Taking advantage of plugins, artificial intelligence and bots can help you work smarter, not harder.
You’re on a deadline. The clock is ticking. A Photoshop action automatically resizes and reformats thousands of images. While it’s busy, you check in with your team on Slack, reflecting on meeting notes and sending updates. But why work double time when you can work double double time?
Use a Slack bot to automate tasks there too, shifting from fifth gear to tenth gear. Thanks to a whole new world of automation tools, including some that use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), you can complete tasks and meet deadlines in a fraction of the time you’re used to. It’s multi-purpose multitasking and it takes you out of the workflow, empowering you to do more.
Adobe’s Paul Trani has some advice, especially when it comes to working efficiently. “Anytime you find yourself doing something multiple times, ask yourself, How can I do it just once and apply it to everything?”
Trani, Adobe’s senior worldwide Creative Cloud (CC) evangelist, recommends taking advantage of CC’s features, such as Libraries. Link a logo to a Library and when it’s changed, it updates all fi les across the board. “You can store assets like graphics (vector/bitmap), colors, character and layer styles, and brushes. When you need them, just access CC Libraries in whatever desktop app you’re in (Illustrator, InDesign, Photoshop, After Effects, Premiere Pro). In the mobile apps (Adobe Illustrator Draw, Adobe Photoshop Sketch) you can access the same Libraries and also add content to those libraries.”
Even cooler? Share Libraries across teams. A flag near an asset notifies everyone that it’s been changed. Right-click to update it, or select Update All Content to update automatically. And if you find yourself frequently exporting assets, use Photoshop’s Generate to lighten the workload. Create an asset on a layer with .jpeg in the name and it will be output as a JPEG. Include 50% before the name to save it at 50% of the original size, or put 50% after the name to compress it 50%.
Not only does Trani believe in pushing Creative Cloud to its limits, but he’s also a fan of using third-party tools to do so. He finds it “fun to work with” cool scripts in Illustrator, especially the kind that Astute Graphics makes. Their plugins “extend the capability and functionality of Adobe’s software” according to Dave Clayton, training manager at Astute Graphics.
“We invest time talking to designers to produce plugins which give Illustrator more capability and assist with a more efficient workflow, in most cases saving 30%-plus in production time.” Clayton calls VectorScribe, Ink-Scribe and DynamicSketch their best sellers “because they add enhancements and additional functionality to the Pen Tool, Pencil Tool and Brushes enabling better path creation, cleaner curves, point placements and overall improved control of each tool.”
Do a lot of PDF conversions? VectorFirstAid is a must-have. “The first time I used it, I was reminded of how many hours I had wasted in Illustrator fixing broken text, broken segments, removing unnecessary clipping masks and excessive points on shape paths. A job that once took me hours now takes me less than 5 minutes.”
Once you start browsing the Astute Graphics plugins it may be hard to get just one because of how much more efficiently and eff ectively you’ll be able to work. “All of our products signifi cantly save time one way or another, it all depends on which aspect of Illustrator you’re working in.”
When it comes to marketing, Dovetale’s Recommendations is changing how to reach influencers with the help of AI. Influencers can steer our purchasing decisions and sway our loyalties, impacting how we relate to brands.
Finding the right influencer is tricky, especially using older methods. In the past, according to Dovetale’s Mike Schmidt, it was mostly manual, but Recommendations makes it easier. “It’s very surprising how many teams still use spreadsheets and manual entry. People are scrolling through Instagram or YouTube for hours trying to find one ambassador for their brand, when they could be using ML to find 50 extremely qualified ambassadors.”
According to Schmidt, the only way to effectively do the work is with AI, image and video search. L’Oréal, BuzzFeed, SeatGeek and Victoria’s Secret, among others, use Dovetale to identify influencers, saving time, improving strategy, accountability and trust, according to Schmidt.
Upload an image or web address and it uses the Recommendations AI platform to return a list of qualified influencers that you can discover on YouTube, Instagram, Twitch and Twitter. If, for example, you find influencers in Charleston, SC, it finds pages to go to and people to contact.
