Thursday, May 05, 2005

Adobe Creative Suite 2

Adobe Creative Suite 2 is out now. I was a UI designer in mid-stream on this when I quit and moved east to Massachusetts. It's been interesting to see their marketing collateral, animated demos, and read the press so far, after all this time (1 calendar year now).

The 2 projects I spent the most time on have major marketing bullets; they represented 2 of the concerns registered by our users in a large market research effort before we embarked on design: Color Consistency and PDF Consistency. Reading the press, it looks like the teams delivered what we had agreed on when I left; there are no nasty feature cuts apparent. Given how rocky the initial stages were -- getting all those cross-product teams to collaborate, no overseeing engineering director for months, difficulty defining process and team collaboration over long-distance-- this is a major triumph in itself.

The Color Management UI even looks much like what I had designed, even down to a problem in one dialog that I worried about but they apparently didn't fix.
suite color settings dialog

In this dialog, the selection mechanism -- the listbox of settings -- behaves as both the mechanism for choice and the "display" of the current setting. This is risky, because if you change your choice, but don't hit "apply," you don't know which setting is shared across the apps. And the "current" setting has to be in view at all times. I don't have any clue what that big "Show Saved Color Settings Files" button is for -- that wasn't in the original designs. I imagine it's there to fix some problem, like providing a mechanism for adding items to the listbox? -- but I can't tell from here.

I really like the color settings icon, though. Quite excellent. And the many risky features we were going out on a limb with are in there, as planned, like color management being "on" by default, to ensure visual consistency across the applications. The shared swatch problem was a profound one, too, with major problems blocking us as I left (e.g., it's not obvious how to solve this when some apps are built knowing only about pixels, and have no objects on the page, and others have structured art content). I don't know how well it all works, of course, and will stay tuned for more review details on that front.

PDF presets are getting less "splash" in the reviews, but it's going to be a big consistency win for users in day-to-day publishing workflows. PDF is inherently difficult to understand, as it's a technical standard, but at least the consistent UI will make it easier for prepress houses to tell customers what to choose when they save files.

In the reviews I read so far of the Suite as a whole, Photoshop is getting the most attention, with InDesign second. The most interesting aspect of this is that PS's new features aren't things I knew about. The big debate topic was a feature to support menu customization, on the theory that users were overloaded by features and would like to "turn off" some items. I found some articles suggesting only power users do this, but the research was a bit equivocal and hard to apply. The UI team in general was dubious about this, but the marketing folks were adamant and convinced engineering, I believe. This is now a feature bullet that's almost nowhere to be found in the press -- it's not gone (I found it in one place) so I assume it didn't test well or wasn't deemed salesworthy copy by the end of the development cycle.

All of this is speculation, of course.

9 comments :

Brian said...

Just curious, but did you (Adobe) ever do any workflow testing, where you gave a beta of CS2 to a “typical” graphics shop and asked them to report back on how much better CS2 was over CS1 in terms of faster/smoother/more profitable workflow? I’m not a CS user, but I would think that with all the integration Adobe has done, the UX in terms of workflow benefits would be a major selling point for the upgrade. (As opposed to more “features,” which might have a more diffuse payoff.)

Lynn said...

Hi Brian,

I wasn't there by the time everything was up and running and ready for workflow testing, but Adobe has active, energetic, thorough and rich beta testing. The customers involved in beta testing are taken very seriously (this was true at Tivo as well) and their input has a major impact on the product. Adobe would have certainly done what you're asking about. The market research that went into deciding what to develop was pretty thorough as well, so we were sure we were working on the most pressing problems already.

Not directly relevant, but just more on this topic: Integration is very hard to deliver after the apps you're trying to integrate have already been developed and used for years. When you've got mature products, with their own mature audiences, and only some of those users use other products in the Suite with any depth -- well, it's legitimately hard to decide who to cater to when you make product design decisions. For instance, keyboard shortcuts, the most often fought about topic internally: do you make all the apps use the same shortcuts, even if it means redefining some shortcut that users of (say) Photoshop have used and loved for 5 releases now? Nasty nasty problem. The Bridge that was added to the suite is a kind of "patch" on this problem, as you can probably tell. Who knows if it will genuinely be useful (and if it's too slow, as some reviews have complained, it probably won't be, independent of the features it offers).

steve crandall said...

Thanks for the insight.

