More than ever, visual content is taking over the web. Propelled by the rise of smartphones and social channels, we have witnessed an explosive growth of photography in recent years.
In this landscape, where a bazillion photos compete for attention, the quality of a photo has become key for better conversions and powerful distribution. Filters, adjusting crop & zoom and focus matter. Anyone who has used social ads knows how much impact these edits can have on ad conversions.
At the same time, creative editing possibilities have grown and have become much more accessible through the plethora of mobile and web based editors, therefore, adding text, shapes, gradients and backdrops to images has never been simpler. Combined, these functions help to create a unique and distinct look, the photos become so-called ‘creatives’.
As a result, a growing number of companies across sectors and verticals consider adding photo editing capabilities to their products. But still, even a small feature like crop or text overlay involves significant development and even more maintenance efforts, especially when the number of supported platforms add up. It’s a delicate decision how much time, effort and focus you want to put into something that adds value to your product, but is not part of the core functionality.
Almost two years ago, we at 9elements had to make a similar decision. We were working with several clients that asked for a photo editor, and from the perspective of our product leads, none of the available solutions were the right fit. Alas, we realised that this was an untapped opportunity, so we decided to build an editor SDK that allowed us to reuse it across several products. This is how our PhotoEditor SDK was born. The reason we decided to build our own SDK was the need for value propositions that were missing in other solutions. These form our product’s very DNA today.
Right from the beginning, it was important that the SDK offered a wide range of customizations. As product people, we need that flexibility to make the editor blend into any product and seamlessly fit into its design without affecting the UX. Any customer should be able to change the look of the editor, select only the functions they need for their use case, and, if required, use their own assets for fonts, stickers etc.
Client Side Rendering
We wanted to give our clients maximum control over the editor, therefore we built up a technology stack that allows client-side rendering with high performance. This freed both us and our clients from any server-side dependencies.
Non-destructive photo editing
Another critical decision was to change the initial rendering pipeline to a non-destructive editing mode. This allows users to make changes to previous edits without affecting the other edits already made. From a user’s perspective this means that all creative decisions can be changed at any time: Apply a filter on an image, add text and shapes, go back and change the filter without losing any of the edits you made for the text and shapes. This stack allows for endless new possibilities in the creative flow, which we didn’t want to narrow down at any cost.
Becoming a successful bootstrapped company
Our value proposition proved to be successful: Startups as well as large tech companies and big brands eventually licensed our editor. We started serving our solution to millions of end-users, which in turn helped us improve our SDK and prioritise our roadmap further down the line. Today, our solution is part of a broad range of tools and products with new possibilities; a very rewarding feeling for our team. Messengers added our live filters, brush and text tools, Document management integrated image annotations and mosaics, Cloud storage evolved to become platforms for productivity apps, photo editing among the first ones. Ad management tools facilitate the work of ad creatives. You get the picture.
We couldn’t be happier, as this product feels extremely close to what we have been doing at 9elements before. On the one side, we are building a creative tool that helps end-users to design and create. On the other side, we are building a tool for developers, a challenge we gladly accept. What started as a side business has grown to a team of 12 people. (By the way, we’re hiring.) Today, we’re excited to kick off the next phase of our company. Stepping out of stealth and sharing insights of our business and product is long overdue. And will hit an important milestone: We are releasing brand new versions of our SDKs, starting with the next version of our iOS SDK today. The next year will be full of exciting updates, so stay tuned!
Use-Case: Charity app for content creation and micro-donations
A robust hybrid image editing solution at the core of the app for easy content creation
Results: Easy and seamless content creation with Photos, Doodles, and motivational messages
The Elbi app aims to connect people with charity organizations and beneficiaries alike and facilitate the social engagement and donation process. Users can support charity organizations via a “Love Button” with micro-donations and get creative for selected good causes. If users don’t donate directly, they can help fundraise money with their content. To enable their users to produce motivating and exceptional content, Elbi had to provide them with a powerful creative tool. “Our app has photo-editing at the very core of its experience and the editor has been invaluable in making that vision happen. There are no other tools on the market up to the quality of PhotoEditor SDK, so it was an easy choice to have it be at the heart of Elbi,” says Toby Green former lead developer at Elbi.
