Adobe MAX 2020 Takeaways: Creative Systems, AI+Design, And Accessibility
This year’s Adobe MAX Creativity Conference keynote hit consistent themes that Adobe has focused on for years, such as creativity for all, accelerating creation, enabling collaboration, and elevating skills. That’s not an indictment; it’s a sign the company has a clear strategy for its creativity offerings and is sticking to it.
Adobe Creative Cloud has posted impressive results during the pandemic, but the company faces competition. Figma, Sketch, and InVision are attracting more product design users. Canva and others are attracting visual designers. Even TikTok can be a substitute and competitor for some of the video products in Adobe’s lineup. And Adobe is clearly listening — Chief Product Officer Scott Belsky used language that Figma has popularized, such as “multiplayer” and “single player” in referring to collaborative design.
Against this backdrop of consistency and competitive pressure, three developments stand out.
Creative systems — part overblown, part legit. This year, Adobe rolled out a new theme to articulate its value for its enterprise users: “creative system.” The idea is that Adobe will act as a company’s single source of truth for assets and its design systems and be the hub where creative work gets done.
In one sense, this is ridiculous, because creativity and a “creative system” should include things like processes, rituals, mindsets, and culture. (Creativity, Inc. is a great book on the topic.) And these are things that software affects indirectly, if at all. Adobe doesn’t even have a conversation-style collaboration tool like Slack or Teams that form the backbone of many human interactions (and creative discussion) in a modern workplace.
However, disjointed workflows between tools, combined with frustration at trying to find the right assets, do hinder creativity — and Adobe clearly aims to help. Adobe seems to understand this and is uniquely suited to do it because it sits at the center of so many creative workflows. This also aligns perfectly with Adobe’s efforts to enable at least visual design and visual expression creativity among everyone in an organization. It’s early days but something to watch closely.
My colleague Jay Pattisall has been researching creativity in the enterprise, and he and I have written about the opportunities and challenges here and here. Nick Barber’s research also connects content creativity to direct conversion growth.
AI+design — more power, more responsibility, less repetition. Adobe also continued its push to remove repetitive tasks and add powerful capabilities enabled by AI. It rolled out things like a sky replacement feature and Neural Filters to make a person in a photo or video look happier or sadder or change their apparent age. While Snapchat and others have done this for years, Adobe adds credibility to this kind of editing. But it raises ethical questions that the company is trying to address with its Content Authenticity Initiative. We’ve examined the topic in this report and others. There are also implications for agencies in terms of workforce transformation. These features will undoubtedly save time and unlock new ideas from Adobe users, and this points to the company’s continued success using design and AI to enhance its products (something I highlighted in last year’s MAX blog post).
Accessibility and inclusion — not enough attention to Adobe’s progress. My colleague Gina Bhawalkar laments that Adobe was quieter than it should have been about Liquid Mode in Adobe Acrobat Reader, a significant advancement in using AI and machine learning to improve document readability and comprehension — eliminating the need to pinch and zoom by automatically reformatting documents and letting readers customize type-size and line-space settings based on their abilities and needs. In a world where accessibility is a legal requirement and good business, Adobe has made big strides. Its keynote announcement of new auto-transcription and captioning capabilities in Adobe Premiere Pro is evidence of this and — we hope — a signal of more features to come that power people to create inclusive content.