Designers, Competitors and Adobe have Time to Prepare

Adobe announced Project Comet, among with a lot of other interesting stuff, at their 2015 MAX conference on October 5. Depending on the types of tools you’ve been using recently, this news may mean different things for your workflow. For those who primarily use Adobe tools, Comet may look new to you. If you have been experimenting with the surprising number or new design, prototyping and interaction/animation tools that have risen in popularity over the past few years, you may see Comet as reactionary (but, perhaps compelling nonetheless).

Image Credit: (Note: image resized using Affinity Photo – to emphasize competitive pressure)

When Adobe announced artboards for Photoshop, there was a lot of talk about Adobe copying Sketch. This seems fair to say, however it also seems a little bombastic when you consider that Adobe Illustrator has had artboards for years. However, it’s clear that Sketch has become known for developing designs on artboards and easily exporting final artwork assets at various pixel densities. It’s success has also been buoyed by a growing ecosystem of independent plugins, UI Kits and other resources.

With the announcement and demo video for Comet, similar cries of ‘copying’ will continue as we notice familiar aspects of various prototyping and design tools in Comet. However, there were also some pretty cool things shown in the Comet demo that seemed ahead of the competition. For example the ease of mocking up repetitive data like lists and grids via Comet’s “Repeat Grid” tool.

Adobe had the challenge of presenting a lot of new products during the MAX keynote. One aspect of the keynote that started to concern me was the feeling that every demo included hopping among multiple products, at a frantic demo pace, while using their Creative Cloud storage solution for moving assets from one Adobe tool the the next. Instead of either reducing their tool set, or laser-focusing the feature set of each major application, there are now more tools. Additionally, each tools still seems to blur partially into the domain of related Adobe products.

To me this was most apparent in their demonstration of using InDesign to produce ‘digital document’ web content. InDesign was originally created as a QuarkXPress/PageMaker ‘killer’ so why is it exporting quasi-web content and simple animations, vs. Dreamweaver, vs. Flash, vs. Muse, vs. Edge Animate, vs. Edge Code vs. Edge Reflow vs… If InDesign cannot be THE tool for creating interactive web content and animations, then yank those meager features and focus on restoring it to the THE tool for creating long and short document layouts for print and PDF.

Adding Comet into the mix seems like it could be the from-scratch-breath-of-fresh-air that some of the competing tools have offered designers who have been feeling like Photoshop and Illustrator were burdened with too many legacy features not originally designed for the work of a modern UX and UI designer. But Adobe also needs to do the hard work of the trimming off any fat from legacy tools, better distinguishing the use cases for each product and go all-in on new ‘projects’ like Comet.

What I saw at MAX was a lot of great new features and tools, but I also saw the kind of feature bloat and overlap that’s consistent with a large company that develops individual products in silos using teams that compete with each other to remain relevant. When this is allowed to happen, end-users suffer from lack of clarity and smooth interoperability among product offerings. What does it mean for Comet if Photoshop continues to add storyboards and other UI design focused tools? Is Comet more for screen design or prototyping? Will Comet be able to help interaction designers prototyping complex animations and interactions like Principle, Flinto, Framer and others allow for?

Feature bloat, overlap and blurring lines among the purpose for any given Adobe app is what has given smaller competing products the ‘in’ they’ve needed to attract new users. Comet is due as a “preview release in early 2016“, so I guess competing tools have at least 3 months to figure out how they want to evolve their products to defend against it. In the meantime, Adobe will surely continue to explore the boundaries of what Comet can and cannot do. I’m eager to see they figure out how to make it the indispensable UI/UX tool we all appear to be craving (and not just another ‘project’).