Designers are a protective bunch. We love our tools, and we’ll fight for them like a mother bear fights for her cubs. Like a carpenter or a mason, our tools are an extension of our hands and our minds. They become a part of us, as central to our functioning in the world as our brain, heart, and lungs. And possibly our spleen, assuming your spleen is important.
Creative design is a very personal, intimate process. It requires one to perch in front of nothing and, by sheer force of will, pull something out of the void, give it form, and release it into the world. You fight against self-doubt, questioning your own choices on a near-constant basis, often teetering on the edge of wiping the slate and starting over. It’s a rollercoaster, punctuated by moments of hesitation and anxiety, followed by pinpoint certainty and joyful surprise.
And our tools make it all possible. Just as a carpenter without a hammer is a guy punching wood, a photographer without her editing software is just a person that points things at people and makes them go “click.” Our tools help us, and in some ways, define us.
But why Adobe software? Why has that become the default for designers everywhere? How could one software company come to dominate the creative space so thoroughly?
The short answer is that their software is the best. The shorter answer is that we let them.
Hmmm… where to start?
Well, when a computer programmer and a graphic designer love each other very much, they get very close, touch each other’s keyboards, and start a massive multinational corporation that creates industry-dominating design software used by every person with a nose ring everywhere on the planet.
Adobe is the Microsoft of the computer-assisted design space. Sure, there are alternatives to Microsoft Windows. You could get a Mac, but most people don’t. You could use Google Docs instead of Word, but very few people do. You could substitute Keynote for PowerPoint, but that would mean getting a Mac, and unless you have a nose ring or a large tribal tattoo somewhere on your body, you probably won’t do that.
The same is true of Adobe products. Their Creative Cloud software collection currently includes over 30 applications — tools that are the industry standards for graphic designers, photographers, animators, video editors, motion graphics artists, and more. If you’ve ever flirted with visual design of nearly any stripe, you’ve likely encountered or used an Adobe application.
There are alternatives, of course. Instead of snuggling in with Adobe Photoshop, you could use GIMP, or Affinity Photo. These are good programs that replicate much of Photoshop’s capabilities. The problem is, they aren’t Photoshop. They’re good. Photoshop is better.
It’s the same with Adobe Illustrator. You could use Affinity Designer, or…Affinity Designer. But you won’t. And if you need After Effects for motion graphics, nothing else will do, unless you want to spend thousands of dollars.
Do you see the problem? There are alternatives, but as a rule, they aren’t as powerful, flexible, or as full-featured as Adobe products. And they aren’t as universally recognized. Adobe created the market for computer-assisted creative visual tools, and they essentially own it now.
If you’re a photographer, Adobe owns you. If you’re a professional illustrator, Adobe owns you. If you design logos, do page layout, create animations, or breathe on a regular basis, Adobe owns you.
Are Adobe Applications That Good?
That’s the rub. You are Adobe’s property, and you’ll welcome it because their software is excellent. With every revision to their core applications, they add innovative new features that extend what’s possible in the design space. They listen to their customers, and they implement features that make them better, faster, more efficient, and more creative.
Adobe products work, and they work the way designers want them to work. They’re intuitive, adaptable, and responsive, facilitating the creative process without getting in the way. In many ways, working in Adobe applications is as effortless as working with pen and paper, or paint and paper…or paper and paper, for you decoupage fans.
Photoshop is the gold standard for photo-manipulation, retouching, and bitmapped design. It does absolutely everything you could want, and if it doesn’t, nothing does. It was the first, and it’s still the best, by a wide margin.
Illustrator is used by a wide range of creatives, from logo designers to illustrators, animators to web designers. Illustrator was the first of its kind, and like Photoshop, it has consistently innovated itself into the top spot among vector-based illustrating tools.
After Effects is used by video producers and motion graphics artists around the world. It offers the most robust feature set in its class and can be expanded by hundreds of free and commercially-available plug-ins. It’s rare to find a video that wasn’t touched by After Effects at some point in its genesis.
Flash, Adobe’s proprietary web environment for rich multimedia websites, animations, games, and more? Well, that’s dead. But nobody’s perfect. They can’t all be gems.
And Adobe applications certainly have problems, issues that have gotten worse in recent years. A decade ago, Adobe applications were rock solid. Crashes were rare, and bugs were even more unusual.
That’s not the case anymore. Crashes happen, sometimes daily, and odd behaviors crop up from time to time. But, there’s not much you can do about it, because the alternatives aren’t alternatives, and if you remember, their terms of service say they own you. So suck it up, buttercup. You’re just a cog in Adobe’s world. Thankfully the good far out shadows the bad.
Bugs and crashes notwithstanding, you’d have to pry the Adobe apps out of our cold, dead virtual hands. You’re welcome to try and take them, but you’ll pull back stumps.
We Love Adobe. Sometimes We Hate Adobe. But We’re in a Committed Relationship for Life.
Adobe may own the market, but they do for a good reason. They make great software that no one else can touch, and they’ve made themselves indispensable to creative professionals across the rainbow of media.
We certainly use other tools from time to time. There are some things that other packages do better. And we might flirt with the competition, just to keep things fresh. But we always come home to Adobe software. It just gets us.