INTERVIEW: Adobe on Photoshop 3D printing, Creative Cloud, and flat design

Jayesh Shinde | Published 26 Feb 2014
INTERVIEW: Adobe on Photoshop 3D printing, Creative Cloud, and flat design
  • We discuss how Photoshop's evolving to tackle 3D printing, the rise of Creative Cloud, flat design, and the new age creative professional

We spent an afternoon chatting up with Adobe’s Paul Burnett and Karl Soule, both distinguished creative professionals in their own right and Adobe evangelists no less, to try and understand Adobe’s take on 3D printing, the nuances of Creative Cloud, and what it means to be a creative professional in the 21st century. Exclusive excerpts from our interview:

Q) Adobe Photoshop is traditionally recognized as an advanced 2D design software. How do you see it adapting to the disruptive phenomenon of 3D printing?
Paul Burnett: A few years ago we added 3D to Photoshop and have improved upon it since then, and the reason we did that because there was no tool in the market that enabled 3D artists to easily work on the textures of 3D objects. Most of the apps like Studio, Maxx, etc., allowed you to output a texture mesh but it’s really difficult to paint on. So Photoshop gave those people a way to bring those models in and work visually on the textures almost as if they were picking up a 3D model with a paintbrush and painting on it. That really attracted a lot of people who worked with 3D to Photoshop. 
So yeah you can build simple 3D stuff, but I wouldn’t build anything complex in Photoshop. Instead use the 3D tools out there and bring them in to do some manipulation and enhancement of the 3D models. One thing we found out people were doing as soon as we added 3D support in Photoshop, is that they were using 3D models in their compositions. 
Also, people always think of Photoshop to be just a photo manipulation tool, but it also has video editing capabilities. That’s a big part of Photoshop as well, bring video, audio, and 2D compositions. And the beauty of is that I can bring all the power of Photoshop’s ‘still’ editing (layer effects, blend modes, etc) into my videos in Photoshop. So really it’s a much bigger tool than just used for photo manipulation – it’s also for 3D.
Karl Soule: We hear a lot of people say that they only use 20 per cent of Photoshop and one of the key things about it is that the 20 per cent you use may be different from 20 per cent I use or 20 per cent that someone else uses. It’s clearly one of those things that anybody who’s creative has a copy of it on their desktop. It’s a one-stop shop for a lot of things. It’s amazing how it’s evolved over the years and how it’s continuing to grow in the whole 3D printing space.

Adobe's Karl Soule and Paul Burnett showing off 3D printed objects from Photoshop

