Design and Development of Adobe Ink

Remember last month when we gave you the rundown of the revolutionary Adobe Ink and Slide? It’s the new cloud pen (Ink) and digital ruler (Slide) made by Adobe as a completely new way to draw and sketch on the iPad. Both tools can be used with two of their new apps – Adobe Line, a straight line drawing app (think rulers, T-squares, and shape templates), and Adobe Sketch, which is an art app. Even if you’re not a designer or artist, you can use the tools and apps to doodle or use the Ink as a regular stylus to navigate around your iPad. These devices may be small, but they pack a powerful punch in hopes of bringing inspiration to your fingertips. Take a look at the long process of getting Ink ready for the market in this month’s Deconstruction.


The design and development of Adobe Ink according to Geoff Dowd, Principal Designer at Adobe: This is the first-ever drawing of Adobe Ink. I created this with no industrial design skills – as you can clearly tell. I had just an hour to create this before the pitch to my boss and it had one mission: depict a futuristic, stylish pen for the iPad, the likes of which you’ve never seen. And it had a bright LED for fun.

I learned something important from this, however: Draw what you want to be real. :)


Industrial design evolution of Adobe Ink.


Original appearance model photo shoot.


Form variations: square twist and triangle twist


The wired prototype.


The iconic aluminum briefcase: security.
Adobe’s first ever hardware deserved a special level of security. I chose the iconic “Halliburton Zero” aluminum combo-lock briefcase, primarily so that it was always in my hand and the combination in my head. Specially outfitted with a custom foam insert, it cradled the appearance models and prototypes at every stage of the process over two years. I never left it in a car, and I always had it with me. Once, a TSA agent at Los Angeles International Airport stopped me and took an unusually long time evaluating my briefcase’s contents. It turns out she was an amateur illustrator. As she carefully examined a model of Ink she said, “An Adobe pen, huh? Very cool…”


This is the “KAWS 1” wireless prototype code-named after one of my favorite contemporary artists. I should probably send him a proper Adobe Ink. This prototype was the very first wireless, Bluetooth LE, pressure sensitive Ink with onboard memory, status LED’s and all. It was living proof that Ink could work — and work well. I can’t overstate the importance of this first prototype; not only did it prove our hypothesis that a cloud enabled pen would work, but it is the same one that was on stage at Adobe MAX when we shocked the creative community by announcing our foray into hardware. KAWS 1 still works!


Anodized black with cap. Rejected design. This charging mechanism design – removing the pen cap and sticking the pen tip into the charging block – was finally rejected after quite a long love affair. Why? Because we needed to move charging to the back of the pen. Honestly, it was a blessing in disguise. You can see in the photo that we had a removable cap. I loved this because the cap added a finishing touch to the pen that made it incredibly refined and sculptural. However, my boss pulled me into his office and said, “People are going to lose the cap, and they are going to blame you.” He had a point, as good bosses usually do, and so the cap was lost forever.


Schematic Design: Dreaming up cloud capabilities

Your finger is not connected to the cloud, nor is it good for drawing. Even the finest pen, though great for drawing, is not connected the cloud. In a day and age where everyone is connecting to a cloud of some sort, why not hook up your creative implements? From day one we imagined an Adobe Creative Cloud pen that would be a conduit to your creative style (images, colors, brushes, etc.) on any screen, anywhere you traveled with your pen. When you unbox your Adobe Ink, you can link it to your Creative Cloud account. Once you’ve done so, your color themes and clippings automatically are associated with your Ink. This is the beginning of a platform. What would you keep “in” your Adobe Ink?


We knew we had one shot to get Adobe’s first entrance into hardware right. After exploring a wild range of sophisticated, abstract packaging… I woke up in the middle of the night, rushed to work and sheepishly pleaded with the team, “hey… maybe it should be a straight-forward photo representation of Ink and Slide, plain and simple.” It was really a relief to everyone, and we then got to play with more structural and graphic themes in other places in the packaging. I’m proud of our design. Simple and confident.


The final design.

Our shot of Ink in reality!


Thanks to Geoff Dowd, Principal Designer, Adobe (pictured above) with Adobe Ink and Slide for sharing this process with us!

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.