One Unexplored Reason Why Photoshop Won’t Be Dethroned Anytime Soon

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One Unexplored Reason Why Photoshop Won't Be Dethroned Anytime Soon

Let’s start with an obvious statement: Photoshop is an incredibly popular application. I don’t think that really comes as a surprise to anyone. Many people would probably even point to it as the single most popular image editing application on the planet. There are dozens of sites dedicated strictly to teaching the various intricacies of how to use Photoshop, and thousands more that publish Photoshop tutorials on a regular basis.

As popular as it is though, Photoshop is not free from significant criticisms. It can certainly be a real drain on your system resources, and is famous for crashing suddenly – invariably when you’re right in the middle of something really important. This recent installment of Brad Colbow’s The Brads captures this perfectly:

The Brads - Photoshop Unexpectedly Quit

I also posted the question “what drives you nuts about Photoshop?” to Twitter and got some interesting answers from my followers:

  • when my cursor gets stuck on the hand symbol, for no apparent reason (via @wjwinoz)
  • re: Photoshop – the price. (via @ptamaro)
  • no right click for cutting and pasting (via @biotwist)
  • Hate that despite its bloat, Photoshop is still the best thing out there. I wish there was something leaner and meaner. (via @keysthatclick)
  • Nothing. I use FW! =P (via @iamhenrym)
  • that it crashes all the time #PSsucks (via @amberweinberg)
  • the track pad gestures being automatically on in cs4 once your canvas is askew its really hard to line it back up (shortcut?) (via @willistyling)
  • The price. I’ve purchased at least 12 times over the years (via @ptamaro)
  • The price! (via @gregmcmillan)

The Unexplored Reason

Clearly, people have some issues with Adobe’s premier product. Still, it remains at the top in terms of popularity – far, far ahead of applications like GIMP, Pixelmator or Corel’s Photo-Paint (which I personally started learning on). In discussing why this might be, we could talk about development and innovation, and how Photoshop always seems to be introducing new features (the new content aware fill looks incredible). We could talk about the integration with the rest of the extensive Creative Suite, which while not perfect, is still pretty good. We could even talk about marketing and the way Adobe builds the hype around each new offering.

These are all very valid points and worthy of discussion, but there is one interesting fact that I think often gets overlooked in this whole discussion, and it has to do with language itself. The name Photoshop has literally evolved beyond itself.

It has become a verb.

I don’t think you will find it in any official dictionaries (yet), but there is an entry in the Wiktionary. The fact remains, however, that the once proper noun “Photoshop” has been absorbed into the vernacular and transformed (in spite of Adobe’s apparent protest) into a verb having to do with the digital modification of an image, seemingly regardless of what actual software may have been used. To quote that vast body of knowledge that is Wikipedia:

photoshop is widely used as a verb, both colloquially and academically, to refer to retouching, compositing (or splicing), and color balancing carried out in the course of graphic design, commercial publishing, and image editing

How many people remember the Dove Evolution video, which uses some simple time lapse technology to demonstrate the evolution of an attractive though somewhat ordinary woman into a full blown glamour model? Much of the process is achieved through makeup, but some significant changes are also achieved by means of digital manipulation. The final product is, admittedly, quite stunning but that’s hardly the point.

The point is that if we saw that in a magazine or on a billboard and turned to someone – even someone who is in no way involved in design – and said “that is so photoshopped,” we would be under the assumption that the other person will understand that what we actually mean is that we think that the image has been digitally modified to remove any “imperfections”. By simply looking at the finished image, we have no real way of knowing if the touch ups were done in Photoshop or one of its competitors, yet we use the word without so much as a second thought.

The Genericized Trademark

Of course, this is hardly an isolated phenomenon, and some other contemporary technologies have also seen similar occurrences with their own names. Google is probably the best example. Today, only the absolutely most isolated or technologically unsavy people fail to understand when you say you’re going to “Google” something.

