Astute Graphics’ BIG Listen 2020

Astute Graphics’ BIG Listen 2020

14 minute read

by Nicholas van der Walle, CEO & Founder of Astute Graphics

In spring 2020, Astute Graphics conducted a survey carefully segmented to customers of our subscription service (then named the "Annual Service Plan", launched September 2019) and legacy customers + trial users.

We all see such surveys appear in our email inbox. Have you ever wondered what happens to the answers you carefully craft and any outpouring of angst? We haven’t a clue what other organisations truly do, but I sure know what happens over here at Astute Graphics. I, along with colleagues, read every word, respond to all who have constructive comments to dig deeper, discuss internally and then mould our plans to make our products and services better than ever.

This is not new for us. Example? The Astute Manager was, and continues to be, our single largest investment in a single bit of software. Why? Customers needed a better installation experience. That journey continues today.

Due to the subscription model that we’ve now adopted, and many thousands of customers already benefit from, we’re opening up more and more with our plans. See our Roadmap. And now I want to be even more open with the findings from our survey and how this will change Astute Graphics later in 2020 and beyond.

I want to say a big “thank you” to all who kindly offered their amazingly positive messages in the survey as well as those who rightfully provided criticism. We’ll strive to do better for all, as always!

Is the subscription working for customers?

Here are the unfiltered results for the key questions from 183 respondents.

How much time do you save on average each day using the plugins?

The statistics on how much time customers save is probably the most powerful indication we’re on the right track. I’m presenting the raw results as this sort of data can be spun in many ways, and it will always depend on organizational or personal circumstances. But here’s an example:

Let’s use one method to work out an “average” time saving:

  • 52 customers saved 60 minutes (minimum) each day = 3,120 minutes total

  • 48 customers saved 45 minutes (median value) each day = 2,160 minutes total

  • 51 customers saved 20 minutes (median value) each day = 1,020 minutes total

  • 32 customers saved 5 minutes (median value) each day = 160 minutes total

Total time saved = 6,460 minutes (that’s 108 hours!) each day by all 183 customer survey respondents.

Therefore, the average (mean value) time saving = 35 minutes per customer.

According to the latest (2019) Benchpress survey Benchmarks For Agencies Under £1M, the average hourly rate charged by agencies in the UK is £80 GBP, which is approximately $100 USD at the time of writing.

Based on $100 per hour, a saving of $58 can be made. Every day. By the start of your 3rd day, you’ve paid off the initial 12 month subscription.

Work 150 days in Illustrator each year? With Astute Graphics, you save over $8,500 USD based on averages each year.

For our customers who benefit from more than one hour time saving each day, a very impressive $15,000+ USD saving is achievable each year.

Only save 5 minutes each day? Sorry, you only benefit from an extra $1,000+ USD each year. We’ll try to get you up to speed with enhanced training.

So, the basics of the product appear to be right for our customers from a financial point of view.

How important are the plugins to ensure you keep using Adobe Illustrator?

What about creativity? From the survey, this was more important to designers than money reading the results of ten questions posted. Which is why I find this particular response so interesting. Illustrator is capable of many tasks for many people, as you’d expect after 30 years of evolution. And yet, to a third of our customers, the plugins provided such significant creative and workflow firepower, that we are the reason they now stick with Adobe’s vector application…

Since the move to subscription, Astute Graphics has produced a number of seriously powerful new workflow tools including the Super Marquee, FindReplace and AstuteBuddy.

Perhaps we got too serious and it’s time to get creative again. We took note already and added more joy to the recent AG Offset and AG Block Shadow releases which have been received amazingly well.

It’s these creative tools which appear to capture the imagination of many designers. So, as we’ve already built up an amazing set of time-saving tools (VectorFirstAid being number one), we can be more indulgent with eye-candy.

Luckily, we’ve got 14 years of development and squirrel-away class-leading technologies to lean on. So, in August, shall we all get out our new vector pens? Stay tuned!

Would you recommend Astute Graphics' plugins to other designers?

We’ll continue to make advances so that even the 1.6% who weren’t happy with Astute Graphics following their purchase will not feel that way in the future!


Without a shadow of doubt, the single biggest criticism of Astute Graphics’ products and services is made clear in this comment from the survey (customer and non-customers):

Create training that makes it easier to understand the benefits and value of your products. There are enough changes to keep up with in the graphic design industry - people don't have time to devote to learning how to incorporate your tools.

Hands up – we need to improve on allowing customers and those trialling to find the tasty bits of our tools quickly and easily. After 14 years of developments, we’ll always have “deep functionality” to explore for years, but we need to bring discoverability to the fore.

We started the transition to subscription years in advance in some form or other (the final shape of the model only became clear end 2018). Yet, we are still only scratching the surface of the benefits this model can bring customers.

Between 2006 and September 2019, each plugin was, in effect, a stand-alone product. We sold many in bundles, but they had to be treated as distinct entities. We had no way of being sure any customer had access to related tools (eg. Stylism and Phantasm). This previous approach also meant that plugins containing a number of individual tools was marketed under a plugin name which served no other purpose (eg. the PathScribe, Dynamic Measure and 5 other tools being packaged into “VectorScribe”).

Again, to quote a survey respondent:

The plugins could use more organization, I occasionally have trouble remembering where to find a particular tool.

