Fireworks is certainly not without its bugs: the web-font rendering issues for one; also the fact you still have to frequently restart the application or risk the dreaded 'not enough memory' or 'an unexpected error occurred' message, swiftly followed by a forced close and the dreadful realisation you haven’t been saving your work as often as you should ...

But then its strengths tended to outweigh its issues. The NewZapp design team has long used Fireworks as our primary means of prototyping and creating websites, UI components, HTML email templates and even digital print work. It happily works with both bitmaps and vectors; complex vector shapes are straightforward to create and adjust; masks, gradients, filters and texture tools make graphics and illustrations easy peasy. I love the gridline system that allows pixel-perfect alignment. And there are also the many options for exporting and optimising digital graphics.

I'm pretty sure I haven't touched even a fraction of what it can do either - for instance I don't tend to use image slices, or export directly as web pages - but I know lots of designers who do!

However, as gutted as I was with the news of the winding down of the Fireworks party, the more I thought about it the more it seemed it had really been the only serious go-to tool for vector web graphics for far too long.

So where are the alternatives?

Looking around, it’s surprising to see only a couple of programs that jump out as coming close to Fireworks’ all-round ability - unfortunately for the great many of us that use PCs rather than the Fruit of Desirability, both are dedicated Mac-only applications ...

  • Sketch works on any Apple device, including iPad and iPhone, and is a dedicated vector graphic tool with basic bitmap support such as blurring and colour correction. A particularly neat feature allows you to preview your artboards simultaneously on multiple mobile devices via wi-fi so you can check responsive layouts. One to watch I think.
  • WebCode is built on the older PaintCode program, and rather than just creating graphics it works behind the scenes to generate HTML5 Canvas, CSS3 and Javascript website pages, as well as SVG-coded graphics and animations. As such it’s vector and bitmap  tools are necessarily limited and export formats of just PNG, TIFF or PDF make it difficult to use to build HTML email templates.

So there’s plenty of room at the table then ...

With Fireworks in its current form not long for this world, I like to think that there is a great opportunity here for software developers and designers to step in and create alternative cross-platform applications that not only take up Fireworks’ torch, but run marathons with it!

If we could lose the crashes and freezes and add more capability, so much the better: for instance, importing and preserving layered files; detecting and converting from CMYK to RGB; supporting more native and third party filters and plug-ins … I’m sure we all have a wish list we could add.

Just so long as we can avoid re-creating the processor-intensive memory-hog that Fireworks has always been ...

What do you think?

Maybe that Fireworks alternative is already here and you’re using it. Or are you sticking with Adobe for the long haul? What would you like to see in alternatives? Let me know what you think!

Don't be scared of competing with big brands

All too often small businesses have a perception that they can't compete with big brands, when in fact, in the modern marketing age, there are many opportunities for small businesses to achieve market share and compete with even the largest global brands.

In this article we'll give you a few quick and easy ways to compete with big brands. We'll also discuss why consumers often turn to who they know over buying from smaller businesses.

Check out the competition

The first thing you'll need to do is find out where your competitors (both large and small) are leaving the door wide open to competition. The key to success for big businesses is their ability to raise awareness of their products and services. In the past this resulted in traffic being driven directly to them.

However, today this often results in hundreds and thousands of interested people searching for information related to big brand campaigns. These people often turn to the Internet to research the product or service they're interested in. So the first thing you'll need to do is ensure your business is visible to these researching consumers. You can do this via paid advertising or natural search engine optimisation. You should also look at affiliate marketing and price comparison websites for opportunities to reach these interested consumers.

Next you'll need to ensure that your business is able to convert researchers into customers. People buy from businesses they know, like and trust.

Keep looking good

One easy way of building trust is to look good. You need to look as good as your competitors or even better. Creating a website and marketing materials that look professional and are easy to understand could be the most important thing you'll ever do for your business. Ask yourself, have you ever bought from a company whose website and marketing materials look home made? The chances are you haven't. If you have, it probably took you a long time to make that final purchasing decision.