Q) With the consumerization of 3D printing, how do you see Photoshop (or other Adobe products) giving creative professionals the power to do?
Paul: Obviously, there’s a huge emerging interest in 3D printers. As the technology becomes better, the cost comes down and they become more accessible to the general public. They want a way to be able to easily create their own content, whether it’s buying their own 3D printer or whether it’s doing it through someone like, the ability to print something in 3D is simply pretty cool. And for a variety of reasons people want to be able to do that. 
We saw that there was a real gap from the tooling to simplifying the process. So just grabbing a 3D model and often a lot of 3D software is quite complex for people to get into. So giving people the ability to use models, manipulate them very simply, give them an interface to manipulate the textures, composite different elements together is important – and Photoshop all does that. It’s a tool they’re all used to already gives them the ability to create and enhance those 3D elements, and then just simply print it – whether it’s a local 3D printer or an online one. And the response from the industry to this Photoshop feature has been phenomenal.
Karl: I really think this is going to be one of those pivotal moments how desktop publishing or digital video was, where you kind of look back on the old way of doing things and in the long run having a common platform to make sure things will be able to print properly, to have the ease of use that Photoshop’s providing is going to be a big deal moving forward. 
Q) Do you see Adobe tackling the market of 3D printing in the form of plugins and extensions to existing products in their portfolio, or do you think a comprehensive product specifically geared to attack 3D printing is currently missing?
Paul: We’ll assess what’s happening in the industry in the near future, but at the moment there are awesome 3D tools in the market already that own the space. Why would we want to compete with those? We’ll have tools that enhance the content of another product but don’t necessarily replace it. Unless things change, and we get a lot of feedback that people want simpler 3D tools, then maybe we might look at doing it. 
Q) Two years on since Creative Cloud’s introduction, how has the development cycle changed when it comes to working on a cloud software solution and your relationship with customers?
Paul: What’s great about Creative Cloud is because it’s a subscription, we can release updates whenever we want. And the thing that’s interesting about it is that we can respond far more quickly to customer feedback. We have a much more responsive development cycle, we can release small features as they’re needed and as we develop them. Also one of the things that happened in the past – and this is true with every software company – as we’re developing a list of features targeting a release date, sometimes we have to cut features here and there to meet the release date, and push it onto the next cycle. 
Talking about rapid development and reacting to customer’s need, we took a bunch of our Photoshop developers to Photoshop World, and we actually made them sit in a room and had people go suggest feature updates or tweaks. Just imagine, these developers were fixing things and changing things at Photoshop World on the fly in front of customers! That’s the sort of rapid development that we can start to look at. 
We analyzed this about 3D printing last year, too. We saw the industry having this big gap in the solutions space, so we developed a 3D printing solution inside Photoshop and people loved it. And that’s the benefit of Creative Cloud over iterative software release model. And it’s also changed our relationship with our customers. We now have a closer relationship with our customers who think they’re part of the development process for tools that they use. And that’s great.
Q) Can you speak a little bit more about Behance and Muse?
Paul: Behance is a social network that started a few years ago for creatives. Nothing to do with Adobe, it was started by industry professionals and had a huge amount of response. And there’s a whole range of things you can do on Behance, one of which is to share and show off your work – and which creative doesn’t like to do that? One of the reasons why they want to do that is that it gives them career opportunities. 
On Behance, customers and employees are going to hunt for creative professionals, which is great. The other thing is that creatives love to network, get feedback from people, the pains of their job, get inspiration and share the work they’re doing. On Behance today I can put up a work in progress with a press of a button and get feedback from a targeted set of people or just about everyone else. And what’s interesting about Behance is that people are supportive, people are giving constructive ideas and not being rude, which is nice. And although we’ve acquired Behance, we’re very careful not to change anything, not to make it a corporate network and we’re running it as the community would want, careful not to change its successful charm. Behance is one of those things that you give back to the community of creatives out there. 
Muse is a product influenced and conceptualized very heavily from InDesign – the idea of working on master pages, template pages, drag and drop content and style it. So no coding, you don’t have to look at JavaScript, no HTML, no CSS. It’s all just color, palette, fonts, style, etc. So who is it for? It’s for designers who can’t code, never want to see code in their lives, for working on a small brochure kind of website (which can be both static and dynamic) which is simple to do. 
The other side of it is that it links in very nicely into Business Catalyst, which is part of the Creative Cloud – where you get five free sites with every subscription – which lets you do extensive backend work. Must lets me create the frontend (with no code), Business Catalyst allows me to do the backend, the two link together and I’m still not touching any code, just working with widgets to design and run a successful website. So Muse is like a design view of DreamWeaver with no code to be worried about.
Q) Skeuomorphism is dead and flat design is all the rage right now. Do you think it’s a shift within the designer’s mindset to consciously work on flat design or if this is a passing fad?
Paul: If you look back at design since desktop publishing started, it goes through fads and phases. Sometimes there’s six month fads, sometimes there’s 4-5 year fads. I think the flat design now is a very big reaction to the past phase of 2D design trying to imitate 3D. I quite like flat style. As things are with design phases, this too will move on and date. But I think it’s good, it’s brought a new life to design, a new approach and interest, which is nice.
Karl: I think the big change was the introduction of the very first iPhone and the touchscreen as an input device. For trying to understand how to use software applications, skeuomorphism is a perfect way. For design to be be dictated by something based on knobs and switches in the early wave of digital devices 20-30 years ago was perfectly natural, in many ways necessary. So is moving to flat design a natural progression and with touchscreen becoming more prevalent with almost every device we use these days, I don’t think there will be anything to go back to (in terms of design).  
Q) Do you agree that creative professionals in the digital age have to juggle through different competencies?
Paul: It’s not 100 per cent true. But I think there was a period of time where creative professionals were slotted into a niche, and in order to be an expert you had to just work on one specific area. Let’s take a look at the profession of developer – earlier you couldn’t be anything else but a developer because there’s so much code to learn, etc. I think today’s tools have made things easier because developers or any other creative professional don’t have to spend so long becoming competent in a task, all thanks to the software. And that’s freed people up to enter into different vocations. A still photographer in the past suddenly has more time be a videographer, and you’re also learning the editing tools to do enough justice to do it. That’s the fact these days, that so many people now aren’t just working as individual experts. 
One of the reasons why the Creative Cloud’s so successful. Because earlier we used to sell it as boxed sets asking whether you’re a designer, video guy, or a web guy. Now, you’re just a creative guy.

NOTE: Answers attributed to...
Jayesh Shinde
Jayesh Shinde

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