For the previous version of the Elbi app, the team built their own creative tool that worked with iOS only. When they decided to reforge their app, the team at Elbi wanted to follow a different approach. “When we rebuilt the app we wanted it to be a hybrid solution and not only iOS like the previous one, so we abandoned our existing solution and were looking for an existing library. I spent a lot of time researching photo editing tools and did a feasibility study on all the available editors and PhotoEditor SDK came top of the list” says Toby Green.
With the PhotoEditor SDK the developers at Elbi were able to swiftly rebuild their app “We would never have been able to do this so quickly without the editor” says Green, “the documentation was great so it was very easy to get it all up and running and the support was incredibly patient and helpful. They always responded quickly and were happy to spend time resolving even difficult-to-track-down issues”. The SDK seamlessly integrates into the app providing an intuitive solution for Elbi’s content creation section. “It really looks like it’s part of the product,” says Toby Green.
“The product is a 10/10; it is the best hybrid tool available. And in general, I would say one of the finest teams I’ve ever worked with; they’ve been very supportive with regards to custom support, adding functionalities and discussing integration and they helped us getting everything working 100%,” concludes Toby Green. With the PhotoEditor SDK Elbi facilitates the charitable engagement of its users and helps people all around the globe to do good on the go.
Use-Case: Scrivito: A Native Cloud CMS built with Ruby on Rails
Requirements: A simple and intuitive photo editing solution to provide their clients with seamless and easy asset management
Results: A versatile image editor within Scrivito’s Content Browser
The native cloud service Scrivito is tailored to meet the requirements of editors worldwide and provides a clean and simple What-you-see-is-what-you-get, drag & drop interface that enables its users to change their websites and content on the fly; eliminating complex tree hierarchies and all the guesswork that goes along with it. Since successful websites hinge on high-quality pictures, Infopark wanted to equip its users with a robust image editing solution. “We wanted to provide our users with a coherent and easy-to-use working environment, and because most editors don’t have Photoshop or a proper skillset for other sophisticated programs, we were searching for a solution that would enable our users to quickly and professionally edit their images within Scrivito” says Thomas Witt, co-founder and Director of Product & Business Development at Infopark.
Before integrating the PhotoEditor SDK into their award-winning service Scrivito, Infopark tried to tackle the problem themselves with a simple, self-made solution based on ImageMagick. The editor could perform operations such as rotate, crop or flip “but that solution didn’t have an appealing UI, nor was it easy to use” says Thomas Witt. “After evaluating some solutions, we felt that the PhotoEditor SDK would be a good match because it is the easiest to use for both developers and users and also has a nice UI that doesn’t look cluttered.”
With the SDK the developers at Infopark accomplished in days what would’ve otherwise taken weeks. “Our developers loved that the integration was really straightforward and that everything you need like APIs and documentation is easy to find and of very good quality. And when we had questions, the support team responded very quickly and extensively” says Witt. With the PhotoEditor SDK Infopark provides their customers with a native image editing solution that seamlessly integrates into Scrivito’s content browser and further facilitates the creation of websites and content. “Asset management is critical to our users, and we get a lot of positive feedback for our solution” says Thomas Witt.
“The PhotoEditor SDK is a great product, it does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and we never encountered any difficulties. It even provides more functionalities than our customers would ever use. The support was very fast and helpful, and the documentation is extensive and comprehensible” concludes Witt. With the PhotoEditor SDK Scrivito allows for an intuitive and straightforward approach to both content and website creation. Unlike other CMS Scrivito now enables its users to creatively experiment with their website assets and make impromptu decisions for their design.