Ten things I dislike about Adobe

Jamie Bridle / Founder
March 12, 2019

For those that don't know, Adobe are a huge US tech company that create software us designer types use in our craft. For decades we've invested in their tools, which have become the industry standard. However, not everyone is happy of late, myself included. In the interest of creative writing, and being able to have a cathartic rant, here's ten things I dislike about Adobe;

A brief history:
Back in the day, the go-to software for desktop publishing and page layout was QuarkXPress. Quark's story is now software folk-lore. It's an archetype of how to fall from grace; not paying attention to the market, not listening to your users and ultimately, thinking you're too damn clever.

In 1993, I attended University (yup, I'm old), and to be a designer back then, you needed to learn three pieces of software as a starting point; Quark for document page layouts, Photoshop for image manipulation and Freehand for vector drawing and logos. Freehand was a marvellous piece of software, intuitive and rich in its offerings. Owned by software company Macromedia, it was the number one selling vector drawing application of its time. In 2005, Adobe bought Macromedia to the tune of 3.4 billion dollars. By 2007, Freehand had been discontinued, strategically paving the way for its rival, Adobe Illustrator, to take its place. Strike number 01.

Back at University, learning QuarkXPress, then used by nearly every tabloid newspaper going, wasn't an easy process. At around £800+ for a user license, us student types carried around pirated versions contained on several floppy discs. Not even the humble student loan would cover the cost of it. With only one undo (thats right, the software had no idea of human error) and with no significant updates over the next six years, along came Adobe with its desktop publishing alternative; InDesign. With a fixed cost of £250, InDesign was a no brainer. It was slicker, cheaper and had as many undo's as your Macintosh's memory could handle. Each update was a progression of the other. And then, if things couldn't have been better, in 2003 along came the revelation that was Adobe Creative Suite. CS as it was known, was essentially InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat, all bundled together under one roof (or massive box). Each had its own place in the creative process, which meant seamless integration between program to program. Within a few short years, CS became the new industry standard, with millions migrating over to it due to the bundled value pricing and easy workflow.

Then, in 2013, CS became Creative Cloud, a monthly or annual subscription service delivered over the Internet. Each year, since I joined the hordes of other designers using CC, I saw my annual price go up and up again. What used to be a simple one-off fee for a box containing a few CD's and a manual, would now cost the humble designer £600+ per annum. Strike number 02.

The Creative Cloud service does come with a lot more than just the original four pieces of software that were contained in Creative Suite, including a font library called Typekit and a Behance (portfolio website) subscription. But, like a lot of other graphic designers, I don't need any of that extra baggage. And so the inability to pay for what you use, over time, causes resentment. Strike number 03.

One of the biggest factors with Creative Cloud is also the most contentious; What happens if you stop paying? It's simple, you lose access to the software as well as the ability to open work saved in it, leaving the files in your archive redundant. You can't open earlier versions of Creative Cloud or Creative Suite once the software has been updated. Strike number 04

And talking of updates. It felt like every morning, I would be prompted to install them. Updates to install on this, updates on the other. Progress? I encountered many issues after updating which meant getting our fonts to sync along with our software would incur opening terminal, a horrible 'code only' bit of system software that if it could talk would say things such as "what are you even doing here? You have no idea whats going on do you? Do you realise that you could probably break this computer?." All of this in order to find odd named files that Adobe had hidden in contentiously awkward places on my computer's hard drive, in order to delete them. Fifteen to twenty minutes out of my life. Every. Single. Time. Strike number 05.

Then in May 2014 the service was interrupted for over a day due to a login outage leaving everyone locked out of their Creative Cloud accounts. Adobe did apologise for this global failure after initially being asked whether customers would be compensated. Their reply; "We cannot offer compensation for the outage. I'm so sorry again for the frustration." Strike number 06

So what of the day to day? Well, creating a new document in Photoshop used to be simple, but now, we wait for around twenty seconds whilst a preview pane opens giving tons of options I don't need. The way around this was to implement 'Legacy View' where it would emulate what it used to look like on Creative Suite. Backwards to go forwards. Strike number 07.

My colleague, Amy, still has an open CC subscription. Last year, after being thoroughly fed up with applications crashing and fonts not syncing, she suddenly encountered a pop-up window, which looked as if a one-eyed hook handed pirate had decided to have a go designing it in Photoshop. In truth, it looked dodgy. The pop-up showed an error, requesting that Amy needed to attend to serious issues that had been found on her Mac. Feeling quite distraught, she called Adobe, and after one hour twenty three minutes on the phone, and giving the Adobe customer services employee the go-ahead to remotely dig around on her hard drive, the error (what ever it was) was resolved. Amy asked whether the pop-up had been legitimate seeing as it had looked so badly designed and bitmapped. The resulting response was indeed positive, that it was legit and it's (I quote) "how it's been designed". And what is it you produce again Adobe?, oh yeah, design and creativity software. Strike number 08.

I don't mind the existence of subscriptions per se, but not being able to purchase and use the software as a standalone is pretty harsh. Like me, I know a lot of designers who only use the four main design apps (InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat). It would be better if they considered bundling these together as a 'graphic designer' pack, if only to make it more affordable to young designers who are just starting out. And Adobe have been asked. Go onto most Adobe forums and you'll see a thread or two talking about this exact thing. So there's a definite reluctance to listen and to give. The exact same thing that got Quark into trouble all those years ago. A subscription based model should support paying for the services you require. Not this one. Strike number 09.

Then there's the monopoly. Up until quite recently, Adobe hasn't had a direct competitor, not one that has the potential for disruption. Adobe dominates the industry, and they know this. This is fundamental to how they have played the market. However, do not allow an inflated ego to stop you being adaptable. Strike number 10.

Luckily for me, nothing worthwhile has been added since I purchased CS6 (the last generation that came in a fat box) and so that's what we use when we have to. Our main workflow is now via Affinity Software, a UK based company who seem to be (slowly) taking on Adobe head on, just like Adobe did with Quark all those years ago. At the time of writing, each Affinity application costs £48.99. That's it. No rental. No bloated updates that leave your existing files redundant. Just a simple one off payment. It's not solely about the money though. These products are good. So good in fact that they have won several Apple Design awards.

So the moral here (if there is to be one), is that in business, we all need to listen and then act accordingly. Never, ever, think you're smarter than A, the competition and B, the customer. You aren't. I guess only time will tell what will happen to Adobe. Will they fall into the 'software half-wits hall of fame' for not paying attention?

In the meantime, I'm off to find my old QuarkExpress floppy discs to see if they make great mug coasters. I have a feeling they will. Can someone please bring some biscuits?

Update: Adobe Flash... That makes eleven!

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