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.+
I’ve been writing so much about how the market for design tools has been changing in fascinating, vibrant ways that I’ve felt a little left out of the action. It’s not a stretch to say that there’s never been a better time to make software for people like us, and it’s only going to get more interesting in the months and years ahead.
Rather than let this golden age pass me by, I’ve decided to take action: I’m thrilled to announce that effective immediately I’m joining the team at Adobe, based at their brand new, growing space at Fifth Avenue and 15th Street in New York City. I’ll be working with Behance co-founder and Adobe VP of Products for Mobile and Community Scott Belsky on a number of new software initiatives for designers—which are going to be awesome.
Of course, this comes on the heels of launching the brand new version of Wildcard (go download it!) just a few weeks ago. The timing seems incongruous, I know, but it’s actually perfect.
Though I’m incredibly proud of the app, for me the best thing about my experience at Wildcard has been its team—particularly my incredibly fruitful collaboration with Steve Meszaros, my colleague in design there for nearly two years. He’s an amazing craftsperson and a brilliant creative mind, and he deserves as much credit as anybody for the wonderful reception that Wildcard’s design and user experience have received.
This summer, as we neared the app’s launch, it became more and more apparent that Steve was ready for the next stage of his career. When I discussed this with Jordan Cooper, Wildcard’s co-founder and CEO, we realized that this was an opportunity for a transition that could benefit everyone: Steve could take over the day-to-day design operations and I could move to a less intensive, more strategic role.
It’s a change that actually brings me full circle with Wildcard. Two years ago, I started working with Jordan and his co-founders Doug Petkanics and Eric Tang as an advisor, stopping by periodically to consult on how to build out the design discipline at the company. It was never my intention to get more involved than that, but when I saw the kind of company that they were building, and I got to know the team that they were assembling, it struck me as an opportunity not to be missed. I still very much feel that way, so I’m very happy that I’ve found a new arrangement that lets me stay involved. Wildcard has a very bright future and I’ll still be a part of it.
Now I’m turning my focus to the enormous opportunities that lie ahead in creativity software. When I first started thinking about making this move, I talked to three companies with whom I’m friendly: there was Adobe, there was a startup with several significant rounds of funding, and there was another late-stage tech giant. I could tell from the outside that they were all doing really interesting things in this space; as I talked with them further and they selectively revealed details of their plans for the next few years, it became even harder to decide among them—there are some really exciting products in store for all of us, as designers, if these plans bear fruit.
In the end, though, Adobe was the choice that made the most sense for me. I’ve had a wonderful, ongoing collaboration with the folks there (see Adobe Comp CC!) for nearly two years, especially Scott and his crackerjack team of truly committed designers and engineers. In spite of my criticisms of Adobe’s past strategies, what I’ve seen throughout that relationship has been a new kind of company emerging from the old one. This new Adobe is one that is more designer-focused than ever before, that values openness and engagement with the community more than ever before, and that has managed to fundamentally restructure how it defines success.
That last point is a crucial one. Thanks to its frankly amazing transition away from boxed software and towards cloud services, Adobe is no longer incentivized to simply get designers to buy Photoshop, InDesign, After Effects, etc. In this new world, Adobe’s success is now predicated on whether they can materially contribute to a better creative ecosystem for everyone—consumers, users, designers and third-party software publishers alike. Put another way: the design tools market is no longer a zero-sum game for Adobe, and competitors don’t have to lose in order for Adobe to win. That vision looks exactly like the one that I aspire to for the market; one in which software giants, indie developers and everyone in between are all able to make the creative ecosystem better in their own ways.
I’ll be joining this campaign as both a designer and as a member of the community. There are some truly impressive projects happening at Adobe right now, and I hope to play bit parts in bringing some of them to life. And there are also some huge opportunities to create new software and work with third-party developers who are solving real problems for designers, and I’ll be rolling up my sleeves to make contributions there, too. Relatively little of this is mapped out with certainty, and in fact, lots of it is uncharted territory, which is even more exciting to me. In fact, later today I’ll be hopping on a plane to visit Adobe’s San Francisco headquarters for the first time, to start figuring out how to make all of this happen. Wish me luck.+