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Digital Reality and Adobe

Posted: 05.08.13

The ability to translate the physical into the digital and vice versa is rapidly changing our world.

Adobe startled us at their annual Adobe Max conference. The company demonstrated its experiments in hardware; something we did not expect to see. The company demonstrated a new pen design, a ruler, and a digital white board for magazine production.

The pen is a real marvel. I talked to Geoff Dowd, senior experience design lead at Adobe, and he’s mighty proud of the pen. He said Adobe realized if they wanted a pen truly useful for their users, then it had to be designed to work with the Creative Cloud and Adobe was going to have to do it themselves. The pen has a memory, the better to remember user settings and preferences and to be able to quickly draw, erase, and redraw. It has Wi-Fi to maintain a connection to the cloud and, it has sensitivity enough to respond like a real drawing instrument. Adobe is showing it with their vector drawing program, Ideas.PENCIL AND RULER: Adobe’s new take on school bag buddies. (Source: JPR)

Also, the company showed off Napoleon, the company’s new ahem, short ruler (get it?). Napoleon can be laid down on a tablet and used to draw straight lines anywhere parallel to the ruler. It can also be used to draw arcs and circles. In live demos, people fought each other to play with the toys.

Finally, Adobe drew on the work being done by Microsoft with the Surface and their relationship with Wired Magazine to demonstrate Project Context, a layout system using full-size touch screens to enable people to see their layouts as they would on boards in the old days. As a matter of fact, we were told many magazines still use physical layout boards and even cut out galley columns. (As a note, I have to say the magazines I’ve worked with haven’t used physical galleys or boards for the last 20 years at least.) Even if they don’t want the ability to see a layout on a system larger than the average computer screen, to use touch to move pages around, to collaborate across different screens, and to mark up content is valuable and gives publishers, artists, and editors better control over what they’re doing.

All the hardware products are concept products, and Adobe isn’t revealing how it plans to go to market with it. Project Concept looks like it is further away from becoming a product than the pencil and ruler tools. In a question and answer session at Max, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen displayed little interest in taking its new hardware products to market. Rather, he said, he expected there would be plenty of retail partners willing to take these new products to market.

However, in casual talks with other Adobe employees, it seems as if there is plenty of debate still going on about how these products might reach customers. The big obvious stumbling block is the pencil is dedicated to Adobe’s products and does not work with other drawing tools for tablets. Dowd thought customers like Autodesk might be willing to license the technology. I don’t see them falling all over themselves to support Adobe’s products but these things tend to work out differently than you think they will. If it’s worth it, people and companies find ways to work together.

Never mind, all that is a rabbit hole. We’ll have more on all this in future issues. The point here is that we have given up a lot of capabilities along the way to adjusting to the digital world. Designers everywhere will tell you how much they need to draw. We’ve given up our messy desks, or worse, we have a messy desk and a messy computer and it’s even harder to find and organize documents. We’ve lost true interactivity, and instead we work through metaphor – if you’ve ever used a CAD program you know what I mean.

Adobe’s new tools are simple; they let us use our hands in the ways we’re used to using them. That’s huge.