is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Adobe has just released the 2015 versions of its Creative Cloud software suite with improvements across the board. The feature additions getting the most attention are the changes to Photoshop CC 2015, which attempt to bring more screen design-specific thinking to the workhorse image editor. These include export improvements, the ability to add multiple styles to an element, and, most notably, new support for multiple artboards within a single PSD file. Over at Bjango, Marc Edwards wrote a nice round-up of the best of these improvements.
The most significant feature, for my money, is the one that Adobe is releasing as a “technology preview.” The Photoshop team’s Design Space project (marketed online via Github, no less) is a surprisingly ambitious reworking of the core experience of using Photoshop for designing web sites and user interfaces. It takes advantage of the reportedly tremendous under-the-hood work that’s been done over the past several years to abstract Photoshop’s interface from its raw processing power, with the result being that the team is now apparently able to entirely re-write even its most foundational interactions. This screencast—narrated by Photoshop Senior Product Manager Zorana Gee with the startling brand of confidence that possesses only those who know exactly what the future looks like—shows how very different Photoshop can be when its interface has been fundamentally rethought.
The Photoshop we’ve known for a quarter century is almost unrecognizable in this video; its tool palette has been stripped back dramatically, its layers palette has taken on unfamiliar new behaviors, and even object selection has been reworked entirely. It’s a very telling demonstration of how seriously Adobe is now listening to customers who have been complaining for many years about the application’s overdetermined feature freight. That is, it’s telling in two ways: first in that the team has gone so far as to create what is practically a wholly different product as a clear response to market competition, and second in that the company is releasing this major undertaking only as a technology preview, hidden away in the software’s preferences. Change is coming; just not quite yet.
All of these features are bound to draw even more contentious comparisons with Bohemian Coding’s Sketch, for better or worse, and you won’t need to look very far to find snarky dismissal of these efforts from design tool partisans. There seems to be some anxiety that Adobe is essentially co-opting territory staked out by enterprising indie developers, which is an understandable but not entirely logical reaction. What strikes me about this situation is how remarkable it is that it exists at all; the Adobe of a decade ago seemed to have little or no interest in what was important to web and interface designers. A sober reading of the market today reveals that in actuality customer frustration has forced the market incumbent to respond substantively, stoking competition all around. That’s what we want—we want big players like Adobe and small players like Bohemian Coding all pushing each other to create better and better tools.+