Formats Unpacked: You Suck at Photoshop

Who said 'how to' videos couldn't be fun?

Hi All,

Thanks for joining us. I know you’re all busy as holiday deadlines approach.

This week I’ll be doing the unpacking. It’s a web series from a period when creativity in social video was at it’s peak. Of course I’m wearing rose tinted glasses, but watching these again made me so nostalgic for this kind of effort, originality and writing.

If you’re new to this series you’re probably going to lose your next hour. Enjoy…


What’s it called?

You Suck at Photoshop (web series)

What’s the format?

A comedy series told via screencasts of Photoshop tutorials. In each episode, the protagonist Donnie Hoyle delivers genuinely useful ‘how-to’ videos packed with subtext and visual clues to a private life that is falling apart. His wife is having an affair, he sucks at his job, and he hates everyone, especially his viewers.

What’s the magic that makes it special?

The magic is in the combination of web tutorial and genuinely brilliant comedy storytelling.

MacBook thrillers have become a bit of a thing in recent years. Films like Unfriended, Open Windows, and the current Zoom based movie Host, have all used the visual language computer desktops to tell their story. But when You Suck at Photoshop first hit the web back in 2007 it felt truly groundbreaking. I don’t remember seeing anything like it. Maybe that’s why it won three Webby Awards and was named one of Time Magazine’s ‘Top 10 TV Episodes’ of the Year. TV episodes? Anyway.

YouTube was a little over a year old when creator Troy Hitch decided instructional videos, that were early hits on the platform, were ripe for parody. He created over thirty episodes featuring a hilarious protagonist, a cast of characters, and a huge storyworld, without ever leaving the desktop. As Donnie reluctantly instructs his audience how to suck less he reveals the story of his own tragic life through his choice of photos he uses in his lessons. We occasionally get to hear his wife and work colleagues in the background and he is constantly being interrupted with Skype voice calls from his only friend Sn4tchbuckl3r insisting that he joins him in World of Warcraft.

Whilst a lot of the backstory comes from Donnie’s wonderful narration the gold is in the visual clues you see on his desktop as he skips between applications, each offering further glimpses into his tragic state of mind and whatever's gone wrong in his life that week. His browser’s toolbar contains links to marriage counselors and marriage attorneys. Wedding photos have titles such as ‘filthy_lies’ and ‘band_of_deception’, and in amongst the collection of photos he’s taken of the van his wife is using to have the affair are photos of mushroom clouds, handguns, and general darkness. Donnie’s unopened email have subject such as ‘YOUR JOB IS AT STAKE’ and ‘DONNIE: DO NOT IGNORE THIS’.

The incredible thing about You Suck at Photoshop is that the tutorials aren’t just there for comedy poking, they are real tutorials and they’re very good. In episode 1 you can learn how to use Distort, Warp, and Layer Effects by watching how Donnie uses them to paste a copy of his marriage certificate over the driver's side of the van which his wife was using to have sex with an old school friend in. In episode 3 learn how to use the Clone Stamp and Manual Cloning tools by watching Donnie cover up the wedding ring on his wife's finger. Even though the software has moved on since 2007 you can still learn a lot about photo manipulation and have a giggle at the same time. Learning Photoshop skills could not be more fun.

Similar Formats

The current trend for desktop storytelling didn’t come straight off the back of You Suck at Photoshop. There were a few years between Donnie’s life collapsing and what might have been the next serious leap that was Noah, a film shown at the Toronto Film Festival that tells the story of a relationship break up through applications. It was slick and got a lot of attention at the time, but didn’t have the gags and you didn’t gain any skills from watching it.

Favourite Episode

It’s always hard to pick a favourite episode but the one where Donnie receives fan mail and teaches us how to use the Patch tool starts in a typically dark place but ends with him falling for someone new. I was happy for him, for a couple of minutes. Also the one where teaches you how to remove the image of “the cat your wife rescued without talking to you and brought it home and made your home a cat toilet and then when her emergency ‘business meeting’ came up this weekend refused to allow you to take it to a cat kennel so now you have to mind it.” That one.

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Thanks for reading.

If you’ve enjoyed please do subscribe, like and share with your friends. If anyone has a Christmas format they’d like to unpack get in touch.

Hugh