Selling out and ruining everything

Aug 25, 2015

GuideGuide now has it’s own dedicated blog! This post can also be found here.

In late 2010 I needed to solve a problem: I was sick of recalculating and resizing navigation elements in designs every time a client added or subtracted an element. I figured, I do the same math every time. I bet a script can do that. I learned how to write a Photoshop script that would add guides at the right places. After a couple afternoons of tinkering with it, I ran it for the first time.

Holy sh*t

My palms got a little sweaty and I couldn’t stop smiling. Not only had I written some of the most daring code I’d written up to that point, I’d created something that blew my own mind. If it could blow my mind, I wondered if it would blow other minds.

Back then I had about 300 Twitter followers, mostly art school friends. I figured they’d like to try out my handy new tool. On January 7th, 2011, I launched GuideGuide. I don’t remember how well it was received, but Twitter now tells me I got two retweets. So, that’s cool.

Ten days later I started a job at GitHub. At the time, the company was small enough that any new person became a minor Twitter celebrity when they were hired. Over the course of an hour I surged to 1,500 Twitter followers. Somewhere in that hour someone stumbled across GuideGuide, posted it somewhere—I still do not know where—and GuideGuide suddenly blew up on Twitter. As a free plugin, and one that filled a major gap in Photoshop’s feature set, it spread like wildfire.

Proving ground

GuideGuide has been my learning tool. Over the course of its development I’ve bootstrapped my skills with Actionscript, XML, Flex, HTML, CSS and Javascript. I’ve learned precompiled languages like CoffeeScript and Sass. I’ve learned to use Node.js to run servers, Backbone to build apps, and Grunt to automate my workflow. I’ve used it as a place to test concepts I’ve learned from working with GitHub’s engineers, like automated testing, build tools, continuous integration, and automatic updates. Most importantly, I’ve used it as a place to experiment with best (and worst) practices.

One of these learning experiences was experimenting with metrics. What I learned was that creating a metrics library is not the kind of thing you do as a side project to a side project. As such, I don’t have very good historical data for how far GuideGuide has spread. However, someone from Adobe reached out to tell me that (at least during 2014) it was the most installed Photoshop plugin, outside of the two that come bundled with Photoshop by default. That’s pretty cool. Anecdotally, I’m guessing it’s in the millions of installs.

I feel pretty lucky. Even with that broad of an audience, I can count the number of true trolls I’ve dealt with for GuideGuide on one hand, and even they usually open with some sort of “GuideGuide is great but…” line. Compare that to the number that I’ve dealt with related to GitHub, a number that low feels insane to me. The people that use GuideGuide are awesome.

Looking forward

GuideGuide was never a product or strategy to me. I just made it to make my life easier. I’ve always seen it as something of immeasurable value because it was simply a solution to a problem. The original site said, “GuideGuide will always be free.” This came from my belief that it was an extension of every person that used it. I wouldn’t charge someone to use GuideGuide any more than I would to use their own hands.

The fourth version of GuideGuide will have a fee, but allow me explain why I’ve gone back on my word. Back then, GuideGuide was invaluable. I could not bring myself to associate a dollar value with it because it was a labor of love, which met an unanswered need within Photoshop. I had plenty of time to take for granted, so I did.

Four years later, a lot has changed. In CC 2014, Adobe added a grid building feature which—I like to believe—takes heavy inspiration from GuideGuide. Because anyone paying for Creative Cloud can freely upgrade to the latests versions, I consider the grid feature “accessible” to all CC users. With this addition GuideGuide has become a luxury item for designers with modern versions of Photoshop.

This year my wife and I had a baby. My personal time, which once was something I took for granted, has now become a valuable commodity. The time I put into GuideGuide is time I don’t get to spend elsewhere. Mind you, I love working on GuideGuide, but it’s much easier now for me to associate value with the time I spend on it.

More to learn

A respected former coworker of mine used to say that when we hired, we looked to hire people who had successfully made money on the internet. People that have built sustainable tech businesses are people that understand the many facets of being true product designers.

While it’s easy for me to argue I’ve managed—even if unintentionally—to create something successful on the internet, I’ve never tried my hand at making money. Along with money comes a host of new challenges and things to learn. Over the last few years of introspection I’ve come to realize that it’s my breadth of experience, rather than focus in any one particular direction that is most valuable to my career path. Understanding the demands and the pitfalls of trying to align my own view of GuideGuide’s value with that of other people is a yet unexplored realm of skills that I want to invest in next.

And so

Because GuideGuide has become a luxury, because the time I spend on it is much more valuable to me, and because there is still so much for me to learn, I’ve made the decision to turn GuideGuide into something that pays for the effort it takes to produce.

I expect that this will make people unhappy, and I’m sure the number of trolls I deal with increase, simply because people are funny about money. I look forward to coming to understand and working through those challenges as they arise.

Of course, I’m not an animal. If you’ve donated to GuideGuide in the past, regardless of the amount*, I’ll make sure you receive a free copy as a thank you for your support. Once GuideGuide 4 has launched, send me an email with info that I can use to confirm your donation (email or name is most likely fine) and I’ll give you access to GuideGuide 4 for free. If you’d like to be notified when GuideGuide lauches, sign up for the mailing list at http://guideguide.me/beta/.

* To avoid a rush of $0.01 donations by people trying to get cheap copies of GuideGuide as a result of this post, I will only honor this agreement for donations over $3 made after today (August 25, 2015).

Ruining everything

As part of the transition and in keeping with my my-time-is-more-valuable-to-me-now mentality, GuideGuide 4 will not support CS5 and CS6. Supporting these old versions requires development in a different, and frankly antiquated, tech stack. Maintaining two different builds of GuideGuide adds extra overhead that I’d prefer not to deal with, given that Adobe no longer supports these versions of Photoshop.

If you are a CS5 or CS6 user that would like GuideGuide to exist for your version of Photoshop, and you would pay for it, fill out the beta form and select CS5 or CS6 as your version. If I get enough requests for it, I’ll consider porting GuideGuide back to those versions.

Lauch date

I don’t currently have a release date for GuideGuide 4. I intend to run the beta for a month or so while I get everything ready for the full update. As I mentioned, I have a baby now. With my unpredictable life it may take a longer than that, so please stay tuned.

Thanks for the years of support. You’ve all been, in your own tiny ways, invaluable to my own life education. I look forward to hearing your feedback and answering your “I can’t believe I paid for this sh*t” emails soon.