Tool Review: Pixelapse

Every designer has, at some point, had someone say “Hey, you know how you had it before?  I liked that better.  Can you change back?”  We all have different workflows for managing this.  Saving numbered versions of psds, having folders, keeping backup layer groups… we do it all. And it’s a pain in the butt.

Photoshop plays nicely with SVN, but you have to remember to check out and check in.  No good there, we have enough to remember.  So, when I saw Pixelapse pimped on one blog or another, I started drooling.  I begged until they gave me a beta invitation, and I’ve now been using it for about a week.

Pixelapse login page

Pixelapse login page

First off, their UI is very pretty.  Clean, good use of white space, simple, and responsive.  Signup is quick and it’s obvious how to download the app.

I was surprised to see that Pixelapse is a standalone app, rather than a Photoshop plugin.  This was fine – but somehow I’d gotten a different expectation.  Once installed, Pixelapse creates its own folder on your hard drive.  Then, every time you save a change to any file that’s in that folder, it auto-uploads the change to your pixelapse account.

Here’s where I encountered my first issue – ideally I would have been able to point Pixelapse to my project folders, and have it track them from where they already live.  I was initially anxious about the Pixelapse folder, because there’s no assurance in the interface that subfoldering is supported.  So, I dragged one of my project folders in and was pleasantly surprised – I can nest folders as deep as I like in the Pixelapse folder and it’ll reflect that hierarchy on the website.

Folders are supported

Folders are supported

So far, so good.  One minor workflow change, no big deal.  However, I quickly discovered a second issue:  I only cared about versions of my psds and ai files, but Pixelapse industriously tracks every graphics file in the folders you give it.  While this might be fantastic for some designers, it caused huge amounts of clutter for me.  I would love it if, for future versions, Pixelapse would give me a setting and let me specify which file types to pay attention to.

…Because the clutter reveals what I feel is Pixelapse’s only real FLAW – I can’t tell what the organization scheme is for the files inside the folders.  There are hundreds, and I can’t figure out if they’re sorted by date.  They are certainly not sorted by name.  I’d love to be able to sort them, so that I can swap between name and most recently modified.

I decided to partially mitigate this by keeping only psd files in the Pixelapse folder, and keeping all final artwork, comp exports and supporting documents in my old folder system, which now mirrors Pixelapse.  Slightly inconvenient at first, but I was used to it after a day.

My last complaint: it’s not instantly obvious how I would pull down a certain revision.  If I wanted to download version 1 of a psd, could I do it?  I think so, and there’s a link in the upper right hand corner that looks like I could, but when I clicked the link I got an error page.

Bummer, but I didn’t feel like it was a huge deal.  This is beta software, after all, and I’m certain they’ll work the kinks out.

However, that said, I will tell you that the Pixelapse team is ridiculously responsive.  I have sent them two pieces of feedback, and they’ve been wonderful about responding within hours.  They’re courteous and earnest, and they really seem devoted to making a great product.

The verdict:  I hope I never have to live without Pixelapse again.  I’ve already used it to roll back and show someone previous versions of a file.  I envision it becoming a must-have piece in my design toolbox.

Today’s Interesting Link: of course.  These guys deserve to be successful, because they found a problem I didn’t know I wanted solved.

Today’s Usability Quote:
“Innovation springs from constraints” – David Blakely, Director of Technology Strategy at IDEO

Today’s Music To Design To:
Because I’m listening to it at this very moment – Poe’s concept album, Haunted, is delicious.  It’s old, but beautiful and poignant.  You’ve got Poe’s haunting, sexy vocals interspersed with real recordings of her father, who is passed.  It’s written as a companion to her brother’s book, House of Leaves.  I haven’t read the book, but I’m told it’s excellent.

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