I don’t mean to pick on Adobe, I really don’t. I admit, I have a fundamental disagreement with the insurrectionist strategy they’ve been pursuing with their Creative Suite applications; the company has essentially spent the decade so far leveraging those programs to carve out more than its fair share of space on my hard drive, and using the appropriated gigabytes to not so subtly transform the software into an unwanted back-door operating system of its very own. It’s immoderate behavior and frankly a pain in my butt.
On the other hand, I do have to hand it to Adobe when it comes to Creative Suite 3, which, after much delay, I finally purchased and installed on my Mac last month. It’s still bloated and excessive, but for the sort of suite that it is, this is the most cogent execution I’ve seen so far. These applications haven’t felt stable on the Mac platform for a long, long time, but now they do. And with Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, anyway, there’s a newfound coherence to the user interfaces that, while still imperfect, feels like a major accomplishment (at least in the context of Adobe’s traditional inability to normalize similar interactions across these applications).
I even have to admit that my initial dismissal of Creative Suite 3’s new icon strategy, which discarded each applications’ abstract imagery in favor of two-letter abbreviations, works. I didn’t think that it could, and it’s still not perfect. But as it turns out, it’s much more intuitive to recognize an icon displaying “Id” as a pointer to InDesign than it is to make that same association with an impressionistic butterfly.
Pardon Their Dust
This newly acquired slickness aside, Creative Suite 3 is still very much a work in progress. There are parts of all of these applications that still feel like holdovers from legacy versions of the software, especially in Adobe Illustrator, where much of the typography still sports that hard-edged, bitmapped, Mac OS 9 look to it. The print dialogues, too, are disasters of preemption, substituting the native print and page setup interfaces with — you wouldn’t think it was possible — an even more inscrutable palette of counter-inuitive options. There’s just more than there needs to be throughout the suite, and not all of that excess is executed particularly well.
Okay, so Adobe will never embrace the smaller, lighter, faster approach to their software that I would like to see them adopt. Fine. But even the idea of Creative Suite 3 as a large-scale platform for many different kinds of creative functionality seems unfinished. It feels like something of a warm-up, to me.
There may be a new level of consistency between these applications, but it’s still stretching things a bit to say that the suite is consistent. They’re sold as a package and even engineered to work together, but they still act very much like independent products, with their own vaguely similar but idiosyncratic ways of tackling similar problems. This sometimes dramatic disparity strongly suggests a logical but unlikely conclusion: coalescing into a single, flexible application that eschews the arbitrary distinctions between pixels, vectors and pages and just allows users to focus on designing. It’ll never happen. Still, between here and there, it feels as if there remains some evolution to go, yet.