Adobe has done it again. I’m talking about the twenty billion dollar deal to buy Figma, of course. They’ve taken over their competitor and I’m pretty sure they’re determined to destroy it. “Why the pessimism?” you might ask, and I would be happy to answer: “Because they do it all the time. I have seen it too many times”.
It all started with Macromedia Freehand. When Adobe bought it in 2005 for $3.4 billion. And Freehand was good software. Most professionals thought it was better than Adobe’s Illustrator. It had tons of features that Illustrator took years to implement, like multiple pages in a document. To this day, Illustrator lacks the precision when working with vectors that made Freehand such a joy to use. Freehand had a huge following. But instead of merging the two rival products, Freehand and Illustrator, Adobe simply killed it off.
And then there was Macromedia Flash. I know, I know, it’s a good thing it’s gone now, but why? Macromedia’s Flash (part of the same acquisition as Freehand) was a perfectly good product. It opened up the internet to possibilities that had never been seen before. And those Flash web sites were light and high performing. It opened up a whole new chapter in interface design. Only now, 15 years later, do we seem to have reached a point where designers are able to think as freely with new technologies like Java Script and Canvas as they did with Flash.
When Adobe got their hands on Flash, they didn’t hesitate to rewrite the scripting language twice within a few years, making it almost impossible to keep up to date. At the same time, they failed to extend the features already present in Flash, such as 3D and audio, or to develop much-needed improvements such as a search-engine-readable data format, responsiveness to screen sizes and, of course, security. It was clear that Adobe just didn’t care, that they bought Macromedia just to make it disappear.
My prediction for the future of Figma is that it will lose momentum and reach a dead end within a few years. Adobe won’t be able to integrate it seamlessly into their portfolio, and their own products will become better than what’s left of Figma. The opportunities that Figma provided for diverse and innovative web development will disappear.
And that is just not good for the web.
Why doesn’t Adobe just face up to the competition?
Why doesn’t Adobe just face the competition and rise to the challenge? They could easily improve their own products to simply be better than these newcomers. It would only be a matter of resources. Imagine if Adobe had taken that twenty billion dollars and hired developers with it. If they hired really good senior developers at $250 an hour and made them work 250 days a year (with weekends off and a few days of vacation), they would still be able to pay for a team of 1,000 people for 40 years. How much innovation could that produce?
How good can Adobe products get? And let’s face it, there’s plenty of room for improvement. Here are just a few ideas:
- Why does each Creative Cloud software have different keyboard shortcuts? Why do I have to remember “send to bottom layer” for each product? Why can’t I just edit all my shortcuts in one place and check a “sync” box?
- Why can’t I drag and drop Photoshop or Illustrator files into Adobe Experience Designer? Embed them as PNG or SVG files and let me edit the source file if I need to. And from here, why can’t I just use all the proprietary Adobe file formats inside each other? It’s their own world, they could just do that.
- Why do these fancy Photoshop neural filters feel like it’s 1999? They’ve invented a disturbingly unfamiliar interface for them, and the processing takes ages because it’s done in the cloud. Does anyone remember Kai’s Powertools from 1992?
- Why is it so hard to collaborate in all their products? It’s easy with Visual Studio Code (and Figma, of course).
- What the hell is Adobe Edge Animate?
- What is the purpose of Photoshop these days? Is it software for photographers, for painters and digital artists, for designers? There’s just too much functionality piled on top of each other.
What could be better?
The first thing Adobe should do is clean up its portfolio. Then they should streamline their interface design and make it consistent across all their products. They should make all their software interoperable and feel like a family.
Then they can start surprising us with cool stuff like Neural Filters and the great watercolour effect of Adobe Fresco (which, by the way, is unrivalled by more successful competitors like ProCreate).
I’m sure they don’t need 1,000 top-notch developers to do that. Just a vision of what kind of brand they want to be. Oh, I forgot, they seem to have made that decision already.