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We love seeing how physical products are made: it’s exciting to see drawings come alive. But we haven’t really talked to any designers who focus on software—until now. We’re excited that Khoi Vinh and Adobe have given us the opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see how the development of their Adobe Comp CC iPad app came about. Adobe Comp CC is a new app that makes it easy to develop wireframes and mock layouts that sync with your Creative Cloud libraries. You can pull colors, images, graphics and text styles you already use in Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign or get assets from your creative team’s shared library. Use your finger, or a stylus to bring layouts to life in minutes. Brooklyn-based designer Khoi Vinh writes about design, technology and culture on his site, subtraction.com in addition to serving as Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. We talked to Khoi a little bit about his process and how he ended up working on Adobe Comp CC with Adobe:
Did you always want to be a designer? How did you come to this career path?
By now, I’ve been a designer longer than I’ve wanted to be anything else, so I suppose the answer to your first question is yes! Most kids don’t know what design is (or didn’t used to?) and neither did I. I went to art school thinking I might become an illustrator, but then I discovered graphic design, which led to web design, which led to designing software interfaces.
What kind of Adobe software did you use on a regular basis prior to working with them on this app?
I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator literally since I first started learning what design was, so those are almost like natural extensions of my brain. I also use InDesign occasionally—I designed my recent book How They Got There: Interviews with Digital Designers About Their Careers using it.
How did this project with Adobe come about?
The project came about through a friendship with Scott Belsky, who was co-founder and CEO of Behance. When his company was acquired by Adobe, he asked me if I had any ideas for mobile creativity apps, based on the experience I had with a startup I founded in 2011 called Mixel, which initially focused on creativity software for iPads. I told him yes, I’d learned a lot from that experience, and so I wrote up some thoughts, which he liked enough to turn into a team. I’ve been working with that team since late 2013, and we launched Comp CC in March of this year.
Are you used to designing with teams or alone? What do you like best and why?
I’ve done both—big teams, small teams and by myself. I like having a mix of working on projects small enough for me to get done at my own pace as well as projects with teams that could do so much more than I could ever hope to do on my own. Having the variety is really important to me.
How do you like to work? Does it involve pencil and paper? Lots of coffee? Loud music?
I do a lot of sketching and brainstorming—both with pen and paper and now with Comp CC! I tend to turn to my favorite design books a lot; old annuals from the Society of Publication designers are always helpful, and also monographs from Massimo and Lella Vignelli, from whom I’ve always borrowed liberally.
What was one feature or iteration that you decided against and why?
In the beginning I expected that Comp CC would have a “snapshot” feature—a button that users would press periodically to capture a moment in the design explorations that the app enables. But that proved to require too much proactivity from users; what we learned through lots of formal and informal user testing was that users rarely remembered to press that button. So we switched to a comprehensive—and frankly, pretty amazing—history engine that captures *every* iteration of a user’s layout exploration, regardless of how small. This allows users to rewind the app to any point in their brainstorming processes at any time. No more need for proactively pressing a button; the app does it all for you.
What was one of the challenges in creating the app? How did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been figuring out the interaction “vocabulary” for being productive on an iPad. These devices get knocked a lot for being better for consuming stuff than for working, and that’s partly fair. But what we’ve been focused on is figuring out ways of creating real work that are truly native to the multi-touch environment. So instead of selecting a tool to create a circle or a square or a block of text, as you would on a desktop, in Comp CC you can instead just draw a circle, square or block of text with your finger. What results is a “real” circle, square or block of text that can be resized, colored, manipulated etc. just as you would be able to in any of Adobe’s desktop apps—but in a much more natural, comfortable way.
Who will use Comp CC and how?
This is an app that’s built for designers, particularly print designers or digital designers who do a lot of marketing work. It’s really intended to let you play with your own logos, images, colors, and shapes to “discover” new layout combinations in a super speedy way.
We also have a secret hope that, because it’s really incredibly easy to use Comp CC, it will find a wider audience. You don’t actually need to be a designer to use it; it’s much, much simpler to master than Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator because it focuses purely on the brainstorming or creative exploration phase.
What is your favorite Comp feature and why?
There are three! First, being able to draw what I see in my mind and have it turn into real objects is fantastic. Second, our rich history feature, which lets me rewind to any point, is completely liberating. And third—okay maybe this is my true favorite—being able to export my Comp CC work to Adobe’s desktop apps, and have the work translated so it’s a true Photoshop, Illustrator or InDesign file, is a game changer. That lets me make the most of the exploratory environment of the iPad, but then I can turn that work into true production files on the desktop.
Working with Adobe seems like a designer’s dream job. What advice would you give to young designers looking to achieve similar success?
Well, I think Adobe is in a unique place right now because they’re transforming their own business. They’ve adopted a whole new attitude towards solving real world problems, and they’re being very open about how they do that. I think if you’re a working designer with great ideas to contribute, then you should find Adobe folks on social media—they’re very open—and engage with them, share your ideas, become a known quantity to the teams. That’s much easier to do that you think, and it opens up tons of opportunities.
Thanks Khoi! You can download the Adobe Comp CC iPad app here.