It’s Time for Adobe to Put its Foot on the Gas
Summer is winding down, and that means we’re getting closer to another Adobe MAX event in the fall. This also means that we’re likely to see updates to many of Adobe’s flagship products like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. This year, however, Adobe is under a little more pressure than normal to deliver some seriously meaningful product updates. Ever since Adobe switched to the Creative Cloud model a few years back, it seems they’ve been idling a bit. I attribute this mostly to lack of competition, but nonetheless, the allure of Creative Cloud was supposed to be that we pay a monthly fee and throughout the year we are bombarded with new and exciting features. Instead, it seems we’ve gone back to the same old model wherein we get a small point release somewhere mid-year, and then a big round of updates that coincide with MAX, Adobe’s biggest marketing event for creatives. Even with that big event though, can you really name that many game-changing features that have shipped lately? I certainly can’t.
Well, fast-forward to today, 2017. Creatives now have some choices when it comes to the tools they use. With the rise of apps like Sketch, Affinity Photo, Affinity Designer, and the imminent release of Affinity Publisher, Adobe suddenly has viable competition within the creative landscape. Granted, the one thing Adobe has going for it is its entrenchment and ecosystem. Most creatives have been using some form of an Adobe product since they pirated their first version of Photoshop back in high school (sorry, not sorry). And the Creative Cloud ecosystem with things like TypeKit, CC Libraries, Adobe Stock, and the mobile apps all make for an amazing set of tools that cannot be matched right now. However, the little guys are catching on, and catching up. Affinity Photo is already available on iOS and recently Affinity Designer’s project manager, Matt Priestly, shared a teaser video of what appeared to be Affinity Designer running on an iPad (see below).
So what does this mean? Well, in short, it means Adobe needs to stop worrying about big splashy event-driven releases and start producing serious features that its users want, and deliver them throughout the year as they originally promised when they killed the box model. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying any of these products is on-par with Adobe’s current offerings, nor do I think they’ll be poised to encroach on Adobe’s marketshare anytime soon. But with smaller, more agile companies being able to deliver products like this without tying them to a (somewhat) pricey subscription model, Adobe could soon have a real problem on their hands.
In my opinion Adobe needs to reboot its strategy around many of its apps, and also improve its collaborative features of the Creative Cloud platform itself. Every app in the Creative Cloud portfolio should have a purpose, serve that purpose, and do so with consistency and speed. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s use web design as an example. As a trainer, I’m often asked which tool is best for a given workflow. When someone asks me “what’s the best tool to design a website?” I’m not really sure what to tell them these days. First of all, designing and building a website are two totally different things. There’s also the aspect of prototyping and testing a website. Adobe seems to spread these tasks across multiple apps and many of those features overlap, but have different methodologies and implementations. Adobe should strip down their core apps and refocus on what those apps were designed to do from day one, and then use new apps, like Adobe Experience Design, to enhance new workflows. Photoshop is a prime example of an app that has 50lbs of luggage crammed into a 10lbs suitcase. It’s almost as if the mindset is that if it doesn’t fit anywhere else, throw it into Photoshop… People love Photoshop! No, at its core Photoshop is an image editing and manipulation application. There is no need for all of the extraneous things that have been shoved into it over the years. Then you have applications like Adobe Illustrator that almost feel like they’ve been neglected at times. Take the Image Trace feature for example. This should be one of the most powerful and most-used tools in Illustrator, but instead it’s a tool many dread even trying to use because of its lack of efficiency. This feature is supposed to help you convert raster graphics (JPGs, Gifs, PNGs) into vector paths. However, anything more intricate than simple shape, oftentimes produces ridiculously bad results.
Stability is another thing Adobe should focus on. I used to brag about the stability of apps like Photoshop and Illustrator when I taught them. Nowadays I start every class with a disclaimer about how important saving, backing up, and turning on auto-save are. I think by stripping out some of the unnecessary features of these apps and getting back to basics will help improve this tremendously. Granted, I’m no engineer, but it seems logical to me that the less moving parts you have, the more efficient the machine will run. That’s one of the main advantages of some these newer apps. They’re built on modern frameworks and are constantly iterating to keep up with standards for Mac, PC, iOS, and Android. They know they can’t afford to slip up in the stability department, so they make that a priority. Adobe seems to think that they’re immune to this problem simply because they’re the untouchable juggernaut of the creative world.
I don’t say any of this to slam Adobe. I love Adobe, and its products. I’ve been using them since I was 12 years old. But I also think competition is a good thing, in any industry, and when there’s competition it should force the top dogs to try harder to maintain their edge over the up-and-comers. I realize this isn’t something that can happen overnight. In fact, it could take years. But if Adobe started refocusing on this stuff today, and somehow show it publicly, it would go a long way towards convincing its user base that they’re listening and that they truly are focused on improving the workflow of the creative professional, instead of just making a fancy headline for their MAX press release.
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