I am also finding that the same thing is happening with Facebook, though to a lesser extend. Instead of saying “I’ll send you a message through Facebook” or “I’ll write on your wall” (which has always struck me as a strangely vandalistic terminology), people are beginning to adapt the phrase “I’ll Facebook you”, simply meaning that they will engage in some form of communication through that particular social network.

This process is can ultimately lead to something called the genericized trademark, and is a really interesting linguistic development. Again, Wikipedia has a short list of “trademarks that have lost their legal protection in the US”. Some of these brand names that have become so synonymous with a particular product or commodity that you might not even know that they are a brand name.

Thermos? Zipper? Escalator? Before researching this, I seriously had no idea that these were originally brand names.

I also found a blog post entitled brand names that have become everyday nouns, which lists some similar products that, while likely still protected, do still tend to be used in a very generalized way.

How Photoshop Benefits

So how can this help Photoshop maintain its market share? I think it’s simply a matter or prevalence. The applications’ name has developed into a verb because it is so widely used and known. Designers use it. Artists use it. Photographers us it. Its fame has become so widespread that it has actually trickled out of these circles and into the public discourse in a way that none of Adobe’s other offerings have.

How many of your non designer friends would know what Illustrator is? InDesign? Flash might be a bit more well known, but probably more as a product that is experienced on the internet rather than an application for building rich, dynamic and interactive content.

Given all this, I would argue that Photoshop has found itself in a rather interesting position. One of the key elements of successful branding is always mindshare. When people think about a particular type of product, what brand do they think of first? Everyone wants to be right at the top of that list, and companies go to great lengths to compete with each other in order to grab that spot, which is probably coveted as much – if not more – than the number one spot on a particular Google search.

What better way to achieve this level of mindshare than to have your product name actively being used to represent an entire field of work? After years of hearing people talk about Photoshopping this or Photoshopping that, when a budding designer, artist or photographer is looking to get into the industry, what software do you think they’re going to turn to first?

Probably Photoshop.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to actually purchase Photoshop and use it as their application of choice. There are many other factors involved in this decesion – not the least of which has to be price. Still, I would maintain that Photoshop is probably the first place that many beginners will turn to, simply because it is a name that has gained so much mindshare, through everything we have already talked about.

A Fine Balance

Now, I’m certainly not suggesting that this genericized trademark stuff is the sole reason that Photoshop sits tall and proud as the king of the digital imaging arena. There are certainly many other reasons, many of which have probably contributed directly to Photoshop becoming so popular in the first place. It’s an interesting concept, though, and one that I have not seen discussed all that much in the design community.

I am also not suggesting that Adobe’s premier offering will never be toppled from its place of prominence. The whole process of genericized trademarks can actually be very dangerous for companies. If a particular trademark becomes too generic, the ability to maintain legal protection can be lost and the name becomes a part of the public domain. The moment that happens, it is available for anyone to use, and you would see dozens of different “photoshops” popping up all over the place.

Obviously, Adobe doesn’t want that to happen, and I’m sure that they are monitoring the situation very closely. If it ever appears the use of Photoshop as a verb ever starts to move into dangerous territory, you can be sure that Adobe will take steps to stop it and protect itself.

In the meantime, however, Adobe continues to offer minor protests against the use of Photoshop as a verb. Personally, however, I have a sneaking (and completely unsubstantiated) suspicion that they are actually secretly enjoying this phenomenon, and the mindshare it helps them maintain.

About the Author

Matt Ward is a digital artist who lances freely under the moniker of Echo Enduring Media, and specializes in graphics design, illustration and writing.

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  • jamEs

    The reality is Adobe has a 20 year head start on any incumbent applications. Photoshop has so much layered depth of functionality that simply can’t be matched. I’ve tried using Pixelmator and while a great effort, there are just so many things missing from the package. It’s not 3 or 4 things missing, its more like hundreds. And even though you don’t use the vast majority of the features on a day in, day out basis, it still comes up on occasion.

    The only way I could see someone making a viable competitor is if Apple bought Pixelmator and went to town on it. They have the money and resources to be able to build a competitor.

