It’s not easy to explain what we do for a living. The conversation normally goes like this:
“So, what do you do?”
“Do you know Photoshop?
“I’m a Photoshop Experience Designer.”
“You’re a designer and you use Photoshop?”
“No, I work at Adobe and I design the Photoshop experience.”
“Oh, awesome! I love Photoshop! – So what does that mean exactly?”
What we talk about when we talk about experience design
Tons of people use Photoshop every day, for tasks as varied as painting in the backgrounds of feature films, CSI-style forensic science, creating surreal worlds, designing amazing posters, illustrating fashion, designing the next big web app that you’ll be hearing about any day now, or just having a bit of fun. Each of these experiences is intensely personal, deeply engrained and profoundly meaningful.
For many folks, using Photoshop is like a playing an instrument or riding a bike. They’ve gotten so used to the ways that they do things that they don’t think about them anymore. However, there is so much going on just under the radar of the conscious mind. Tools are selected and complex actions are performed without pause. At its best, the experience of creation is fluid, natural, and obvious. When this flow is impeded, there is great opportunity for improvement.
For those using it for the first time, the powerful diversity of Photoshop can be daunting, often overwhelming. Building up the understanding of how to do something, and learning the ins and outs of the tool takes time and effort. Ideally, the more straightforward this learning process is, the better. The sooner a person can start making what they see in their mind’s eye, the sooner the particulars of how they are doing it can fade away. Forgetting the interface, in favor of immersing yourself in the process of making, is what we’re constantly striving for as experience designers.
Combine all of these considerations with the incredible diversity of the application toolset, as well as the deep history and existing codebase behind Photoshop, and you’ve got quite a tumultuous landscape in which to design. To borrow the old chestnut: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
So how do we strike the balance between retaining the awesome power within Photoshop, while simultaneously enhancing the experience for both new and seasoned creators?
It helps to have a sense of humor. Also, an umbrella.
Tension is not a four letter word
As a designer, discovering solutions that can simultaneously meet conflicting requirements can make you feel like a cat in a prime bit of sunshine.
At any given time, at least two Photoshops are in the works – one to address the needs of today and one for the potential needs of the future. For both, the history of the application is inescapable. It may seem obvious that Photoshop should fix this or that, or behave in a particular way – but behind every workflow and icon there’s a storied multiplicity of reasons why it does what it does. This does not mean that Photoshop is or should be frozen in time. Sometimes it’s necessary to rethink the established paradigms in order to move forward.
There were some late nights and strained discussions. The amount of investment and care with which the team works is amazing. Everyone on the team, not just us designers, profoundly impacts the experience of Photoshop. This inclusive, holistic approach to design is one of the most rewarding aspects of working with the Photoshop team. It can also be hard to address everyone’s concerns. Really hard at times.
Making sense of the bluster of requirements and viewpoints is a process.
For Photoshop CS6, we first had to understand the needs, frustrations, and desires that were out there. We scoured forums, read product reviews, visited big production studios (such as TBWA\Chiat\Day, Warner Brothers, Pixar), talked to folks in their homes and private studios, and watched over peoples’ shoulders in customer research labs as they tried out new and existing workflows. Second, we constantly communicated with the engineering and product teams – mulling over enhancements, discussing customer requests, evaluating existing behaviors, developing features, ironing out contingency plans, creating interaction specs, defining roadmaps, and collaborating on the designs you have and will see in Photoshop. Once we got a clearer sense of what influences were emerging in CS6, the themes of “streamlining existing workflows” and “focusing on content” became paramount.
With the lessons learned from our research, we turned our attention to the crop experience. The UI was modernized, with the focus being placed on the canvas. We emphasized nondestructive editing for a more forgiving, playful experience. The options bar added a straightening tool to trace the horizon line of an image directly on canvas. Crop views were expanded to include favorites, such as the Golden Ratio. Handy keyboard shortcuts were added to cycle views and call up the resize dialog. With each design, we iterated and tested our assumptions.
The vector tools also begged for improvement. In a nod to the existing habits and preferred workflows of vector artists, we began the process of aligning Photoshop with other commonly-used vector tools. The representation of shapes as color fills with vector masks was collapsed, to be more intuitive and less visually intrusive. Controls for fill and stroke, with all of the expected options in a handy flyout, were added to the shape options bar. Arrangement and alignment commands were added to further aid in manipulation of vector objects. Long-standing requests such as dashed lines were also included in the stroke options. As a bonus, we threw in a delightful innovation to path segment dragging.
Crop and vector tools were just the beginning. During the development of Photoshop CS6 we began to set down the groundwork for several broader experience goals and enhancements.
Who did what, when?
Believe it or not, Matthew Bice was the sole designer for the bulk of Photoshop for more than a year (the wonderful and talented designer, Kevin Bomberry, was at the helm of 3D efforts). What Matthew was able to accomplish by himself is nothing short of miraculous. Many noteworthy features, such as the dark UI, new crop, blur gallery and video enhancements were chiefly designed by Matthew alone. Photoshop is such an enormous endeavor, so another designer was crucial. Tim Riot joined the team in April of 2011, providing much-needed coverage and design support to the engineering team. Tim focused primarily on the vector tools, layer search, UI consistency, adaptive wide angle and anywhere else he could help out.
While Matthew & Tim both had their areas of focus, they worked together in order to produce a cohesive series of designs with the totality of Photoshop and future plans always in mind.
The future’s so bright…
You’ll likely detect a change in the mindset behind the creation of CS6. That’s on purpose.
Gone are the days when it took a few hundred nautical miles to turn the giant ocean liner of Photoshop. We are moving to a more nimble methodology, which will allow us to iterate and deliver much more quickly than in the past. Now, more than ever, your feedback helps us shape and focus the development of Photoshop. Keep your feedback coming. We’re listening and looking forward to making the next Photoshop even better than the last.
Thank you for the awesome response to Photoshop CS6. It’s immensely gratifying to know that what we do is appreciated.