Finding value online

Tips & techniques.

One of my friends was frustrated with graphics software maker Adobe and their pricing changes. She did not like that Adobe’s software needed to be purchased anew when she was updating her computer’s operating system (Mac OS).

I had similar feelings towards Adobe. When I was inquiring about getting a new MacBook Pro, I found out that I would have to pay more for Adobe’s ‘Creative Suite’ software than the computer would cost. That’s not right and I found that I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

I don’t like Adobe’s new subscription model either. So many services are charging monthly fees, if you add them all up, you could be renting a bigger house. I like to keep online subscriptions to the bare minimum. (Ran out of space on your free Dropbox account? Instead of paying, get a free SpiderOak account instead. Better privacy too…)

In this article I discuss ways to find a suitable Photoshop alternative. What are the options if I wanted to wean myself off of Adobe’s products? And how do I know which software package I should invest time into to learn? Will my choice of software be a company that are going to be in it for the long haul? How firm is their commitment to implementing new features and do they really listen to their user base? This article is not trying to find answers to these questions per se but rather, I’ll be discussing the search techniques I use to find the answers.

Sharpening my Google search with ‘versus’ and ‘sucks’

Everybody knows how to search on Google but some searches require some help…

Searching for ‘Photoshop alternative’ in Google yielded some vanilla flavored results. I decided to up the ante by using two additions to my search: “Photoshop vs” and the more caustic: “Photoshop sucks”. This last search flushes out the pent-up negativity about Adobe’s recent change in price policy, not so interesting in itself, but after venting their anger people will ask themselves: what are the alternatives? People will write about the new software companies that are building a better mousetrap…

Search Tools

While on the Google search page I always push the ‘Search Tools’ button. A drop-down menu appears and second from the left is the ‘Any time’ button, from the drop-down menu choose ‘Past year’. This restricts the search to last year, discarding a lot of old information.

Not keen on ‘free’…

Some of the Photoshop alternatives are free, I decided to discard them — I can't take free software seriously because most likely nobody will be taking responsibility for long-term development. Money needs to be involved in software development otherwise drive and focus will be missing. Prove me wrong on that one…

Excluding ‘free’

By adding ‘-free’ to my search I’m excluding the word ‘free’ from my search results. So this is the search I typed in Google: ‘Photoshop alternative -free’.

I read some of the resulting articles, from them I gleaned the following names: Inkscape, Pixelmator, Corel Painter, Affinity Designer and Sketch App.

But how popular are these names really? Enter Google Trends.

Google Trends

Google Trends is a tool to compare search terms, here’s a comparison of the above mentioned Photoshop alternatives: (as of January 2015)

Google Trends lets you compare the popularity of search terms and lets you view them worldwide or by country.

It’s helpful to see how popular these names are as search terms, but this way of comparing is by no means a science. Sometimes a search term can be an unrelated but popular brand in some country somewhere, distorting your conclusions. As was the case when I was researching the popularity of the payment provider ‘Stripe’. It turns out that ‘Stripe’ is the name of a beer in Jamaica…

On the Google Trends page, by clicking at the top on the ‘Worldwide’ button, you can zoom into separate countries, getting more relevant results. Google also differentiates between ‘search term’ (narrow search) and ‘topic’ (wider search, displayed in a dotted line).

Responsive Web Design

I looked at the winner of my comparison, Inkscape, by searching for it in Google and reading its wikipedia page. Once I visited the Inkscape website and I saw that the website is not ‘responsive’, I rejected Inkscape as an option. I won’t go into why responsive web design is a good idea and why it is the way of the future, I will simply say: I’ll reject any company who’s website is not responsive— if your website is not keeping up with the times, how do you expect me to believe your software will?

Same goes for Corel Painter and Pixelmator: rejected because their websites are not responsive. The two brands that remained were: Sketch App and Affinity Designer.


How to pick between these two? Out comes my secret weapon: Quora tries to answer questions that can’t be answered with Google. Some smart people on Quora talk about a range of topics. Most brands, when they take social media seriously, will answer questions here.

If a brand is part of the conversation on Quora I know that they are serious about their user base. Their engagement on knowledge platforms like Quora means that they have a long-term commitment to their users.