“Machine learning will identify impact across gender, location, views, likes, comments, and go a layer deeper,” Schmidt says. “How can you drill in further to find out who they work for and what is their propensity to buy? How do you know what that person in Charleston has posted, and if it’s been successful?” He is a big believer in automation, and Recommendations can work for large or small organizations. “Marketers are really behind this and it only empowers boutique agencies to do more.”
When it comes to scheduling appointments, Apple and Google have enabled their calendars to find events in emails and add them to your calendar automatically.
But what if you have to negotiate a day and time first? You can send emails back and forth to find an agreeable time, or you can use x.ai to schedule meetings. The entire process with x.ai takes place in email using invisible software, and it frees you up to do more.
How much time can it save you? Quite a bit, when you consider x.ai’s data: Scheduling a single meeting takes on average 17 minutes. Stefanie Syman, VP of customer experience & communications and the third-busiest scheduler at x.ai, found that the software has saved her over 21 hours per month over the last three months—a total of 64 hours.
Compared to Calendly or Doodle, two other scheduling tools, x.ai is a different experience. It lives in your email, has a personal touch, and is practically invisible. While first corresponding with Syman and emailing to schedule a phone interview with her, I experienced x.ai myself. Syman added “Andrew Ingram” to the email chain to schedule the meeting.
Once on the email chain, Andrew wrote that he was “happy to find a time” for Stefanie and I to conduct a call. He proposed a day with two different times and asked the best number for her to call. I responded within minutes, and he replied back letting me know a calendar invite was coming soon. The process of emailing with Andrew and receiving the subsequent calendar invite lasted approximately nine minutes, and because Syman had put x.ai to use instead of managing the scheduling herself, that was nine minutes she could spend doing other work.
x.ai’s scheduling bots, Andrew Ingram and Amy Ingram, both have AI as their initials, a nod to the software itself. The software was named to humanize it, providing a seamless experience during email exchanges, as if you were communicating with a human personal assistant. The AI assistants have a gender-neutral voice that Syman calls polite, helpful, friendly and diligent. There’s not much expressiveness, but it’s neither cold nor robotic. For setting up internal meetings, such as at your own company, Syman calls x.ai “truly seamless.”
So what’s the future of x.ai? Syman says, “Right now you can only communicate with Amy and Andrew via email in English. Eventually, you’ll be able to use other communications channels (e.g., Slack or SMS) and other languages.”
5. Howdy for Slack
Speaking of Slack, if you’re using Slack manually, you need to get acquainted with its automation capabilities. Say, “Howdy!” to Howdy. Eric Soelzer, product manager at Howdy and Botkit Studio, explains how it works: “Howdy collects information from members of your Slack team and delivers a report, either directly to a manager or right in the channel where the team can collectively view it. This can be run on a schedule, like a daily standup, so that the information is collected and reported automatically each day.”
Even better, Howdy functions automatically. “Once you set the bot on its task, whether that’s collecting lunch orders or project status updates, it goes to work without being prompted. It’s a simple use-case, but a great example of how automation of this type can serve in the workplace.”
From Soelzer’s perspective, the future of AI and ML will have us working smarter, not harder, freeing us up to do more. “We often talk about the best bots being those that work automatically, without necessarily being prompted to do so. A good bot is like a good employee that sees something that needs to be done, and does it without being asked.”
Botkit, “essentially the underpinnings of Howdy,” according to Soelzer, has become an open-source botmaking toolkit with hundreds of GitHub contributors and a growing Slack community. “With Botkit, you can build bots for Slack, Facebook Messenger, Cisco Spark and other platforms.” Botkit Studio premium developer tools can allow you to do even more.
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Automation tools, bots, AI and ML will soon become part of our routines, be it at home or the office—or the home office where there’s twice as much to juggle. Howdy’s Soelzer is optimistic about what’s next, “We want to realize a future where bots are doing all sorts of menial tasks that would otherwise require a person’s time, freeing that person to do more of the high-value work.”
If you’re worried about losing jobs to technology, Soelzer points out the reality: “Working smarter means lessening the plodding tasks to make way for more thinking and creating. It’s not about replacing jobs, it’s about empowering people to do more of what they’re good at doing.” If bots, routines, plugins or software free you up to do more, then you’ll soon see that there’s more than meets the eye.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of HOW Magazine. Pick up a copy here and discover its enthralling interactive features.