Now that customers have successfully transitioned over to subscription, access to every plugin – and more importantly – tool, is assured. Based on this, we are now looking at unbundling all individual tools and functions from a user’s point of view. New to Astute Graphics and want to measure things? That would be the Dynamic Measure tool. No need to find out it’s part of VectorScribe.

The above is the fundamental way we’re starting to look at things before we even get onto taking our training material to the next level.

Videos are, by some margin, user’s preferred way of learning. We already have masses of video training on our channel, but the emphasis on training is now shifting continuously to realistic workflows. As with the tools themselves, there’s no longer a limitation on which functions users have access to.

This is going to require a major investment in time and effort, and from September 2020 will be our core focus into 2021 and beyond. Thank you for letting us know.

Training footnote: for the past few months, Astute Graphics has been investing in more interactive, free training with regular webinars (which has been occurring as frequently as weekly with the regular webinar series and off-the-cuff Rambling Illustrator webinars). These webinars have also resulted in a serious amount of video content (here and here) being published for prosperity. When combined with the new Slack community that continues to grow, we will continue to explore alternative ways to spread techniques, tips and knowledge.

The Astute Manager

Our major investment in the Astute Manager has paid off very well for all those new and old to Astute Graphics. It’s simplified the installation – and especially – the activation process. But it’s not perfect as was pointed out by another survey respondent:

Astute manager app could use some love.

Yes, it could. Thankfully, we pre-empted everyone on this. The initial release earlier in 2019 proved we could make such a complex system work.

Planning started immediately after the initial launch as to how we could make it better and since the beginning of 2020, a vast amount of time has been invested by a very skilled team to make “version 2” available from around mid-August. We tore up the user interface and started again (which worked for Adobe with its Creative Cloud app, which holds a similar role).

We’ve taken advantage of this, in particular vastly increasing user-friendliness and the overall user-experience when it comes to installing plugins. Beyond its original reason for existing, its remit is being extended to also provide a clear staging post for our new training material, which should make a lot of people very happy…

It looks like there are a lot of training materials available but your site makes them hard to find.

The best time to discover what you want and when you want it is when interacting with the Astute Manager whilst installing or activating software.

This is not applicable to classic training material, but also detailing what updates have been made and how they will benefit you. This information is already there, but we need to make it clearer and more accessible. Which we will.


All computer users are evolving how they work. Starbucks is as much a workplace as it is an emporium for premium-priced coffee. And now, thanks to a human virus that consumed the world, workplaces are even more fluid and transient. Here’s a classic case in point by one survey respondent:

A way to use your plugins without having to authorize and de-authorize computers, like an iLok. I work freelance, some of these jobs are for a month or so at the location and when they prefer me to use their workstation I cannot use my illustrator plugins.

Even with the current subscription, licensing remains relatively rigid. Again, as with previous points, we can now take full advantage of the subscription model as well as the Astute Manager.

That is why, with the emergence of the new Astute Manager mid-August 2020, we will be introducing a more flexible licensing system. In a nutshell, activating the machine you’re currently working on will be instant upon logging in to the Astute Manager, automatically moving any previous installation with you.

There will be no need to quit and restart Illustrator when you update your activation status, so long as the plugins are already installed.

This will be ideal for users who work “on site” on a contract basis or those who have several machines that they switch between when working over the course of a week.

Coupled with our new team licensing solution, we’ll have you covered.


When changing over to subscription in September 2019, we looked around for a suitable payment provider to cater for subscriptions. We decided upon Stripe, which was a modern, secure service. PayPal was dropped as an option.

This payment option is missed by many. Even though it’s not ideal for subscription payments, it is omnipresent in many areas of the world.

In May 2020, we introduced a manual option for customers having difficulty paying with a credit or debit card to use PayPal again (contact us if you really have no option but to pay by PayPal). Later in 2020, PayPal will be given as a readily accessible alternative payment option on checkout for everyone. Apologies I underestimated the desire for PayPal.

Get free stuff

From a separate set of customer, legacy customer and trial users respondents (184), we asked the following:

Are you using the free Illustrator plugins, DirectPrefs and Autosaviour?

#1 Autosaviour and DirectPrefs are completely free to all users. #2 They will save you time, and in the case of Autosaviour, a lot of heartache from lost work.

We need to do better to educate every one of their use. That has already started with recent webinars and videos, but will be accelerated throughout 2020 as more goodies become available for free. Watch this space!

Choice cuts

I want to end with some other choice quotes from respondents to all variants of the survey. Many brought a smile to our faces, all have made us think. A sincere and huge “thank you” to everyone who took their time to help us to help you.

You're doing a good job. You listen to your customers and develop innovative products. Continue on this path!

You are pretty good it's just that I am poor

Just loving the removal of time wasting, I am a massive fan of Super Marquee Tool, wow, this one plugin alone is just brilliant.

Consider a time keeping feature to your Autosaviour. It sure would help to determine project billing.

I really think I would LOVE your products. And I think there is likely a whole lot of value. But, my head exploded at all the options to review in the trial period.

And my personal favourite to show you can’t win all the time…

I couldn't care less. Your products are good, but not THAT good. You're full of yourselves and only interested in raking in the cash. Good riddance.

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