Rich User Experience – Photoshop Express Editor

Rich User Experience - Photoshop Express EditorOverview

An image opened up in Photoshop Express Editor
An image opened up in Photoshop Express Editor

Adobe Photoshop Express Editor is a free online photo editor based on Adobe’s Photoshop range of desktop image editors that offers a rich user experience through a simple yet powerful Flash based interface.

While it is derived from what is often regarded the industry standard in image editing, Photoshop Express offers a very different experience, which I will be comparing to Adobe’s desktop products, as well as to Aviary’s Phoenix online image editor. I’ll then be looking at the implications this application has, as well as potential legal and ethical issues, and finally, the possible future directions of an application such as this.


The main comparisons for an application such as this are the desktop applications it was derived from, including Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop Elements. There is however, another Web 2.0 application that provides an online image editor, and that is Aviary Phoenix.

Adjusting Saturation in Photoshop Express
Adjusting Saturation in Photoshop Express

Photoshop Express is designed with simplicity in mind for the consumer that just wants to be able to do basic photo editing to improve the appearance of their photos. It doesn’t offer image creation or many hands on image editing tools. It is much more like Photoshop Lightroom or Photoshop Elements than Photoshop itself in this way. It gives the user the ability to quickly perform basic operations such as cropping, resizing, perform touch ups or correct red eye. It also allows one click advanced operations such as adjustments to hue, exposure, saturation, white balance, highlights, fill light, sharpen, soft focus, black and white, tints and the sketch filter. An added feature that is not found in the Photoshop desktop application is decorations and frames that can be added on top of the photographs. These include text bubbles, animals, facial features (such as hair or glasses) and more. These are a consumer focused product feature similar to stickers that were once quite popular to put on physical photos.

Photoshop Express performs very admirably at these duties, offering a range of options to choose from for each of these more advanced tools, so a user doesn’t need to know exactly what is being adjusted or how, they can just see the effect it will have and make their choice on what to do from the ribbon interface showing the possible options.

This is in stark comparison to the desktop Photoshop interface many people are familiar with that shows layers, a comprehensive toolbar, a menu bar, and allows fine adjustments to be made to every aspect of the image. Photoshop Express is taking a very different approach and automates the things that users don’t really need to know how to do in order to make the majority of adjustments that a photo may need, including doing away with the visual layers interface. Layers just work, but you don’t see them, instead you just drag different parts of the image around. This allows for a simple interface that can be learned very quickly.

It should be noted that shortcut keys such as delete and ctrl+z also work within Photoshop Express, providing more seamless operation for the user and contributing to the rich user experience. One detraction from this though is that on Apple Macintosh computers that use command+z as the undo shortcuts, you still have to use ctrl+z as command+z is not supported by Photoshop Express at this time.

On a computer capable of running Flash smoothly (such as the computer used to write this), Photoshop Express actually performs common photo adjustment functions faster than Photoshop Lightroom does using the same computer, showing off one of the benefits of moving processing functions into the cloud where possible.

This combination of rapid processing and a simple, responsive interface make for a very rich user experience.

Aviary’s Phoenix in comparison takes a different approach to the user interface. It stays with a style similar to that of desktop applications and is reminiscent of Photoshop or The Gimp. The interface looks remarkably like a desktop application including a file menu, layers navigation, toolbox, and even rulers. Aviary is a fuller featured application, providing for image creation and more specific image editing. Like Photoshop Express,  Phoenix also uses Flash to build the interface, but in attempting to retain similarity to a desktop application, it has lost some of the potential user experience benefits that are seen in Photoshop Express with it’s uniquely simple, yet powerful tools.

Rich User Experience - Photoshop Express Editor
A photo that has been edited in Photoshop Express with decorations

Aviary is also quite fast in comparison to a desktop application, but as it does not provide preset tools it makes it much more complicated for novice users that just want to edit their photos quickly.

Both web applications are free to use, but the differences are quite extensive. Photoshop Express is clearly aimed at a consumer level market for customers who don’t need full functionality, but just want a fast, easy editor. Aviary on the other hand provides more complexity and options, with a much steeper learning curve.

The downside of both applications though is that they both rely on Flash.


Photoshop Express offers consumers a free, powerful application that does away with the need for a desktop based application to perform photo editing on a basic level. However, it constantly hints at being able to do more with Photoshop Elements, Photoshop Lightroom and Photoshop, encouraging the user to look at purchasing one of these desktop based options to do more. For Adobe, this is a great sales pitch for their Photoshop range of products, showing off what can be done in the most basic version, enticing users to want to experience more in a more advanced version.

