Project Comet

Project Comet

There were two big highlights from the keynote for Adobe’s annual MAX Conference this morning that I’m unabashedly excited about. The first was the fact that, twelve months after I debuted an early beta version of Comp CC at last year’s conference, that layout app played a major role onstage today in a demo of Adobe’s powerful, cloud-based workflow infrastructure for iOS. (Also, it’s now available on iPhone!)

If you play back the keynote at starting at about 19 minutes in, you’ll see how Comp CC has blossomed into a powerful creativity tool that’s beautifully attuned to iOS’s touch interface, and also how Adobe has done truly impressive work breaking down the barriers between apps that have previously made productivity on iPad so difficult.

I’ll talk more about those things in another post, but I want to direct your attention to the keynote’s other major announcement: the debut of Adobe’s new user experience and user interface design application (for desktop), currently being developed under the code name Project Comet. Here is the promotional video:

One of the things that I’ve been doing since I joined Adobe in August is spending some time with the brilliant and dedicated team that’s been pouring tons of energy into turning Project Comet into a real product. I’ve been so impressed not just with the design and engineering talent that they’ve brought to bear for it, but also in their approach, which is both highly ambitious and wonderfully pragmatic.

On the one hand, they’ve shown terrific ingenuity in tackling problems that UX and UI designers encounter every day with clever, unexpected solutions. Project Comet’s Repeat Grid feature, which makes it practically effortless to create interfaces for structured data, is just the most prominent example. If you’ve ever designed an app or a web site, chances are good that you’ve had to make rows and columns of similarly constructed but still varied labels, images, avatars, text fields etc.

Historically this is a problem that has been solved—imperfectly—through smart objects or symbols, and also tedious manual spacing and image placement on the part of the designer. Instead of merely following the prior art, the team asked itself if there was a better answer—what if they could make almost everything automatic? What if they could compress what can literally take dozens of steps down to just two or three? With Repeat Grid, you just need to create one set of elements; the app practically does the rest, including duplicating items, placing images and importing real data. The gumption alone is impressive, but what really counts is that they then had the drive to invent that alternative from the ground up.

Here’s a quick and dirty screencast that I recorded to show Repeat Grid in action:

The whole app is riddled with brilliant touches like this.

At the same time, that ambition is tempered by a refreshing pragmatism. Though it would be disingenuous to try to claim underdog status for Adobe, from what I’ve seen the Project Comet team is well aware that the market for purpose-built UX/UI design tools has exploded largely without Adobe’s participation. This has translated into a determined focus on the fundamentals, a very disciplined approach to feature development that you’ll see throughout the app, but that will probably be most notable in Project Comet’s almost shocking speed and stability—the app can handle hundreds of art boards and thousands of objects with very little effort. The whole engine was built from scratch to be truly native to OS X, an approach that hasn’t traditionally been associated with Adobe, and it really shows.

Another dose of pragmatism: today’s announcement was just an announcement. The public beta arrives in early 2016, and version 1.0 is due later in the year. That’s a long road, and there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done to deliver on today’s promises. From what I’ve seen, though, this team is firing on all cylinders and, what’s more, they’re committed to doing this in an open, humble way. Nothing is a foregone conclusion, but that’s what makes it exciting. Project Comet is one of the things that convinced me to join Adobe, and while I’m not working on it directly, I’m proud to be playing a bit part in it.

Learn more about Project Comet and sign up to be a beta tester at