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The Startup

Going Adobe-free

An open letter of sorts

I have not used an Adobe product since 2012.

Yes, dear reader, it’s true. While I’ve had the Adobe Creative Suite and Creative Cloud products installed and available to me, I have not felt compelled to use them over other offerings. In all likelihood, I have popped open Illustrator or Photoshop for an occasional edit during this timeframe, but my primary set of tools for use day-to-day is conspicuously lacking in any Adobe products.

No Photoshop

Full disclosure: as a UX Designer, I have never designed an interface with Photoshop. I was a Macromedia kid back in the day, and became an Adobe user when they acquired my old favorites Fireworks, Dreamweaver, and yes, Flash. While my colleagues toiled away in Photoshop to create their mockups, I was more than happy to pop open Fireworks to draw rounded rectangles that could be adjusted without redrawing the shape. Vector-based, multi-page documents were where it was at, and Photoshop’s state management system wasn’t doing it for me. Neither was its raster-centric engine, which was great for photos but decidedly less so for interfaces.

“There is no other tool out there that is so intrinsically connected to the way designers work today.”
Meng To, regarding Sketch

“Ahh, but what about photos?”, you may ask. It’s true, Photoshop is still hands-down the best tool for manipulating photos, but this is not a task I’m faced with regularly. When I’ve needed to edit a photo or other raster image, I’ve found both Pixelmator and Affinity Photo to be entirely capable, and any stray PSDs that cross my path are usually handled by Affinity Designer with aplomb.

No Illustrator

Before Sketch, most of my colleagues who decided against Photoshop for UI work went with Illustrator, which as a vector-based tool provided some key advantages over Photoshop. For me, UI work in Illustrator always felt awkward, as layer effects were more limited than in other tools, the defaults were for print design, and snapping to a pixel grid arrived late in the game. Raster support was (and is) almost comically primitive, and added massive bloat to source files.

No Flash

While it has been many years since I’ve shipped any Flash content, it still had utility for me as a prototyping tool. As a non-developer, having a “do this when I click that” tool was a godsend for simple prototyping and user testing.

Why not?

So, what’s wrong with Adobe? After all, this is the same pioneering company who 30 years ago brought Bézier curves to vector illustration. If anything, I believe Adobe has become a victim of its own success. As a tool like Photoshop has grown in popularity, so have the number of use cases it has grown to support. Photoshop can be used for both print and for UI work. So should it default to CMYK & inches, or should it default to RGB & pixels? As Adobe sees this as their one-size-fits-all solution, they have tried to remain neutral, instead letting the user decide the right options for them.

“Their value proposition was ‘Make it whatever you want[…]’ And I believe that’s abdicating your responsibility as a designer.”
Jony Ive, regarding the Moto X

Adobe products are heavy. Photoshop is the ten pound Swiss Army knife you can use to hammer in a nail. Sketch is a hammer, with no knife blade and no need for one. Sketch has one audience — digital designers — and therefore only serves one master. It’s opinionated software, which leads to better, clearer solutions to the problems it sets out to solve.

What can be done?

If you’re listening, Adobe, then I know most of this is not news to you. Fortunately for you, I think there’s still time to fix things. Here’s what I’d want to see, as a user:

  • Quieter software updates. Seriously. Give us silent updates or give us death.
  • Better tools for prototyping. Edge Animate is a fine replacement for Flash, but it’s an animation tool at its core, not a prototyping tool. Show us something with smooth, 60FPS multitouch interaction on devices, an interactive desktop viewer, common design patterns for iOS/Android and click-and-drag simplicity. If you can integrate that with a suite of focused design tools and make it dirt-simple to share with a team, you might just have a winner on your hands.

Back to the present

Adobe can still release a compelling offering that could win me back. Until that point, I’m happy to support the indie developers who are actually meeting the needs of the modern designer.

Hans van de Bruggen is a designer living in New York City. He has previously worked for LinkedIn and Atlassian. Currently, he runs design for Cureatr, a mobile healthcare startup.

Follow Hans on Twitter

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