In October, Adobe hosted its annual MAX conference — an opportunity to show off new features in its suite of programs and to connect designers with the newest technology. This year saw most likely the largest gathering of design nerds in history. Twelve thousand professionals from a multitude of industries flooded Las Vegas, sporting trendy glasses, MacBooks and sketchbooks. Adobe creates the programs that remain the standard within the field of design, and we were all here with the common goal of keeping up to date on the tools of our trade.
The mood in the room at the opening keynote address was one of curious excitement. Did they fix that annoying Photoshop bug? Is XD finally out of beta? Are they going to bring Flash back? Most of these questions were answered for us by the end of the week (and no, Flash is dead forever). I could happily talk all day about the new tweaks and changes to Photoshop and Illustrator, and most people would be bored to tears, but there were a few key takeaways from the conference that reflect on the larger tech industry as whole.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence were huge focuses from the start. Adobe has been implementing its Sensei system over the past year as a kind of back-end AI, enhancing such features as content-aware tools. We’ve known it was there, like a creepy, omnipresent HAL 9000 watching our every move, but we didn’t know what its purpose was. Turns out, it’s here to steal our jobs. Or, at least, that’s what it looked like when the presenter on stage demoed Sensei’s new ability to sense an environment in a photo and make smart editing decisions to replace sections of it with images pulled from the Adobe Stock library. For a second, you could almost hear 12,000 resumes being edited. But Adobe was quick to point out that Sensei is a tool for designers, and that its function is to cut out some of the more tedious tasks that come with the job. The future of this technology (and it’s in early stages right now) will be to streamline the process of building an image, and to give designers more freedom to edit, rework, and rethink their designs.
For some time now, AI has been the topic of a larger conversation across the tech world, and it’s interesting to see how it has finally worked its way into the design field. Unsurprisingly, it’s creating the same level of apprehension we’ve seen across all industries affected by AI. However, the possibilities that are opened up by these kinds of smart tools will allow designers to work smarter and get less bogged down in processes that can sometimes kill the creative energy they had at the beginning of a project.
Adobe hosted a variety of speakers at the conference, all with different specialties, from different fields. New technology was certainly a primary focus, but I also attended several seminars that dealt with age-old techniques, such as hand-lettering, and that offered solutions for problems that will plague designers no matter how smart our AI-backed tools become. Behind all the tech demos and new features, the conversation was largely about creativity as a whole, and the challenges and benefits that come with working in the creative fields. I imagine that this will probably be the case for many more Adobe MAX conferences to come.
Or, at least, until they replace us all with robots.
~Mitchell Jordan and Ben Cochran