Is Professional a Euphemism for Complex?

December 8, 2014 Tags: , , , , ,
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Sam here…. It’s starting to dawn on me what professional subconsciously means to a lot of people in the post-production world.

It means, “overly-complicated thing that is so confusing that the average person can’t use it. And the people who do know how to use it never need to explain why things with the particular product don’t work the way they should.”

When I look at at some of the software out there that’s considered highly professional I notice some common themes. User documentation tends to be inaccurate, not covered, or completely wrong… and yet the veteran users often say how much better it’s gotten.

Getting up and running with many of these products is often extremely difficult… almost like it was designed to keep people away from the interface and features. Basic functionality that you would expect from any piece of free consumer software can be touted as a “new innovation” that still often doesn’t work as expected (or without knowing which submenu or preference you need to have memorized).

The bottom line is that because many of these applications are so specialized and expensive, it becomes an excuse to explain away the entire product’s MASSIVE design and implementation flaws. Essentially, the attitude becomes “well, this is the most professional and expensive thing there is… if you don’t get it, you probably shouldn’t be doing this sort of work.”

My own recent experiences with some of these tools made me think a lot about whether the fact that I tend to use a lot of Apple products in my day to day has made me less capable, or whether Apple’s simplistic design has simply made my threshold for unnecessary complexity far lower than it used to be.

At the end of the day, my definition of professional is finding the most efficient, practical way to get from point A to B without having to sacrifice quality.

What I’m finding more and more in the post production world, though, is that a lot of professionals hide behind their apps’ complexity as a way of keeping their lack of actual working knowledge hidden and preserving their rates.

For most people, all professional really means is “have you created a system that the average person can’t use so that you can charge more money for this complicated, specialized product?”

I’m pretty sure the average colorist getting $650 an hour is not happy about Resolve Lite going free. Especially when the same exact application used to be much harder to use and part of a million dollar hardware package. And that was just a handful of years ago.

A real professional should be looking at the traditional production pyramid of cheap, fast, good (pick two) and doing their best to find ways to deliver all three in as painless a way as possible to their clients. That’s real value, and real professionals know that the faster you can do the same job (at an equal quality) as someone else, the more money you can make from that job.

Delivering at that level of cheap, fast, and good would mean that you would want your tools to be as simple and easy as possible so that you can get done what you need to get done without the tools getting in the way… and so you don’t need to constantly apologize for poorly executed design choices while you work.

The general idea is that developers should design for simplicity and ease of use and with the end user in mind… very few people besides Apple do that. Give a 4 year old a Blackberry instead of an iPad and you’ll see exactly what I mean. And yet somehow they get slammed for applying that philosophy across the board to their professional applications.

At the end of the day, I’m just a little surprised that in order to be considered professional you have to have something that only a subset of people can figure out… when the truth is that the only thing that matters when it comes to being professional is the end product.

I wish more professional products followed that philosophy. We’d all be able to get more work done.


Sam Mestman

Sam Mestman, FCPWORKS.

This blog post contains the personal musings of FCPWORKS’ Workflow Architect, Sam Mestman. Sam’s also a regular writer for and MovieMaker Magazine, teaches post workflow at RED’s REDucation classes, and is the founder and CEO of We Make Movies, a film collective in Los Angeles and Toronto which is dedicated to making the movie industry not suck. If you’ve got any FCP X questions or need some help putting together a system, drop him an email at and you can follow him on Facebook or Twitter at @FCPWORKS.


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