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VII.2 March-April 2000
Page: 8
Digital Citation

Design brief: Adobe

Katja Rimmi

back to top  About Adobe

Founded in 1982, Adobe Systems is a leading provider of graphic design, publishing, and imaging software for Web and print production and is the second largest desktop software company in the world, with annual revenues approaching $1 billion. The company builds award-winning software solutions for Web and graphic designers, professional publishers, document-intensive organizations, business users, and consumers. Adobe's products enable customers to create, publish, and deliver visually rich images and documents across all print and electronic media.

back to top  Philosophy of Design

Adobe is a design-centered company. We create products for creative professionals who demand a high level of control over their work. The majority of our customers use several of our products together. This has inspired us to strive for an interface that is common across both products and platforms, letting users leverage their existing knowledge. The emphasis is always on consistency and ease of use, which are critical factors in the success of our products. Also as a result, the role of interface designers at Adobe has grown in significance and has become better defined.

back to top  Design Process

Our user interface designers are each responsible for a product (After Effects, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.). Although the designers are part of the UI team and work closely on core interface issues, each designer sits with the engineering and marketing staff for their product. Their days are spent in close collaboration with these individuals, brainstorming on design solutions. Our user-centered design process follows three phases: user research, design, and testing. This process is repeated each time a new feature is added to a product or modified in a significant way.

We begin the user research phase by identifying the users for our products. We visit users in their work environments to understand their workflow and the constraints under which they work (deadlines, dependencies on coworkers, noise, distractions, etc.). We also identify and evaluate the tools used in their process.

Once we understand what the user wants to accomplish, we begin to identify the current obstacles in their path. This may include inadequacies in our products or the absence of a product altogether. Information from tech support, user education, marketing, engineering, and any group internally that has contact with our customers is gathered. We work collaboratively with the users to determine the features that are needed to complete their tasks.

We begin the design phase by sketching on paper or on a whiteboard. This process allows product team members to evaluate an idea before time is spent on a finished design. Using Photoshop, mock-ups of the proposed UI solutions are created. These mock-ups often include callouts that describe the intended behavior.

Design specifications are created that describe in detail the behaviors and appearance of a feature, as well as its interaction with other features. This includes the layouts of dialogs or palettes, the icons used in the design, the behaviors of tools or other features, and shortcuts, cursors, and relevant tool tips. A design specification reflects the agreements made between the interface designer and members of marketing and engineering. If a design cannot be implemented because of engineering or scheduling limitations, the document is updated to reflect the change.

We begin the testing phase by forming an alpha team. This small group of users from our target market becomes an extended member of the development team. We brainstorm with them long before features have been coded. Once they have a release of the software in hand, we collect feedback on their experiences with it. We also conduct usability tests at both users' sites and in-house.

The interface design process has matured considerably at Adobe in the last few years. Our team has grown, allowing the designers to focus on individual products and to develop expertise in those markets. The designers achieve satisfaction from seeing their solutions in the marketplace.

back to top  Design Project Example

In Photoshop 5.0, we wanted to provide a better form of multiple undo. The idea of a submenu that would let a user walk back through the history of the document was explored. This quickly evolved into a palette, as we realized that our users desired frequent access. The design process for this feature was very energized, with engineering, marketing, interface design, and our alpha testers participating fully. The challenge was how to incorporate the sophisticated feature of creating snapshots for future reference into a simple and inviting interface for jumping through different states of the document. Our ideas developed rapidly, and most decisions were made in the hallway or around a whiteboard. The addition of icons helped to distinguish each step in the history. A small slider control allowed the user to slide up and down the list without looking at the palette (see figure 1). Each refinement was evaluated by our alpha team along the way until the design fully met their needs.

back to top  Author

Katja Rimmi
User Interface Manager
UI Team for
Professional Products
Adobe Systems, Inc.

back to top  Figures

F1Figure 1. A better version of multiple undo for Photoshop 5.0

UF1Figure. Katja Rimmi, User Interface Manager, UI Team for Professional Products, Adobe Systems, Inc. —Photo by Jeff Schewe

back to top  Sidebar: Company Snapshot

Job Title for Design and Usability Positions
User interface designer.

Job Qualifications
A BSCS or equivalent and several years of interface design experience developing professional software is required. We prefer designers who are familiar with our product line and our market. Most important, we seek designers who are passionate about the needs of users, who enjoy working collaboratively, and who are excellent problem solvers.

Number Employed in Design and Usability
Twenty-one people are employed in design and usability.

Breadth of Project Teams
Typically, we assign one designer per product team. These teams include engineering, marketing, quality assurance, user education, etc. The designers also work collaboratively with each other across the product line.

back to top  Sidebar: Practitioner's Workbench

Favorite Publications
Hackos J & Redish J. User and Task Analysis for Interface Design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1998.
Borenstein N. Programming as if People Mattered. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1991.
Norman D. The Design of Everyday Things. Doubleday, New York, 1998.
Bennis W. & Biederman P. Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration. Perseus Books, Reading, MA, 1997.
I.D., New York, Beachhead of Delaware, Inc.

Photoshop, FrameMaker, and GoLive.

Favorite Quote
"Designing user interfaces is extremely challenging and richly rewarding. There is a special thrill that one gets from seeing strangers using and enjoying the program that one worked so hard to write. It is, in the main, an anonymous thrill—great interface designers are rarely stopped on the street to give autographs—but it is a kind of satisfaction that would be familiar to generations of artisans since before the dawn of civilization." –Borenstein N. Programming as if People Mattered. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, p.178, 1991.

Source of Inspiration
Seeing first hand the problems that a user is having with our software is immediately inspiring to me. It provides a level of focus and the energy that is required to come up with good solutions.

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©2000 ACM  1072-5220/00/0200  $5.00

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