Billie Eillish and other creative celebrities have a lot to say about Adobe now that they’ve gone down the brand rep style of advertising. It is a software that is seemingly everywhere, with a rich history (including a kidnapping) and a great service. But is it worth it for freelancers?
Open up the lid of any creative freelancer’s Macbook (let’s be honest, most creative freelancers are using Macbooks, right…) and take a peek at the dock – what are you bound to see?
A browser, perhaps; maybe Spotify is pinned alongside some kind of note-taking app; maybe multiple open windows across the many jobs in progress; maybe an app or two you don’t recognise (because what is a creative freelancer if not unique?) But one thing you can be sure to find pinned at the bottom of the screen – for easy access and frequent usage – will be one, or more, of the Adobe Creative Cloud programs.
From InDesign and Illustrator, to Lightroom and Audition, Adobe seems to have the creative world covered. It’s not a new phenomenon, either – with Adobe still seemingly reigning strong as much in the cloud era as in the ‘install across 5 CD-ROMs’ times of yore.
But what do freelancers think of Adobe? Does its popularity in download numbers line up to the reality of day-to-day usage for those working for themselves (as opposed to for big agencies with big global licenses)? What is it that keeps Adobe ahead nowadays?
“I genuinely can’t think of things I don’t like,” says Bernadine Bröcker Wieder, part-time property developer who uses Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign for her business. “It is worth the amount I pay every month for the full suite. I even use Dreamweaver and Première Pro for at least one project a year.” It seems by having the subscription, you’re inspired to try out new forms of creation beyond your initial expertise – a sure win for creative types.
Bröcker Wieder talks about the length of time she’s stuck with Adobe as being one of the key things that keeps her coming back: “I like that although I trained in these tools at university more than 11 years ago, despite all the updates, I still can use it with confidence.”
Indeed, with many technology companies frustrating their customers with seemingly pointless changes which forces clunky behaviour change, 11 years seems like a century in the world of UX updates. (It took me weeks to stop swiping to open my iPhone – I still don’t understand why Apple changed something so crucial to the usage of the device…)
And it’s not just the consistency over time that delights users, but the consistency across applications. James Frewin, Creative Director at YSYS chimes in: “The fact that the interfaces are all super similar meant that once I learned Photoshop, to transition between to the others was pretty simple.” Patchi Dranoff, Independent Creative and Freelance Designer adds: “It’s pretty universal. I can learn a lot in each program and accomplish a lot with the combination of all the programs, plus files can speak with each other across programs.”
And it’s not just universal across the programs but across industries. William Armstrong, a Director who utilises InDesign, Photoshop and Lightroom in his work, says: “Overall I think Adobe is unrivalled and is a sign of creative professionalism for many small or independent creators who have varying formats of creative output between projects.” As the popularity of freelancing increases and the community becomes more accepted by traditional companies not used to working with those who are self-employed, the fact that Adobe brings a sense of credibility to creative freelancers is crucial. “I enjoy a sense of confidence that I’m using the best tools to express my vision,” Armstrong adds.
Of course, Adobe isn’t perfect, as Jonny Burch, Founder and Designer points out: “It’s buggy and slow. You can’t full-screen properly and the layout tools are really janky. The tools are really bloated, it’s not easy to get to the right setup without seeing lots of stuff you don’t need.” Saying that, Burch is still a customer: “If InDesign wasn’t the best print page layout tool I wouldn’t have Creative Cloud at all. All the other tools I use have viable alternatives, but as I have the subscription, I use the Adobe versions,” he adds. It seems that even if Adobe can’t charm you across the board, the fact that they have been instrumental in creating accepted standards throughout the creative industries – and have created tools for those various activities within – means usage is almost required in some sense.
It also seems that Adobe could very easily find themselves in the position of being replaced. Software is a dime a dozen nowadays, and the creation of new programs – both open source and as SaaS products – is continuing to accelerate with access to computational education reducing in price and accessibility. It’s also worth considering the fact that creative freelancers are adept at using multiple pieces of software to pull together quilt-like businesses in a more modular, but personalised, fashion, and thus are less likely to be loyal to something that doesn’t fit in.
Frewin noted: “I use Adobe products for video editing and photo editing because they are still best in class, but for UI design I moved to Sketch and now Figma. I know Adobe has XD now, but in my experience, it’s not as good as Figma, so I can’t see myself moving back anytime soon. I like Adobe as a company but I do get the impression that they’ve got comfortable in their position and allowed companies like Figma to get ahead in certain areas.”
It seems that for other software companies to catch up or even overtake Adobe, there needs to be not only an intuitive, powerful system that matches the creative’s prowess across many media, but one which allows for plugging into an already established standardised process of getting art out. It’s not just about the tools and what effects they allow you to create, but also about how easily the creative can get from internal concept to something out in the real world in its physical or digital form – not just a sketch on a board.
It is strange to think that most, if not all, of the creativity you’ll see today – whether that be on a billboard, a café menu or a magazine spread – will most likely have been created using the same software. No matter how diverse that creative is expressed, no matter how different the business or person behind it, our 21st Century world’s illustration and artwork and animation and design originates mostly in the same space. When you consider the coverage of technology companies today, the endless articles on Google and Amazon and Apple and Microsoft, Adobe software has a monopoly mostly forgotten about, even by those working with it each day.
Most creative freelancers don’t know it was a company started in Silicon Valley by two mathematicians John Warnock and Charles Geschke, and created in Warnock’s garage after leaving the infamous Xerox PARC. Even fewer know that Steve Jobs tried to buy the company for $5million in 1982, but was refused (though the Adobe investors did see the value in having him involved and sold him 19% of the company; no wonder most creative freelancers have Macbooks…) Most creative freelancers don’t know that Geschke was once kidnapped for four days – from the parking lot of their Mountain View office in 1992 – for a ransom of $650,000. (In a New York Times piece at the time, the F.B.I. agent said of one of the captors: “After a gentlemanly discussion he agreed to do the right thing and to take us to where Mr. Geschke was being held.”)
In short, most people aren’t much bothered with the history of the company fuelling their careers. It’s somewhat refreshing though, to not have the history of a corporation be front and centre in the marketing of their products – you won’t see the roots protruding through on the Adobe website or campaign materials. You won’t see slogans like ‘Don’t be evil’ being thrown back in the company face at each problematic move (and Adobe does have them – from security breaches to suppressing employee compensation, Adobe, like all companies, is not faultless). You’ll maybe notice the Warnock font in Adobe programs but that seems to be the limit of sentimental throwbacks obvious on the surface. It’s hard to really know what Adobe is all about.
Or is it? One area that creative freelancers do seem to appreciate Adobe the company, as opposed to the software itself, is in its support for the makers in the real world. Dranoff points out: “They have lots of education programs, which I support,” and Frewin adds: “I saw that they have a kind of ‘Creator-in-Residence’-style position where they help people work as a creator for a year or so…that kind of giving back to the community is amazing to see, so I really respect that.”
Maybe Adobe as an educator, a home for progression, and a hold-all for the creative freelance industry is what makes it so compelling beyond their software. If others are to catch up, there needs to be understanding of the mind and behaviours of this new creative class – in all its diverse, self-directed, modular form. Creative freelancers don’t love Adobe because their values align; they love it because it helps them translate what’s in their head into the real world, faster than anyone else.