Report from Adobe MAX 2011

Wow. I’m not sure why I never made it to the Adobe MAX event before, but I hope I don’t miss it again. It was seriously “design geek” heaven, with over a hundred sessions on everything to help developers, designers, and devigners (as Cari would say) make the most amazing, engaging, and effective digital experiences. Although the vast majority of topics focused on onscreen delivery (desktop, mobile, and tablet), that just made the few instances of Print more enticing.

Some months ago, my friend Russell Brown (Senior Art Director at Adobe, or some other impressive title; he’s long been considered the crazy heart and artistic genius at the company) called to ask me to bring the PEP Conference to MAX in the form of a one-day hands-on workshop — part of his three-day pre-conference Project Wonderland tutorial. Obviously, we had to scale down considerably, but I asked James Fritz  to join me in developing something. Adobe’s Digital Publishing Evangelist Colin Fleming was nuts enough to come along for the ride, and we presented a full-day seminar on interactive PDF, EPUB, and DPS on Sunday.

After that, the real fun began. Here are a few highlights from my week at MAX:

Monday’s Keynote

Monday’s opening keynote was bizarre for two reasons. First, the whole thing was aimed toward creatives rather than developers. I mean, the first announcement was about fonts! True, the astonishing news that Adobe had purchased typekit will be helpful to web devs, but the message was clearly one for designers: You can now use all the fonts you want across the Web. The idea that typekit font functionality could be built-in to all Adobe’s products is potentially very powerful. I can’t help but wonder, though, if the font-server idea couldn’t be extended even further; for example, what if we could subscribe to every font in the Adobe library and use it inside InDesign, like a web font!

The opening keynote was also bizarre because, as far as I can remember, the word “Flash” was not used once (until perhaps the closing statements, when they said they’d talk about Flash tomorrow).

The second astonishing announcement at Monday’s keynote was that Woodwing would drop their own proprietary digital magazine technology in favor of using Adobe’s DPS technology. I have to admit my jaw almost hit the floor upon hearing this. Woodwing has been competing hard against Adobe, offering some great features and a very nimble development schedule. Someday I hope to learn the inside story on how this change of course came out. There were many theories floating about; perhaps Woodwing decided that it was too much work to maintain their lead, or that they felt they’d be run over sooner or later by the enormous Adobe, or that it was better to keep good relations with Adobe than to keep fighting the battle. Whatever the case, the result is likely that Woodwing’s many clients will be shepherded through the transition without too much trouble.

The first day’s keynote had plenty of other awesome news, though, including Adobe’s announcement of the Creative Cloud. Here’s the problem: No one really knows how much it will cost or what exactly it will offer. It’s clearly a work in progress at this point, but that didn’t stop them from demoing or announcing some pieces of it. Think “Dropbox plus Adobe Bridge in a web browser.” Think “a subscription to all the creative suite applications (plus others) so you can download and use one whenever you want.” Think “connect with a huge community of people using the Cloud.” Adobe put the cherry on it by telling us that all MAX attendees would get a free year subscription. W00t, as they say.

Okay, one more nifty thing: Touch apps. I have been seriously underwhelmed by the apps Adobe has created for the iPad so far, but they demoed (and I later got to try) several that raise the bar into the “must have” realm. Putting Photoshop and Kuler on a tablet are fine, but these two really jumped out at me:

  • Proto: An app that lets you prototype a web page with simple gestures. Draw a rectangle and you get a “div”. Wiggle your finger up and down and you get some text. Use another gesture to get a multi-column text div, and so on. You can draw out a page so quickly it’s eerie!
  • Collage: This app lets you drag in a bunch of images and do some very simple photocompositing. For example, imagine sitting with a client and you want to “sketch out” several ads on your iPad. I loved this one (and not just because the wonderful Mark Magner from Sesame Workshop demoed it with Elmo and Grover images).

Of course, when I had the attention of an Adobe product manager on the Touch team, my first request was: I want Proto and Collage to export to InDesign! Now that would be awesome.

Hey, by the way: Kevin Lynch clearly said that some apps would come to the iPad first and others would come to Android first, but that all apps would be on both platforms. The next day, I saw a news headline that insisted that Adobe was dissing the iPad because some of these were going to be first available for Android. Sigh.

Other Great Sessions

After that, I have only a blur of memories from a number of great sessions I attended:

  • Chris Converse did a cool demo of creating interactive HTML5 pages with jquery and plugging them into DPS apps. (You can put any arbitrary html into a DPS app, even creating a whole page with dynamically-updating content from the Web.)
  • I took a hands-on tutorial for Muse, Adobe’s new (in public beta) software for creating Web pages. Many of the Muse developers came from the InDesign team, and it shows: This thing is heaven for InDesign users. I was sitting next to Claudia McCue, and the two of us kept looking at each other with OMG faces, saying “what took us so long to start using this?!” (And what took Adobe so long to create it?)
  • I saw an awesome demo by the CS Extension team of how easy it is to build these plug-ins that work inside InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop. They have all kinds of cool things up their sleeve. For example, I was particular impressed by the fact that one of the presenters was controlling his Acrobat slideshow via a controller on his tablet. He later took a photograph on his cell phone and placed it into an InDesign layout immediately (and wirelessly).
  • The Day 2 Keynote was clearly more focused on developer’s needs, though some of the demos rocked for designers, too.
    • Their new “css shaders” technology was mind-blowing.
    • Adobe Edge is a way cool way to add simple or complex animation to Web pages surprisingly easily. (The coolest thing about Edge is that you can actually open a static HTML page and add animation, but it doesn’t appear to change the HTML… it just adds a javascript at the beginning that does all the heavy lifting. That means that the page would probably look normal/static to an old browser, but be totally interactive and spiffy in a newer browser.)
    • The CSS regions/exclusions technology (which they have submitted to the W3C CSS standard) are great… think InDesign’s text-wrap panel but on the Web.
    • Adobe also showed a bunch of Flash stuff, especially involving games. They showed a very impressive 3D game running inside a browser, but it was a first-person shooter game. (My overwhelming reaction to the whole demo — and these games in general — was, “why don’t you just get some psychotherapists to come in and mediate instead of shooting at everything?”)
  • Of course, the coolest session was clearly the “Sneak Peeks” on Tuesday night, after the MAX Awards. We were treated to technology demos that blew my dome (to quote one of the presenters), including synching newly-recorded voices to poorly-recorded videos so that the lip movements match perfectly; creating layering in a vector or raster image so that you can weave an object above and below another; and removing the blur in photographs caused by accidentally moving the camera. Most exciting to we InDesign users, Senior Product Manager Kiyo Toma showed a “liquid layout” kind of demo, where you could pin text and graphic frames to page edges so that as the page size changes, the layout changes “intelligently.” Think Layout Adjustment on Steroids. It was awesome. (There was other stuff, too, but I’ll save that for another blog post.) Granted, Adobe made it clear several times that there was no guarantee these technologies would be in any future version, much less the next one. These were just cool things they were working on. But clearly the folks at Adobe have been working hard on all kinds of goodies that I want to get my hands on!

The Awards and Sneaks were, by the way, emceed (sort of) by the very funny Rainn Wilson (who plays Dwight on the US version of The Office). For me, however, the ultimate ROFL moment came when an Adobe dev showed a Flex debugger. Remember back to when Adobe first demoed transparency in InDesign 2 and designers just gasped and applauded? That’s what happened with the 3,000+ developers in the room. The rest of us (including Rainn) just sat there completely not getting it. To me, it appeared like the guy just did a Find/Change or something simple like that. The juxtaposition of shock and dumbfounded incomprehension was… well, I guess you had to be there.

    Good Friends

    You know, ultimately, the best part of MAX wasn’t the sessions or the sneaks, but rather the people I saw there. It was terrific having conversations with Claudia McCue, Rufus Deuchler, Michael Ninness, Colin Fleming, James Fritz, Mordy Golding, Chris Converse, Bruce Heavin, Chris Kitchener, Kiyo Toma, Mark Vermurlen, Branislav Milic, Sandee Cohen, Dee Sadler, David Macy, Gabe Tavridis, Max Dunn, Kajorn Bhirakit, James Williamson, Russell Brown, Terri Stone, Serena Herr, Keith Gilbert, Jenn Wills, Monika Wolff, Dani Beaumont, Rita Amladi, Colin Smith, Whitney McCleary, Dimitri Munkirs, Thom Parker, Jeff Foster, Joe Shankar, Michael Stoddart, Annemarie Belliard, Jerry Silverman, David Gassner, Martinho da Gloria, Alan Gilbertson, Gary-Paul Prince, and so many others. (If I left you out of this list, please forgive me. As you know, these events are overwhelming!)

    Of course, there is only one thing better than MAX… and that’s PEPCON! I hope to see you all there in May!

    (By the way… wish you could see some of the MAX sessions? Adobe made a bunch available at adobe.tv.)

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    3 Comments on “Report from Adobe MAX 2011

    1. David, regarding the flash builder debugger demo done by Anirudh Sasikumar. It’s actually a groundbreaking feature and huge time saver for developers! Being able to step backwards (rather than forward) while debugging code, can be compared with the multiple undos feature in InDesign :)

    2. It was my first MAX, too, and I agree with you: shoulda done this long ago!

      We’re in sync on the Collage and Proto apps. Those were definitely the standouts from a production point of view. I can see saving hours in the early stages of a project by being able to sit with the client and build a mood board or site wireframe right there in Starbucks the client’s office. The Photoshop-on-a-tablet app is definitely consumer-oriented, but it’s got some spiffy features (the 3D visual layers thing was quite impressive) that might migrate to PS some day and be useful.

      The most significant item in the Day 1 keynote was actually not mentioned: the tablet form factor is moving beyond being just a way to test your ePubs and DPS creations, and can start to have a role as a production tool. (In my own curmudgeonly way, I’m so not a consumer that I still don’t own a tablet. Or a TV, if it comes to that.)

      Dani Beaumont and I had a couple of great chats about Muse and its place in the design world. I’ve floated some pretty strong opinions on the subject, and it was fantastic to be able to interact directly with Those Who Know.

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