  • Mark

    I know there are things I dislike about PS, but I have never ever, since version 7, noticed PS crash on me. I’ve read that it crashes unexpectedly, all over the web, but I’ve never experienced that for myself. I notice in the comic, it is a crash message on a mac. I use a PC, so perhaps it does not crash on PCs at all or very often? Anyone have some insight about this theory?

    • Dave K

      I was thinking the exact same thing, I am a mac user and have never had this problem, I use PS on pretty much a daily basis and have found it to be really stable. it was news to me that so many people had it crashing on them!

    • Lisewike

      Hey Mark,

      I usually use PS on my MAC, but now and again I use it on my PC too. What you say is true…PS crashes on the Mac once in a while, but I’ve still to see it crash on my PC. One thing though, when it crashed on the Mac, I usually just have to click the “OK” button and I can continue working where I left off…when and if it crashes on a PC, I’m sure I would need to be heading for the reboot button… ; )

    • Website Design Bristol

      I’ve never had it crash on me when I work on the majority of my work (websites), used to happen a bit when I did photo re-touching in high-res images for print tho.

    • Claudio Rimann

      on my mac, ps cs4 crashes every time i close the application… (same with indesign cs4) but never during serious work. so i think “unexpectedly” isn’t the right word anymore…

    • Cam

      I have never had a crash on my Mac but it is a massive resource hog. If I have Indesign, PS and Illustrator open, and I work on some files I invariably need to restart after a while because the system starts to chug.

    • Mark


      There’s no reason it would require a reboot. Just like any application that crashes, you most likely will need to re-launch it. But if on a Mac you only need to click ok, then perhaps that is something built into PS and not dependent on your OS, so it may work the same way on PC. Of course in all my years I’ve never had to find out, and I don’t suspect I ever will :)

    • Mark

      One of the few main reasons I bought a MAC several years ago was that Photoshop was crashing on PC many times a day. On all the PC’s at work, at home, at friends. I know that there are many factors, like hardware compatibility, the amount of layers used in the document, the size of the document and such.

      I could have bought a new PC (again) and hope that the hardware used in that particular model will work with each other better than the one I had before, but I decided not to test the fate and buy a MAC. Photoshop only crashed 2 or 3 times in 3 years so far and only when I’ve been working with 200 or more MB files with 150-300 dpi, hundreds of layers and Smart Objects.

  • Damian Smith

    Photoshop is King and will be for the foreseeable future. I started with coral draw when first starting out in digital design and got on with it quite well, but then I went to college and uni and discovered photoshop and I could now never go back to any other program.

    The price is a downer but I am quite happy to buy last years release this year at a knocked down price and still manage my work a lot easier than I would using the latest of other competitors software.

    People also talk about crashing and the hand clicker appearing at random points but regular Photoshop users learn to save every 5 minutes and the hand disappears with the tap of the space-bar.

    Shame I wont get to use the new content aware fill for a while but I haven’t struggled without it so far so can’t see why I would now it is released!

    Thanks for sharing this post, was a really good read!

  • sickdesigner

    I thought I recognized that writing style from somewhere, but only at the end of the post did I see it was good ol’ Matt! Very nice look on the whole ‘Shopped thing. I agree that the fact that it’s become more than itself is what makes Photoshop the “industry standard”, as they call it.
    But I would soooo wish there was an alternative to it. Not even a better one, just one that is just as good. The price is really the main problem, I think. We’ve all lived with crap software before and survived; the fact that Photoshop is buggy isn’t it’s main problem; at least not to me.

    • Matt Ward

      So your recognized the style, did ya? It’s interesting to know that some people can actually recognize the way I write!

  • Melody

    Oh my, I would love one of those huge tablets that girl is working on! =)

    • Hillary

      Haha, Melody I was thinking the same exact thing!

      Great article. I think it would be interesting to see what Apple could come up with. I am sure if nothing else it would be a beautiful UI and would become very popular with apple users. For me though, I am extremely happy with Photoshop and will continue to do so. I am always learning new things.