In terms of implications for the web and cloud based computing, Photoshop Express provides a glimpse at the performance benefits that can be had when harnessing the power of the cloud. In my testing for the purpose of this blog, I found that performance on a 512 kbps ADSL connection was nearly comparable to on an 11 Mbps ADSL2+ connection, the main difference being in initial loading time and photo upload/download times. Once the application is loaded and the photo is uploaded, it was just as responsive on the slower connection as on the faster connection. What a benefit this could potentially provide to users that need processor or RAM intensive applications but don’t have access to a computer with it. It really provides a glimpse into just how much can be achieved using cloud processing.

Potential legal and ethical issues

Photoshop Express provides facilities for users to store and share their photos online (up to 2gb of storage is available for free users). Unless a user specifically chooses to though, their photos are not stored here but are simply downloaded back to their computer. So one of the potential issues here, is when data is stored and shared through their facilities, who do the photos belong to?  The terms and conditions of the website make it clear that you retain ownership of your images, however, you grant Adobe a license to use them for the purpose of providing the service.

A clause in the terms and conditions that is worth noting though is that when you choose to share your images, you are also granting other users the rights to download, print, publicly display or perform your images. You also allow them to modify your images, particularly if you use the group album functionality. The only way not to grant other users this license is to not share your images.

This means if you want to retain full control over the licensing and usage of your intellectual property, it limits the full functionality of Photoshop Express.

Future directions

While there is no indication at this point as to whether there are plans to bring the full Photoshop or Lightroom feature sets to the cloud, it does make sense.

There is already a facility to upgrade your storage by paying extra for it, so it would make sense to use a similar model to upgrade your functionality by paying extra for it. Rather than paying a large sum for the desktop applications, or a monthly fee to rent them, a monthly fee for access to specific services online could be charged. This could be implemented over a gradual period of time, like a perpetual beta. Each month a new feature for paid users could be added, or features could be incrementally billed for. Such as $1/month to have layer navigation or $1/month to upgrade from an overall exposure adjustment to an exposure brush. Then users can pick and choose the features they want based on their needs.

It certainly holds interesting possibilities.


Adobe. (n.d.). Photoshop Express Editor. Retrieved April 7, 2011 from

Adobe. (2011). Terms and conditions. Retrieved April 7, 2011 from

Aviary. (n.d.). Phoenix Image Editor. Retrieved April 7, 2011 from

Note: This blog post is part of a series of blog posts that form assessment item #2 for INB347 – Web 2.0 Applications.

8 thoughts on “Rich User Experience – Photoshop Express Editor”

  1. Great overview of Photoshop Express Editor!

    As a consumer who just needs an easy to use and quick to learn application, this definitely meets and exceeds the criteria. Not to mention its free.The “decorate” options were fun to use too, a quirky benefit from the online app that you don’t get in the standard Photoshop desktop application.

    • They are a pretty cool feature. I think Photoshop Elements has some of the decoration features available, and Photoshop does have some as well, but in Photoshop they are quite different. They are more building blocks to be used to create something else, rather than images to be placed on a photo to create more meaning.

      This makes Photoshop Express extremely easy to use though for users that like you mentioned, just want something that’s quick and easy to use and is quite cheap.

  2. Re the decorate options mentioned above, I’ve noticed a functionality flaw. The text option doesn’t allow for a hover-over preview on the image, which is a real let-down. Apart from this, I’m really enjoying the app. There is certainly room for improvement and growth – especially in segments such as the rising digital scrapbooking market. A greater number of “decorations” could be included in – as you suggested – an add on payment feature. This would greatly improve the appeal and functionality to those in this market segment.

    • I didn’t notice the lack of text preview, thanks for mentioning it. It is a bit of a let down that so many other options have instant previews but the text doesn’t. Perhaps something they should look at including in a near future iteration!

  3. Hi Matt,

    I enjoyed your discussion around the rich user experience of photoshop express editor. I liked how you gave some insight as to the functionality of the web application based on the connection speed. Although it didn’t seem to effect this application to much do you see this as a draw back in future applications? I was also interested to read your comments around privacy of images. I wonder if that will have an effect of users of the web application in the future? Thanks again for a great post.

  4. Hey Brendan,

    Application usage on low-speed connections is always going to be an issue until every possible user is on a high bandwidth connection, and by then there will be applications that need even more bandwidth and it will be an issue again. Really, it just means that it is something that needs to be considered by application developers, regardless of what the ideal is.

    Certainly making it usable on a low bandwidth connection does make it look good for people that don’t have access to a high bandwidth connection, so I think this should be important, to at least have a low-speed version available, even if it is a simplified version of the application.

  5. Pingback: Rich User Experience | sebcortes
  6. Hi Matt,

    I enjoyed your post. In particular,the comparison with Aviary’s Phoenix online image editor was very impressive. I have never used Adobe Photoshop Express Editor, but it looks useful. Thank you for sharing good information.

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