Adobe Extends Design Collaboration Beyond App Developers

Move recognizes growing need for multiple teams to work together

Software development has begun to appreciate more and more the importance of visual design and user experience. Many have come to recognize how better design and experiences lead to better outcomes for their business, such as improved productivity, efficiency and customer experience. This doesn’t just apply to solutions for customers and partners, but software used internally too.

In a recent global CCS Insight study, respondents said productivity, along with employee and customer experience were important priorities for enterprises today. Digital transformation means more software is developed within companies, as well as by independent software vendors and partners such as system integrators. For this software to produce maximum value, all parties involved need to work together and ensure their output delivers a great experience.

As software development organizations create new applications that provide better experiences, design skills and tools play a critical role in the overall process. As a result, designers find themselves working together within larger multidisciplined environments — not just involving developers but researchers, product owners and representatives from different lines of business. Adobe, a leading provider of design tools and services, has recognized this shift and has been creating new product features to address these needs.

Iterative Development Means Constant Collaboration

Collaboration was a main theme of Adobe’s creativity conference Adobe Max, held in October 2020, and Adobe Summit in April 2021. Historically, designers worked alone or within small teams of other designers. Clients were separate from the design process and the relationship between design and software development an awkward one. Today’s modern software development process within a progressive enterprise on a digital transformation journey will involve many different roles and multiple parties within a very iterative, or repetitive, creation process.

Development projects typically progress from a minimum viable product to something larger over time. This means parts of the traditional development process that perhaps only happened once — for example, requirement gathering and visual design — are now constant episodes in a product life cycle. This calls on parties to collaborate continually on iterations; to be efficient, they need a toolchain that can work with other products and systems, allowing efficient interaction and potential automation.

A reflection of this is the growing adoption of design systems. A single solution that would’ve had a bespoke design for its lifetime now has a design will evolve over time, and a single application may be part of a portfolio of applications. Collectively, it makes sense to share common design and experience principles. Applications are built to be used through one or more ways of delivery such as phones, tablets or the traditional desktop. Other modes of interaction that we’ll see more of in the future include the Internet of things, virtual and augmented reality and voice recognition.

A design system addresses these requirements by providing design assets and concepts that teams can apply to multiple experiences spanning different solutions and means of delivery. Adobe has been among the first to embrace design systems through its Adobe XD tool. But in the modern development process, a design system within a designer’s tool doesn’t answer all the questions. For example, how do people outside the design group review and approve? How do developers apply the system to applications?

Collaboration Requires Tool Chains

With so many different roles and people involved, the ability to collaborate on the creation and growth of a design system is critical to success. Although Adobe has shown this within Adobe XD for some time, it has greatly expanded on its collaboration capabilities in recent and upcoming product releases. The company has been laying the foundations by developing its cloud infrastructure and creating Adobe XD as a platform rather than just a product like Adobe Photoshop.

Adobe is taking advantage of the cloud aspect of its Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) with shared libraries. These libraries allow designers to work with others outside Adobe XD. Initially this sharing involved making designs available within web browsers for those without the Adobe XD application to view and interact with.

Adobe has since gone further. For example, integration with Microsoft Teams allows members of the software development process to access design assets, provide feedback, and receive notifications through the Teams environment when changes have been made. Adobe has expanded on this by integrating with Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory to support single sign-on across its creative products and Microsoft 365.

Another recent integration is between Adobe CC’s shared libraries and Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code, arguably the most popular software editor on the market, used by developers building applications for many different technologies and not just Microsoft’s. Through this integration, developers can access assets for a design system, for example, and incorporate them as code directly into their solutions.

This desire to collaborate on design isn’t new and Adobe has expressed it in different ways before. However, the difference now is that platforms such as Adobe CC and Adobe XD enable integrations with other tools that are familiar to those in the design process. For example, Adobe isn’t asking developers to switch to a different tool but is instead making its tools available in environments where developers work. This makes its tools much better to work with within the overall ecosystem and removes barriers to entry.

Other ways in which Adobe is embracing collaboration is by increasing its versioning capability of assets stored in Adobe CC. Software versioning is critical to an iterative process in which developers have the current state of design, future states and can refer to previous states. Another feature that’s coming soon is the ability to invite others to edit documents, and this will apply to several of Adobe’s tools such as Photoshop. Adobe’s intention is to deliver a collaborative design environment like Google did with Google Docs, where multiple editors can see changes in real time.

In addition to announcements from Adobe Max, the theme of collaboration also appeared in its presentation of potential future capabilities known as Sneaks, which offer a sneak peek at features that customers may get one day. One of them showed the potential for creators to eventually collaborate in an augmented reality environment.

Great Start but More Work Is Needed

All of this is a great start but Adobe has some way to go. For example, a single design asset can have its own life cycle that starts with the original requirement, advances to research, various early iterations and through feedback cycles, before moving on to production and eventually ongoing evolution. Just that single design asset can generate a large amount of metadata and accompanying documentation. This can cross over different tools and the need to be accessible by those involved in the process, through either their chosen tool or a single pane of glass defined by the organization.

Adobe has laid the foundations for this but will need to work with multiple partners including other software and service providers to deliver the integrations required for such an environment. Adobe’s work with Microsoft to integrate into its tools, and with IBM Services to help customers build out custom toolchain integrations are good examples of both. We’ll be following how both approaches ramp up and bear further fruit over the coming months.

The process by which organizations of all sizes create software is evolving into an iterative multidisciplined life cycle approach. As a result, the ability of those involved to collaborate, ideally through the tools they’re familiar with and best suit their role, is critical. Designers have a important role to play and their tools must enable this type of collaboration. Through the Adobe XD platform and its underlying cloud infrastructure, Adobe is delivering the capabilities that will enable design to play its role.