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Meet the Team: Tim Riot and Matthew Bice — Photoshop Experience Designers

Experiencing Photoshop
Tim Riot
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.

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Question about the use of magic wand:

To select the similarly colored area or spots, I have used the magic wand tool. It only selects in a small area surrounding the spot of my choice. How can I make the magic wand to inspect a larger area without me increasing the tolerance level too much? Thank you very much.

    Go to the top menu Select > Color range… and volia have fun

Why am I not surprised that this rambling article comes from the minds of the same ‘Experience Design Tema’ who brought us the confused UI we now find in Photoshop?

It seems that everyone and anyone can become a UI ‘designer’ these days. For those without any design skills, a glimpse at Dieter Rams’ eternal rules still apply –

“Many noteworthy features, such as the dark UI… were chiefly designed by Matthew (Bice) alone. ”
– so now we know. The Opticians Association of America salute you.

    Not sure if you’re having a dig at the dark UI, but I’m glad we finally have the dark UI. Long overdue. Also, that page you linked to with “design is this, design is that…” Please not another designer article listing the bleeding obvious as if revelation. “Good design makes a product useful”. Seriously? That’s funny ‘cos I always thought the exact opposite.

I love Ps, and much of its design. I’m also very pleased with what appears to be a new flexibility and refinement in the overall usability. It’s a vast toolset, however, and I don’t think anyone has yet grasped a unifying principle for the diverse “departments” of functionality. Why are stack-processing facilities buried in scripts and 3D is front and center? Why can’t I set a default for EVERY panel, rather than just some? (I use photo filter adjustment layers all the time, but I have to select the same filter again and again…)

Some of these issues are just functionality principles that have yet to be applied uniformly. Without that uniformity, the UI isn’t predictable and doesn’t foster familiarity.

A software UI has so much more flexibility and dynamism than a hardware UI, but it seems we’ve only discovered one or two new dimensions. A larger context, still viscerally tied to the main UI, is needed — one that can provide very large affordance “families” without losing the overall landscape of the app. This is not a new page, or a new mode, or an elaborate popup (like CamRaw or Liquify), but some new paradigm that allows a vast app like Ps to show its largest facets in a sensible, spatial context, just as panels and dialogs keep us clearly within their larger context.

Perhaps that’s the direction — facets. Just a thought…

IAC, Ps is evolving, and the UI, however undiscoverable it still is, clearly has taken some very helpful new directions.


My thanks go out to Russell Brown and Julienne Kost for helping the slowlearners along.

in my personal experience starting pdotoshop tool was devastating cost me much to handle the topic of vectors.

Excellent article, I’ll be posting soon on my gallery some work done, hope you like the community of photoshop!

Now that CS6 is out, and CS2 is no longer supported…..Adobe has free downloads with serial number on their website. I have been questioned on this, and even went to Adobe Chat, who initially said it was for existing customers, then changed, and said, yes, it’s free and you can download it.
I did. It loaded, and activated. There is a blog entry that sort of confirms this here, but not really.
Do we know what Adobe is thinking on this “freeware” CS2? For sure?
Dave: So, it is free, I can download and activate?
Dinesh: Yes, Because we are going to discontinue the support for CS2. So you can download them from the link and activate them.


Great job on the crop reworking and layer panel enhancements! It would be amazing if good old Free Transform could get similarly rethought and refined. Specifically, the 4 bounding box handles for adjusting the transform would be much better if they could be moved over points of interest instead (like how the center origin point can be moved).

I do a lot of multi-viewpoint panoramas, and their is usually no one way to align images with automatic methods (disparity from different depths). When I want to align feature points between two layers, it’s like trying to nail down jello. The further the points of alignment interest are from the corner handles, the more they’ll be influenced by multiple handles. Getting to choose the 4 points that define the transform (or homography), it is fairly simple to calculate what the bounding box corners would need to be moved to.

Next highest wish list item would be better smart object caching (i.e. so I could use adaptive wide angle filter on a fisheye shot for locally mixing rectilinear and curvilinear projections, and them refining with a free transform or puppet warp).

I am up for renewel but it has been september since you tech people tried to get my system working correcterly lots of “?” in top left corner of pix wich will not re connect. Why can’t you guys realy try and help me. I have MD (wheelchair bound) so this is my intertainment, but it is not working so guess where that leaves me. I know that you are not in tech support but you please see-to-it that someone gets to me to help via remote assistance.

Please thank you
Mark Lewis 480-545-42302

where I can find the magic wand tools in Cs6?? can’t find it anywhere

Really a great Article!
It is interesting to read how the whole grows.

Thanks for the great insights into the Photoshop CS6 development.

Waiting for the deblur tool…hope it will make it to the next version.


Realy greate. Do you have chips ?

very good article thanks for keeping the inspiration alive.

Thanks in favor of sharing such a nice thinking, article is fastidious, thats why
i have read it completely

what is the least expensive adobe that I can purchase that will turn a photo into a cartoon.

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Photoshop C6 … I come only to C3 and am very happy.

It only selects in a small area surrounding the spot of my choice. How can I make the magic wand to inspect a larger area without me increasing the tolerance level too much?

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Next highest wish list item would be better smart object caching (i.e. so I could use adaptive wide angle filter on a fisheye shot for locally mixing rectilinear and curvilinear projections, and them refining with a free transform or puppet warp).

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