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Adobe's Tricia Gellman: Seeing Beyond the Printed Page

By Elizabeth Millard MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jun 18, 2004 3:20 AM PT

For creative professionals, Adobe and Apple have gone together like chocolate and peanut butter, two great tastes that taste great together. From the first version of Photoshop to its latest Creative Suite of digital-design applications, Adobe continues to provide the Mac with the tools creative professionals rely on to get their work done.

Adobe's Tricia Gellman: Seeing Beyond the Printed Page

To get the skinny on how the two companies have collaborated in the past and how close they are now, MacNewsWorld chatted with Tricia Gellman, Adobe group manager of product marketing for creative professional products.

MacNewsWorld: Given that Adobe was a sponsor at the Mac Design Conference and Expo, would you consider the Mac OS still to be Adobe's primary market for its Creative Suite?

Tricia Gellman: We're still very much behind the Mac market and committed to it. The Creative Suite is a main product for us, and we recognize that there's a significant amount of people who work on Macs, so we put energy into focusing on that market.

At the same time, there's a growing segment of the market on the Windows platform. So we try to listen to all of our customers.

MNW: Applications like Photoshop and Illustrator are archetypal examples of the confluence and technology and creativity. How does Adobe navigate between those two worlds when developing and improving its products?

TG: For all of our products, we try to listen to customer needs and assess what we can bring to them in the future. That's how we've come to the point of providing the Creative Suite. In the past, people tended to specialize. For example, a photographer who wanted to digitize photos worked on Photoshop. But over time, as design needs have evolved, more people are generalists. So, instead of focusing on best of breed in individual products, we're working on better integration of the applications with each other.

MNW: How do you decide what to upgrade in the products, and what types of features should be added? Is that determined by customer feedback?

TG: Customer suggestions are a significant part of how we determine our upgrades. We pride ourselves on having good relationships with our customers and having places on the Web where people can give us their thoughts. The product managers read those boards too -- it's not like those black holes where no one sees what customers write. But the feedback is only a part, because we know that if all we did was listen to customers when thinking about new features, we might miss out on trends that are happening at the macro level. So we look at trends in publishing, graphic design and many other fields so that we can anticipate what kinds of problems our customers will be trying to solve.

MNW: Founders John Warnock and Charles Geschke formed Adobe to develop and license PostScript. To what degree did their preconceptions of what PostScript could do match the reality of its impact?

TG: When Chuck and John founded Adobe, they had no idea that the company would be as successful as it is. They just wanted to make a living, basically. But what they did was to create a language that had the capability to go into different types of devices and to evolve.

When they first developed PostScript, it helped people to see their idea on the printed page and transfer ideas from the screen. With PDF, now you've moved to another level, and it's about enabling people to share, and go beyond the printed page. Both have definitely opened up new opportunities, and now our intelligent document department is working on capitalizing on more opportunities like that.

MNW: How closely did Adobe and Apple work together in the early years of the Mac? Were products like Photoshop originally developed with the Mac in mind?

TG: Chuck and John thought they'd have to build their own hardware devices to be able to use PostScript, because nobody at that time had anything that would work for them. Then they met Steve Jobs, and realized that he needed a language, and they needed hardware. That's when the collaboration started.

With Photoshop, Mac was the only OS platform at the time that was able to display visually rich information in a graphical way. The first designer of Photoshop, Thomas Knoll, actually used a Mac to create the application way back in the 1970s. [*correction]

MNW: How crucial a role did Apple and the Mac play in the desktop-publishing revolution of the late 1980s?

TG: From the beginning, Adobe was always working very closely with Apple. It wasn't from exclusivity -- it was just the way it played out, because the Mac platform met the needs of the graphical audience.

The combination of Adobe and Mac really changed the landscape of desktop publishing, and it helped to make it much more cost-effective and efficient. Adobe has been really proud of working with Apple to make that happen.

MNW: You mentioned that more graphic design is being done on Windows than it was before. Why do you think that might be happening?

TG: There's been a bit of a change happening in the design industry. As we move through the dot-com time, we're coming into an era when there's more awareness of electronic publishing. Also, the awareness that the average person has of brands and the importance of those brands, is extremely high. So the role of the designer has changed because there are a lot more people getting into visual communication.

For example, a real estate agent might want to create a professional-looking postcard to send out. Having more people who aren't trained graphic designers [but who] have the ability to create visual materials is changing the landscape of the industry. And, since many of these people use Windows, it's also changing the market.

MNW: Getting back to the Mac Design Conference, Jim Heeger gave a keynote speech on "Design for the Future." What do you feel were the key points that the audience took away from his speech?

TG: I think the keynote showed that we're committed to working with designers who love their Macs. There have been some questions lately about committed Adobe is to Apple, and I think Jim Heeger took that time at the conference to re-articulate our commitment to the Mac platform. He emphasized that what we're doing here isn't just trying to offer technology that capitalizes on the latest trends, or what someone needs tomorrow. We're also working on what people will need into the future, no matter platform they use.

*Editor's Correction Note: In the original interview, Gellman was mistakenly quoted as saying that Adobe developer Thomas Knoll used a Mac in the "way back in the 1970s" to develop Photoshop. In truth, Knoll developed Photoshop in the late 1980s using a Mac. The product first shipped in 1990.

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