Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Two Years as an Anthropologist on the Photoshop Team

Charles Pearson (via Hacker News):

Almost two years ago, the Photoshop team pivoted to focus its energies and resources on design features and workflows. To be successful, the team needed to understand trends in design and tools, as well as develop connections and empathy to design and designers. Worth noting, the pivot happened not long after Adobe moved to a subscription service and away from big box releases every 1–2 years. The subscription model provided an opportunity for development to be more iterative, but so much had to be re-thought, including research and customer feedback loops. This was the task then: build deeper knowledge and empathy around UI design, as well as develop feedback loops suited to new development cycles. As an anthropologist and ethnographer (the first ever at Adobe!), I was hired as a consultant to help address those gaps.


While Photoshop had fantastic feedback loops and relationships with its photography and imaging customers, there was no real conversation happening with designers. The connections were weak.


We heard things like: “The limitations of Photoshop aren’t with visual design. It’s with capturing the experience — that’s where the barriers are.” Meaning, it was difficult to work quickly and efficiently on a design meant for multiple devices and/or multiple screens. It wasn’t easy to recycle and repurpose elements, to create a responsive design system.


The Photoshop team is organized by “molecules” — small teams of design, engineering, and management that work on a particular feature. So for example, one molecule, called Cyan (real name), developed artboards. Via a private group in Slack, which turns out to be easiest way to keep conversations focused and tight, we matched up around 20 designers with members of the Cyan team.

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