"When will Adobe buy you out?"


It may be a cliché, but if I had a Pound / Dollar / [insert currency of choice] for every occasion I heard that over the past few years, I seriously wouldn't have to work. And since Adobe updated their Creative Cloud offering several days ago, including Illustrator 17.1, the echos of that original question could seriously make me deaf.

I'm Nicholas van der Walle and I can be blamed for furiously stoking the flames of a whole new era in Adobe Illustrator plug-in awareness. Now I feel it's time to put meat on the bones of various rumours and speculation. Not just with the opening gambit, but revealing a little more about the organisation that is Astute Graphics.

If you're after tricks and tips on how to use the latest and greatest piece of software to emerge from Astute Towers, you're on the wrong page (try this for size). If you are starting to see the Astute Graphics' name and logo more and more, and are curious, you're in the right place. If you want an answer to the opener, bingo!

So, has Astute Graphics got a "For Sale" sign up?

For sale sign

No. Sorry to disappoint and halt the rumour mill.

Astute Graphics is an independent Limited Company based in England. It's not a complex entity. Just Susan and myself have a stake in it, nurturing it year after year.

From spare-room sideline, it got serious in May 2010 when it became my full time job with a contract developer bolting more and more bits onto a blossoming plug-in then called Phantasm CS (see Phantasm v3). Now, under 4 years later, Astute Graphics is literally 10x larger in just about every way, from the number of products on offer to the number of wonderful and committed people who make up this great company.

Are we mad at Adobe for the recent release?

Oliver and Hardy

This seems to have come up in the past few days from various sources. But why?

Let's not forget these very important facts:

  1. Without Adobe, Astute Graphics wouldn't exist in its current state. We never forget that.
  2. Adobe have been, and continue to be good to us. Put it this way, the features presented in Illustrator CC 17.1 weren't a surprise to us. Adobe does encourage us.
  3. We didn't invent the idea of rounded corners or being able to drag a path to mould it into a shape. We therefore have no claim over these functions as a concept. What we add is our own grade of user experience.
  4. It's genuinely good to see Adobe investing in Illustrator and ensuring it has a future.
  5. Competition is good!

The last one is possibly the most important point. Competition genuinely refines the breed. For Astute Graphics to exist, we must always leave no doubt that we provide a huge benefit to all vector designers who slave their days away behind Illustrator.

Take VectorScribe2. It has 7 major tools. Each one can have 10's of major functions within; think PathScribe, think multiple Bezier control, Connectors, Ghost Handles, Smart Smooth, Smart Point Removal, Smooth/Corner/Retract handle operations, Moving Points to Tangencies, Reverse Path, Slow Drag, Preferences and Pre-sets… the list goes on and on. And that's just for one tool. Now consider the other great stuff including the new Extend Path and Smart Remove Brush tools which also feature in VectorScribe2!

We're confident the recently upgraded VectorScribe2 has a major place in every designer's toolkit. And each time any other vector design software tries to catch up, we'll just move the goal posts. Isn't that a benefit to everybody including the users, Adobe, other developers and Astute Graphics?

Adobe and Astute Graphics' paths will cross again in terms of functionality overlap. By the very nature of sharing each and every customer both organisations are proud to serve, this is inevitable. But we both approach things in different ways and this gives designers valuable choice.

What does the future hold for Astute Graphics?

Crystal ball

We're here for the long-term! This is critical to know if you're a designer or manager and you are considering investing in Astute Graphics' workflow tools. You can be sure that you'll be saving time today in your vector design work and that we'll be here for you with the next major release of Illustrator. And the ones after that.

To ensure this, we will continue to surprise and delight users all over the world with great new tools! Of course we're currently working on something new. And this new product, plus the ones that will follow, continues the theme we adopted from day #1; allowing you to get to the result much faster and more creatively.

As a side note, one of our friends over at Adobe — the talented and outspoken John Nack — recently posted this great blog piece Question: What if *all* we did was make apps faster?. The question cuts right to the heart of what "performance" is all about when it comes to digital graphic design. From my view points, it's much less about GHz barely contained under the heat shield of your computer. It's so much more about the small details; the nuances of just how a tool should react, provide feedback and sometimes surprise the user leading to avenues of creative exploration.

Will we reveal what's next? Unlikely until much closer to any release. I like how Apple always used to surprise the world with the next innovation (although Apple's skill could be seen as perfectly packaging existing concepts, something I wouldn't be ashamed to be associated with).

What are unlikely to ever be revealed (especially by us!) are the unique tools Astute Graphics is now producing for its major clients. Our first custom toolset was delivered in 2013 and several requests for other tools (both plug-ins and beyond) are either being discussed or actively worked on as I type. Each request for a custom tool has come about from our very public demonstrations of our development craft through the Illustrator plug-ins available today.

Physically, to accommodate all these developments, we expect to shortly announce a change of address to a spangly new office. In Hereford, that means a building without Norman cellars and a grade II listing. More of that soon we hope.

Other developments? Well, we'll soon all be enjoying a lot more of Sebastian's public outings through regular and free online webinars plus the launch of our new reseller site. Then there's our ongoing work alongside great user groups around the world including guest speaking, prizes and group sponsorship.

Want to be a part of the team?

Astute Graphics team - Jan 2014

As Astute Graphics continues to grow through re-investment of profits, we continue to seek new talent to join the team.

It's not your average place of work. The UK is only home to half the team, that team consisting of a wide range of talent and backgrounds. But we will shortly be seeking an inspired individual to create a whole range of new video content guiding our customers through the many tools they can benefit from (especially the ones they haven't dusted off yet!). This person is to be based at our Hereford offices in England.

The team is what makes Astute Graphics and its products special and I'm very privileged to work with every single one of them. This also extends to the ever-growing number of dear personal and company friends who do so much to support us from beta testing, evangelising about our solutions and voicing opinions we really couldn't or shouldn't ourselves…

Looking after our customers

Finally, I want to cap off this rambling with recognition of one area that's recently been in need of improvement: online customer service.

It's no secret that companies experience growing pains. This is amply demonstrated at Astute Towers where the company has changed from me watching TopGear on my own in my Man Shed working solo, to now taking at least two major trips with colleagues to the US each year. Unfortunately for a time this has meant sluggish email responses.

This is now being resolved through the addition of more skilled colleagues who have their priority set to responding to emails and social media feedback. So you are more likely to read the names of Chloë, Jo and Sebastian at the foot of each response than my own, but rest assured you are in very good hands. And each and every one regularly checks up on me to ensure TopGear is not even remotely in my mind.

Without the seriously growing army of customers out there (and there are still many, many more to reach), we wouldn't be in a position to invest such significant sums into future design tools. A sincere thank you to you all and I look forward to your reactions in the future!

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