I've been a Photoshop user from the mid Pleistocine. I was at Bell Labs and an artist who happened to be resident with the labs (how many labs had serious artists in residence?) showed me something called ImagePro that came with a very expensive scanner. I quickly became addicted and actually bought Photoshop 1 when it came out about a year later (I Image Pro was sold to Adobe).

I've been a serious amateur user since 2.5. You become very used to the interface with all of its warts and version changes could be painful. I usually would wait until I had a full weekend and then would spend 20+ hours getting re-oriented enough to work at the pre-upgrade level. (the upgrade from 7->PS CS1 was the smoothest I've been through ... I haven't spend the bucks on the CS2 upgrade yet).

It is remarkable what you will do to stick with a tool that has its marks embedded in your hands. I was trying to teach someone how to use PS Elements 3.0 and had to give up -- I simply couldn't deal with the interface (even though there are clear pieces of regular photoshop in it). GIMP ... don't even get me started ....

Lynn said...

I remember you being a major expert. I think you introduced me to PS first, in fact. I thought of you often when I was hearing beta feedback at Adobe.

So would you ever turn menu items off? The plan to allow customization of the UI was strange in many ways -- if only power users do it, but power users are the least likely to ever want to turn off features, what's the exact point? I never got this. And I'd predict most junior users wouldn't want to remove features, especially if they don't know what they are for; those might turn out to be useful in the future, or to be just the item they were searching for but didn't know the name of...

If we're ever in the same state again, I'd like to talk about your PS color issues, too. I might need a Valium first, though. As a physicist, you know the issues involved quite well, but the UI design part was nearly impossible to get clear and right for the average creative pro.

steve crandall said...

I don't think I'd turn the menu items off. When I'm focused in a piece of work I might be using six to ten items in a session with very strong concentrations on a few items. When things are working (and I hate to invoke the names of UChicago psychologists that I can't spell or pronounce) for me I'm experiencing "flow" and the only items that I am aware of are those that are critical for the task at hand. I honestly couldn't tell you how frequently I'm using the icons and how often a keystroke shortcut. When the nature of the task changes, the other menu items I have been using seem irrelevant - almost like nonfunctional spaces.

So depending on the task at hand I have a different cluster of items to work with . Their physical position and is deeply ingrained at this point. Changing the shape of this cluster is very jarring to me and it kills me when positions change drastically in different versions (something that happened quite a bit early on).

I don't have this happen with Microsoft Word (the only MS app I use regularly). I can and do customize the toolbar, but I'm constantly confused when I stray from the norm. These days I have shifted to an extremely simple/clean interface for most of my word processing (Pages) and use LaTeX for anything that requires sophistication.

But back to PS..

I would love to talk about color issues. Sedation probably makes sense. I'll fortify myself with chocolate first.

__

Another interesting issue with PS is the need for collaboration. Bonnie Nardi and I used to chat about this. I really want something like SubEthaEdit for PS - when you are part of a distributed process it is just too difficult to communicate. I can't tell you how many times I've sent localized screen shots...

Brian said...

Hi Lynn,
Your response (and Steve’s comments) were both helpful and interesting. It makes me wonder if there’s an upper bound for optimal usability in shrinkwrap software. Most major programs seem to begin with core functionality, then add richness for specialized users, then add integration with complementary programs. At some point they become so complex that something akin to the Bridge is developed to simplify use. This amounts to developing a second program ( a portal) to comprehend/navigate the first. The sign that the upper boundary is reached is when UI designers are squeezed between sales goals for upgrades and entrenched user habits and workflows that resist change.

Anonymous said...

I'm looking forward to playing with some of the new Photoshop CS2 features. I haven't managed to find it in a store and by this point would've been better off ordering it, but for some reason really like buying some software in boxes in a store where I can take it home right away.

The tool to merge multiple shots to increase dynamic range is something I'm particularly looking forward to playing with having done that kind of thing "by hand" in the past.

I just wish Adobe (or someone) would license or replicate the stitching technology in AutoStitch so I could have a less crippled version.

--Ken

Brian said...

A new thread in one of the Ars Technica forums (http://episteme.arstechnica.com/eve/ubb.x/a/tpc/f/8300945231/m/280009623731 ) goes into the exact usability upgrade problems you mentioned in your post. CS2 Ilustrator comes in for a lot of heat for breaking all sorts of things people used in CS1.

Lynn said...

Oof. I'm almost afraid to read it. Poor Illustrator, they always seemed to be getting heat for something. Thanks for the link!