Interview: Ash Hewson talks Affinity Photo

Ben Moss.
July 16, 2015
Interview: Ash Hewson talks Affinity Photo.

Last week, Serif launched its bitmap editor Affinity Photo, and the response from the design community has been resoundingly positive.

The streamlined workflow, fine-tuned toolset, and hyper-responsive interface, make it an empowering tool. Whether it will gain enough traction to still be with us in 25 years is yet to be seen, but it’s made a great start.

Ashley Hewson is Serif's Managing Director. He has been leading the team for four years, having worked his way up the ranks from customer service agent. Ash took some time out of his extremely busy schedule, to answer a few of our questions about the tool that some people are calling a “Photoshop-killer”…

Webdesigner Depot: Affinity Photo has been available for a week now, what sort of a reaction have you had the design community so far?

Ashley Hewson: I have to say the reaction has just been staggering — we just can’t quite believe the amount of positivity we’ve had from the community about the app. After 5 years working on it you can’t imagine how proud it’s made us, we just want to crack on now and make it even better!

WD: We got a first look at Affinity Photo as a public beta back in February, what did you learn from that period? Have feature-requests made their way into the build, or was it simply a case of ironing out the kinks?

AH: The main thing we got out the beta period, other than finding any bugs which existed, was having interaction with a large number of professional photographers. These guys know their stuff, and when it came to some of the intricacies of things like RAW processing they helped a lot in making massive improvements to that area.

[pullquote]apply a gaussian blur as a filter layer, you can mask it, erase from it, turn it off an on, etc. basically putting filters into a non-destructive workflow

Some big features were implemented during the beta too — perhaps the biggest was live filter layers. These are fantastic, basically they work the same as adjustment layers but for filter effects. So you can apply a gaussian blur as a filter layer, you can mask it, erase from it, turn it off an on, etc. basically putting filters into a non-destructive workflow.

Another really cool feature we added which was much requested was to be able to save your undo history with your document. This means you can open a document you started months ago and still undo things, or look through the steps you’d taken as if you never stopped working on it.

WD: Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo are currently available and we’re expecting Affinity Publisher in the next six months or so. Do you see them as individual apps, or are they very much a suite?

AH: First off I should say that Affinity Publisher is now definitely going to be next year, so probably a little further off than 6 months. But yes, we 100% see them as a suite.

One of the major plus points of the Affinity suite is all products share the same file format. So any document you have been working on in Designer can be opened in Photo, or Publisher and vice-versa. It will totally get rid of the big round trip of having to export things in different formats all the time — I think the workflow advantages of this will only become truly apparent when Publisher is released.

[pullquote]with saveable undo history…you can see the steps added to the document from anyone else in the team

WD: Is the Affinity range aimed at individual designers, or teams? Does its workflow favour one or the other?

AH: I don’t think it particularly favours either to be honest. The great thing for teams again is the file format. Someone could have mocked up a flyer in Designer, and someone else could open it in Photo to do some retouching to the image, then the first guy open it again in Designer to export for print. Also of course with saveable undo history when working on a shared document you can see the steps added to the document from anyone else in the team.

WD: The majority of Serif’s products are Windows-based. What prompted the switch to Mac for the Affinity range?

AH: Our Windows based products were always very much focused on the more hobby side of the market. We wanted to produce some really high-end professional tools, and to achieve what we wanted we had to start from scratch. With the pro market you have to cater for Mac of course, and also there’s some great things about OS X from a developer point of view that really helps, so it made sense that we focus on Mac first.

WD: A lot of Windows-based designers have been asking about a Windows release. How long are they going to have to wait?

AH: I should say that 80% of all the code we have written works on any operating system, so from a technical point of view there is nothing stopping us making this for Windows too. I’m sure it will come eventually, but right now our focus is on finishing the suite for Mac. Sorry, I can’t really give any more commitment than that right now!

WD: It’s hard to talk about a bitmap application without mentioning Adobe Photoshop. Were you conscious of the inevitable comparisons when you were building Affinity Photo?

AH: Well you can’t produce a photo editing product without people drawing them comparisons, but it’s not something we were particular conscious of when developing it. Bare in mind we weren’t developing just a photo-editing product, the majority of our development was producing an architecture for a suite of products for vector, raster and layout. We almost see the suite as a single product from a development point of view – and so it’s really a very different beast to anything else available.

WD: You’re based in Nottingham, England. Robin Hood metaphors to one side — and with all due respect to the Midlands — has being based a long way from, for example San Francisco, helped you beat your own path?

AH: Ha, well I’m not sure location makes much of a difference in terms of beating your own path — companies in San Francisco are knocking out some great innovative products without particularly taking inspiration from other companies in their vicinity. The main thing you get from being somewhere like San Francisco is a bigger talent pool I guess — it takes longer to find/recruit a top notch developer here than it would out there. That said the team developing Affinity is one we have built up over the last 15 years and these guys are very special.

[pullquote]stability, performance and workflow…get those three fundamental things right then designers can get on and design without the app getting in the way

WD: There are a number of features in Affinity Photo that facilitate innovative design — I’m thinking about simple things like the adjustable grid angle — was design innovation a big motivator for you when planning the app?

AH: The core foundations when planning the app, well actually the whole Affinity suite, were stability, performance and workflow. Obviously you need a strong toolset too, but if you get those three fundamental things right then designers can get on and design without the app getting in the way. So I guess from that point of view hopefully it does facilitate innovative design.

WD: You’re obviously happy with the release version of Affinity Photo, but is there a single feature that you’re really proud of?

AH: As a single isolated feature probably the Inpainting brush which removes objects and automatically finds other areas of the image to clone to replace it with. When I first saw that in action I struggled to believe it wasn’t a wind up!

Beyond that I actually think the best feature is the concept of personas – different workspaces for editing, liquify, RAW processing and export. It’s such a great way to keep the workspace focused and remove a lot of bloat.

WD: Many thanks for taking the time to answer our questions Ash.

Featured image, uses mountain view by Theophilos Papadopoulos via Flickr.

Ben Moss

Ben Moss has designed and coded work for award-winning startups, and global names including IBM, UBS, and the FBI. When he’s not in front of a screen he’s probably out trail-running.

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