      Thanks for the article!

    • Aaron Kato

      Well that tablet is pretty nice :) I’m feeling jealous a bit :$ Btw I love PS and I don’t want to change it for anything else. I know about this error very well, it’s because I usually use the shortcuts and not just the mouse. If you want to handle it faster than it’s appropriately able to handle, sometimes it crashes. The solution: SAVE SOMETIMES! :)

    • Matt Ward

      Me too Melody. Working on something like that would be AWESOME.

  • รับทำเว็บไซต์

    Good Article. Thank you very much.

  • Conor O’Driscoll

    An excellent point well-made, Matt, but I’m not really sure if its fully valid.

    Take “Hoover” for example. The word is now basically synonymous with vacuum cleaner, and many people, myself included, refer to vacuum cleaners as ‘hoovers’, regardless of whether or not it is. And yet Hoover, the company, do not, it would seem, have such a huge market share compared to other vacuum cleaners.

    People will go with whatever works best – And at the moment, that’s Photoshop. That may well change, although somehow I doubt it, but the verb “photoshop” will still exist.

    Nonetheless, your article was a thoroughly fascinating one, and raised a very interesting, if not fully accurate, point.

    On a completely unrelated note, are internet-originated verbs such as “photoshop” and “google” the same in different languages? I would presume that they are…

  • Lawrence

    It seems all the complaints about crashing lately have been coming from Apple developers. I run windows XP and photoshop never crashes. I guess paying almost double for hardware isn’t the only penalty for being a fashionista.

  • keychains

    Great opinion !

    The price ; Trademark

  • Go4webapps

    i know photoshop,,, but i dont know how to make use of it,,, :)

  • May phat dien

    Thanks for share!

  • Matt Ward

    Thanks for all the comments everyone! I’m so glad that this article is being received so well.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that this is the only reason that Photoshop is standing tall at the top of the software heap – just thought it was an interesting bit of observation to add to the discussion.

    As for the Photoshop crashing thing, I currently work on a Mac and it really only happens when my system is really bogged down. I’ve learned to save. I used to run CS2 on a PC running Vista though, and my crashing problems were a lot worse running it that way. So I think I’ll stick with my Mac and CS4 for now.

  • Giuliano

    PS never crashed on me and I have him open probably 90% of my work day. I’m even using CS2 still and it’s very stable. I have only one problem with PS and that is the fact they removed ImageReady and never migrated slice sets to new version. That is the reason why I’m still using CS2 when I finalize my designs in CS4. BTW, I’m PC user.

  • Ted Thompson

    Great article Matt, thanks for putting together.

  • SJL Website Design

    Really great post Matt, Photoshop seems to be very reliable for me though!

  • Web 2.0 Design

    Thanks for this article. Very nice post

  • dattai


    I love your design

  • Hal E.

    Really Informative & Great Article.
    ThankYou for Sharing!
    This site is also Most Def. worth Visiting: http://www.MadMediaMonkey for FREE Photoshop Brushes, Vector Illustrations & MORE

  • Warren Jerzyszek

    Hey, interesting post about photoshop! I have been using adobe photoshop all that way from 7.0 and I think its amazing to see how adobe have developed it. Just recently I brought CS4 and I must admit that it has been the best investment ever. I don’t think anything will be able to contest with photoshop. Photoshop will always be my first tool of choice for designing a website etc.


  • Denver Photographer

    Photoshop is a staple. It’s here to stay, that’s all there is to it. There is no way photoshop will be leaving the marketplace or have any signifigant competion for a long time. Nobody even wants to try and compete with the powerhouse.

  • Juegos

    I personally use GIMP for a number of reasons but I have to admit Photoshop is better.

  • Regim Hotelier

    I agree Photoshop is here to stay. What I do not like it is that it crasher and the price.

  • Bat dong san

    Thank you
    very good article

  • Gamini

    Thanks for superb Article.

  • bryan

    i agree with the others. i have a mac and it very rarely crashes