Remember, people are looking to buy. The main reason they fail to make the purchasing decision (and here's where it gets a little technical...) is because the fear of making the decision is greater than the benefit of making the decision. In simple terms their fear outweighs their confidence in your ability to deliver what they want. For this reason it's vitally important you work towards eliminating any doubts they have about making the decision. This is why they turn to big brands. They feel more confident in their ability to deliver what they want. Customer testimonials and positive online PR are vital to building this trust. You should work hard to gain positive PR and present these messages to your potential customers at every opportunity.

Stay front of mind

The final area we'll look at is how big brands keep customers returning to them time and time again. They do this by simply staying in touch or as marketers like to call it "being front of mind". They have huge budgets for customer relationship management. You can do the same on a smaller scale. Your best opportunity for future sales are the people who have bought from you before. Interestingly, one of the main reasons for customers not returning is lack of contact. Your challenge is to keep your customers returning to your website, shop or offices regularly. You can do this by sending regular marketing messages. An email newsletter or email shot is one way to achieve this at a relatively low cost.

Whichever marketing media you choose, remember your communications must be relevant and engaging for the recipient. Consumers have a "what's in it for me" attitude. Your marketing communications should therefore address this directly by explicitly showing what is in it for them. This means the benefits for the consumer. Your communications should also continually build your brand and explain the reasons for choosing your business over the competition.

And finally

There is one more thing to consider. This article simply touches on a few key points. You'll need to find what works for your business. The best way to do this is to understand your market and who you're competing with, and then work hard to find out how they find new business and retain their customers.

Look for the areas where budget isn't the key factor for success. Big brands may be the kings of print and TV advertising, but on the Internet and in many other areas your business can compete head-to-head with anyone.

NewZapp Newbie

It’s always a daunting experience starting a new job. There’s nothing quite like arriving at your new office, meeting all your new colleagues and then being left at your desk to somehow make a difference and prove your worth.

Coming from an email marketing background I felt confident I knew what I was getting myself into, turns out the hundreds of fashion and beauty e-newsletters I have sent out over the past 5 years weren't going to be of much help at NewZapp. Yet somehow I have gone from Pop-Culture Princess to IT Queen in a matter of weeks – so I like to tell myself anyway.

My first week was spent learning the ins and outs of NewZapp, and to give credit where credit is due, it is probably one of the easiest  to understand and navigate your way around email marketing software systems I have come across – and I have tried them all. As with anything new it’s always going to take a bit of time to get your head around, but what I really like about NewZapp is that it has been created with the complete novice in mind. Regardless if you’re an email marketer from way back or you're about to send your first ever campaign, NewZapp has made the entire process effortless.

Unlike other email marketing software companies NewZapp has taken their reporting one step further with the introduction of LIVE! Reporting which is one of the quickest, most in-depth and informative real time reporting systems currently available. In an instant you can see which link is the most popular, who is active right now and if the email is trending in social media circles. However, for someone like myself, by far the best feature of NewZapp that leaves other email marketing software in its wake is the solution to the dreaded copy and paste from Word nightmare. In a nutshell, HTML code and Microsoft Word just don't get along. Whilst your email looks fine and dandy to the naked eye, behind the scenes it's a tug of war to decide how the email you've crafted will look once delivered. Will it be 'Arial' and black like it looks or 'Times New Roman' and blue in the inbox? The solution? Well, every time you right click and select paste in your email template NewZapp will automatically ask if you would like to ‘paste as plain text’ - you do! Clicking 'OK' adds your copy as clean as a whistle, regardless of where it came from. Yes, that means you can once again safely cut and paste from Microsoft Word, Websites, PowerPoint and Excel.

Now don’t get me wrong, just because NewZapp is the one handing out my monthly pay checks I'm not going to sit here and only tell you how amazingly wonderful it is, like everything it has its downsides. In fact one of the things NewZapp is currently missing which is offered by most other email marketing software companies is the ability to easily create your own custom built template by way of a drag and drop feature. Obviously if you’re happy with the free templates on offer then it’s not a problem, but for those wanting to be a little bit more creative, I have heard through the grapevine that there is something in the works for next year, so watch this space…