Same Quora query for Affinity Designer (made by Serif):

Quora’s results provided me with a lot of reading material which started to shape my opinion about the two brands. Reading what people have to say on Quora is valuable because it’s an open platform not affiliated with any company — generally people talk in an open and honest way, sharing their experiences. Particularly the following article was helpful to understand where the disruption will come from for Adobe: “Why is Sketch becoming so popular compared to Photoshop for Interface Design?

I use the questions and answers I read on Quora to get a feel for the lay of the land, perhaps people are talking about a third brand that I had not come across or they mention an important aspect that I had not considered? All this can be priceless information.


Next is Twitter. Do our brands have Twitter accounts and how many followers do they have?
As of the time of writing (January 2015) Affinity Designer has 4685 followers while Sketch has 20,200 followers on Twitter.

It’s important to note that Affinity Designer was released in June 2014, while Sketch has been around for quite some years (I could not find how long).

Affinity Designer is the new kid on the block…
…while Sketch is the granddaddy of Photoshop disruptors.

Twitter Hash tags

Twitter hash tags are a good way to learn what people are saying about a particular topic.

By the way it looks I’m not the only one with mixed Photoshop feelings:

The Twitter test

One of the ways to test brands is to see how fast they respond to a question on Twitter. I found a small mistake on the website, the part that deals with their DrawPlus software. Clicking on one of the links gave a ‘404 - page not found’ result. As a courtesy I decided to tell them about it on Twitter. They were very responsive even though it was a Saturday when I posted my message.


Another place where people share their experiences is here on

Searches here:

and here…

Both searches yielded some good articles. I found “It’s Time to Dump Photoshop and Embrace Sketch.” and “Affinity Designer, Sketch, and Why You Don’t Have to Choose.” Reading these articles and many others helped me decide which of the two apps I liked best.


Next I read the feature list of both programs:

The Adobe forum and searching websites with Google

The beauty of forums is that people are freely saying things about programs even if the forum is run by said program’s competitor. The best way to search on the Adobe forum is not using the forums search function but instead using Google, by pasting the following:

site: affinity designer

In this way Google will list all pages on the Adobe forum that have the words ‘affinity designer’ on it. Click on the link below to see this in action:

Note 47 results for this search.

Again this search can be optimized by asking Google to only show last year’s results as explained above.

I did the same for Sketch, with one tweak: I needed to exclude results where people were using the word ‘sketch’ as a verb. I had learned that people started to refer to ‘Sketch the software application’ as ‘sketch app’. By putting these two words in inverted double commas I got the results where people were talking about ‘Sketch the application’, not ‘sketching a picture’.

I typed this into Google:

site: “sketch app”


222 results for this search.

Stack Exchange

Graphic Design Stack Exchange is a place where people can ask and answer questions about graphic design. Here are the search results for Sketch and Affinity Design.

Sketch is older and is therefore more likely to have the most search results…
…while Affinity Design is the new kid on the block.

At places like this you can get a good feeling for the engagement of a brand.


Another place to research information about brands and companies is Glassdoor. Glassdoor is an employer review site where employees and former employees anonymously review companies and their management.

I was not able to find anything about our two brands, but if for instance you would like to know what it is like to work for the outdoor apparel company Patagonia you could do a search on Glassdoor to find out.

System requirements

I looked at the system requirements for both programs. Affinity Designer’s requirements were not very easily accessible, but eventually I found them.

Sketch’ system requirements were even harder to find, but perhaps they can be gleaned from their features page…

Page search

If you have found a page that might contain information you need, why read the whole page until you have found what you are looking for? Why not do a page search instead? This is usually refered to as a ‘find’.

In most browsers, on the Mac it’s ‘command F’. A search field opens at the top right of the browser window, there you type in your search term, the browser will highlight it. It will also say how often this term appears on the page.

‘Command G’ will step forward, highlighting each result and ‘command shift G’ will step backwards through the search results. Handy to quickly ‘cut to the chase’.

Searching a web page is easy when using your browser’s ‘Find’ function: ‘command F’.

The above search techniques will hopefully help to find value online. As of my choice of which graphic program is going to replace Photoshop, I would favor Affinity Designer mainly because it appears strong in both vector based and raster based graphics, while Sketch’ forte is more in vectors. But I will use both, due to their purchase price I don’t need to choose…

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