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Serif explains how it's taking on Adobe Creative Cloud

Tom Morgan
23 Jul 2014
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We spoke to Serif's managing director to find out how development was going on its first professional graphics design tools for OS X

Following the reveal of Affinity Designer for Mac OS X earlier this week, we spoke to Serif to find out why it switched from making software just for Microsoft Windows, whether its vector graphics package has what it takes to challenge the might of Adobe's Illustrator, and what customers have to look forward to in the near future.

"Reaction to the beta has been overwhelmingly positive," Ashley Hewson, Serif's managing director, told us. "We've seen over 4,000 sign ups in the first day of release and have had very few reported crash issues. All the bug reports are relatively minor too." An impressive debut app for a company with no prior experience coding for OS X - Affinity isn't merely a port of Serif's DrawPlus for Windows. "It would have been very difficult to port our Windows products to Mac, as they are very reliant on Windows libraries and other elements of the operating system," Hewson explained. "The team basically had to start from scratch for OS X."

The project goes back about four or five years, with a dedicated team of 10 developers working simultaneously on three projects: the Affinity Designer vector graphics editor, Affinity Photo image editor and Affinity Publisher page layout tool. Considering Serif's entire development team is made up of around thirty staff, it was a huge undertaking to move a third of the team away from Windows and over to Mac OS X, but one that was necessary in order to break into the professional market. According to Serif, 60-70% of all creative professionals use a Mac, and in Hewson's eyes, "there's no-one out there producing products that can credibly compete with Adobe."

"Our Windows products are very much used by hobbyists rather than creative agencies or professionals," Hewson says, so Affinity Designer was built from the ground up with "an unashamedly pro focus". This approach would not only target Adobe customers disillusioned with the company's Creative Cloud subscription model, but also prevent the new software from cannibalising Serif's existing Windows products. "We're still developing our Windows products, they aren't going away," Hewson says. It's also why the team didn't re-use the PagePlus brand name; "We wanted a new brand that could ultimately become synonymous with creative software, so it was important to separate it from the Plus range."

Despite the professional focus, Affinity Designer will launch at a more aggressive price than DrawPlus - £35 compared to £82. This is partly because unlike DrawPlus, Designer is much more focused on vector drawing. Whereas Plus users can create flowcharts and has a powerful image editing engine, Serif is taking a "one app, one use" approach. "Photoshop was a photo editing product, then they added drawing tools, now they've got 3D," Hewson said while explaining his company's aims. "For us we're going to focus on the individual use case." It will fill the gaps with Affinity Photo and Affinity Desktop over the next twelve months, eventually ending up with a complete suite of graphic design software. All three products are built on the same underlying engine. "It's almost the same product from a back end point of view," Hewson says. "File formats will be shared between all three apps, and they share roughly 80% of the same underlying code."

Serif also needs to be competitive within its chosen market. The Affinity range will be exclusively available through the Mac App Store, meaning it has to compete with excellent budget software like Pixelmator - the £13 image editor that has 80% of the features the average Photoshop user would need. If the company is to succeed on the highly competitive App store, its software must have more features, be easier to use and provide excellent value for money.

Does Affinity Designer have what it takes to rival Illustrator, Adobe's go-to program for vector graphics? Hewson believes it does, and early adopters like Cardiff-based Jonathan Ball are already singing its praises, having noticed how sluggish Illustrator felt after switching back. Serif won't be adopting Adobe's subscription model, either. "Once you buy it it's yours forever - we're not planning on launching it and not doing any updates," Hewson explained. "With Affinity you'll buy it once and we'll be continually adding new features to it." Considering the cheapest Creative Cloud subscription with Illustrator costs £18 per month, that's undeniable value for freelance artists or anyone looking to teach themselves graphic design.

Serif Affinity Designer is available as a free beta download from affinity.serif.com, with a full release expected in early October. We'll be keeping a close eye on Affinity Designer, along with the rest of the Affinity range, in the run up to launch to see whether they become a genuine competitor to Adobe's monopoly on the creative industry.

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