Adobe MAX 2014 marked the second year as the reinvented “Creativity Conference” aimed at designers. This has been a significant shift in what was historically a developer conference. However it is also a reflection of recent changes at Adobe which has adjusted to life after the Flash Platform. This is a very sensible move by the company with its long and dominant history in design tools. The developer market, like the MAX conference, was inherited through the acquisition of Macromedia in 2005.

Adobe put enormous effort into both the Flash platform and the associated development tools over the ensuing years, but the rise of mobile and HTML5 proved terminal for what was once a ubiquitous feature of the web (over 90% of computers had Flash installed). Though it is worth noting that the Flash runtime is still installed on a large percentage of computers and Adobe continue to support Flash.

The focus on the creative role at MAX also highlights some important dynamics occurring in the enterprise development market. Interestingly it opens the way for unlikely partnerships and collaboration. Adobe MAX 2014 was not without some surprises.

Creative Cloud becomes The Platform

MAX 2014 was therefore primarily significant for the design market and Adobe started to truly deliver on the promise of Creative Cloud. Since its launch in 2012 Adobe has had great success in moving customers away from its traditional software licensing model to subscriptions. For many of those customers Creative Cloud has been simply the distribution mechanism by which they get the products that they have always used (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and so on).

While Creative Cloud has always been more than just a delivery mechanism its features have largely failed to be noticed by much of the customer base. Even more recently Adobe started to launch mobile apps aimed at designers. These have been feature specific and their use and audience somewhat unclear.

With the launch of the Creative Profile at MAX the mobile and cloud strategy became clear.

Creative Profiling unleashed

The Creative Profile connects the various Adobe tools that a customer may use across various platforms. Similar to the way in which Microsoft OneDrive connects a user with their files no matter what device they are using. An example of the Creative Profile in action is where a user might take an image with their phone; turn that image into a texture (small image that can be used to paint a larger object) using one of Adobe’s mobile apps; then use that texture in Photoshop on the desktop. Through a user’s Creative Profile they have access to images, brushes, colour palettes and other design artefacts across devices and tools. Underpinning this is Adobe’s Creative Cloud which is where these profiles are stored. At MAX we got to see these type of workflows in action and it was certainly impressive.

What does it mean for developers?

The key question for Creative Intellect was how is Adobe relevant to developers today? Since the rise of HTML5, Adobe’s developer offering has become small, diverse and somewhat confused. How so?

Well Dreamweaver, perhaps the last standing “What You See Is What You Get” (WYSIWYG) HTML tool created by Macromedia, still lives on and continues to be improved upon. Dreamweaver plays an important role in Adobe’s ecosystem in educating designers about designing for web. Adobe has recently added some other HTML5 development tools such as open source Brackets and the Edge family of tools.

Then there is PhoneGap which the company acquired in 2011 and open sourced shortly thereafter as Apache Cordova. Adobe continues to call its flavour of Cordova, Adobe PhoneGap and has created Adobe PhoneGap Build, a cloud based service for building cross platform (iOS, Android, Windows Phone etc.) mobile apps. Many other vendors use Cordova as a key component of their mobile development platforms. Adobe has by comparison done very little with it (even removing the integration with Dreamweaver). Adobe has focused on integrating PhoneGap Enterprise with their Adobe Experience Manager solution, called AEM Apps that also integrates Digital Publishing Suite.

The important announcement at MAX for the developer audience was Creative Cloud Extract. Extract is a service that can be accessed through a web browser via Creative Cloud Assets, Adobe’s hosted file sharing and collaboration service. Extract is also available as a feature in Photoshop CC and in Dreamweaver, to reach a wide spectrum of users. The objective is to solve one of the oldest challenges in the world of digital design and something that Adobe has been trying to do for a number of years through various tooling products: That is how to bridge the gap between designers and developers.

Extract aims to solve this problem in several ways. First, by giving developers the ability to quickly extract design information in the browser, rather than manually slicing and dicing a Photoshop file that a designer sent them. Secondly, by giving designers who create Photoshop comps the ability to easily extract optimized production assets from layers or layer groups in their Photoshop file and hand off that information to a developer. In the past, exporting images from a PSD was a tedious and repetitive process, requiring as many as 15 steps for a single asset. And third, Adobe has gone further and embedded Extract into Dreamweaver, so developers can work with PSDs as they code. Adobe also has plans to do the same with other developer tools within its portfolio. The larger hope for us is that Extract will come to third-party developers such as Visual Studio.

Through Extract in the browser, the developer can view a Photoshop file and then extract from it the image assets and other information that they need to recreate the design as an HTML page. The tool is not just about cutting out images, but also provides developers with Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) snippets, information about fonts, colours, and gradients, as well as detailed measurements so that they know where to place items on the page relative to one another.

All these are things that developers have struggled with through the use of Photoshop over many years. The CSS output is particularly powerful because it saves developers having to work out for example, that a specific piece of text is font x, size y and colour z and then bring that together in their stylesheet. Instead by highlighting that text, Extract gives them a snippet of CSS that contains all of that relevant information ready to copy and paste into their stylesheet.

Beyond Extract

One route for this is via the Creative SDK, officially launched as public beta at MAX, which allows functionality of Creative Cloud to be included in other applications. Currently this is only available to mobile apps however future releases could bring this to the desktop. In which case vendors could include features such as Extract and perhaps the Creative Profile in their own developer tools. A second route is that Extract comes to Visual Studio via the Adobe/Microsoft relationship which was emphasised at MAX.

Frenemies unite for the sake of designers and developers

New Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen appeared together on stage during the Day 1 Keynote. They showed off some of the work that the two companies have done around Microsoft’s Surface device. Surprisingly, and in what might be considered a surreal moment, a theatre of 6000 Apple fanatical designers gave Nadella a standing ovation. The result of this close working relationship could be to finally bring the Adobe design world and Microsoft development world together through an integration between Creative Cloud and Visual Studio.

This could be especially important to enterprises whose developers are going to increasingly need to embrace design, something which they have largely not had to do. For developers within digital agencies used to working closely with designers the Extract tool will be an instant quick win. However to make it work within the enterprise an integration with Visual Studio will most likely be a must. Had the large number of long suffering digital agency developers been in the Nokia theatre they would have certainly given Extract a standing ovation of its own.

Targeting the enterprise

The issue of the enterprise raises another challenge for Adobe’s vision. As already outlined, the foundation on which the Creative Profile and tools such as Extract are built, is the Creative Cloud. For many enterprises the cloud, at least outside of their organisation, is a no go area. Concerns about security, privacy and Intellectual Property (IP) protection mean that too many enterprises simply do not trust and will not use clouds outside of their firewall. This poses an obvious challenge for Adobe, but it is one that they are aware of. We therefore believe that it is something that they will work to address in the near future.

The good news for Adobe is that their enterprise business is growing. We are not surprised by this as we see design becoming increasingly important within enterprises. Long neglected, especially within IT, the demands of the digital landscape and in particular web and mobile, means that enterprises must now deliver great user experiences. These are not just to their external customers but also to internal employees and supply chains. As enterprise IT takes greater ownership of the type of development projects that it once outsourced to agencies they must also embrace design. That is going to mean more developers needing tools like Extract and working with Creative Cloud.

Developers, there is hope

This year’s MAX was a success for Adobe as they start to put real meat on the bones of their Creative Cloud investment. For their core and traditional market of designers this will shape the ways in which they work in future. But it is also going to have an impact on an increasing proportion of the developer community and by what was seen at MAX their future is looking a little brighter as well. As Adobe reduce their investment in developer tools they may just become more relevant to developers than ever before.