Designing a Paradise for Adobe’s Creative Cloud
Every few years Adobe Systems entices designers around the world with upgrades to Photoshop, InDesign, and their all-in-one package, Creative Suite, among other products. And they’ve illustrated these new innovations using intricate real-world examples of how each and every one can be used. Yet who actually develops and creates those very detailed assets – photography, illustration, magazines, catalogs, websites and other digital materials – as well as the strategy for how to use them in demonstrations?
Since 2010, those have been expertly crafted by Volume Inc. in San Francisco, resulting in presentations that are cross-media promotions of a cross-media design platform, while remaining themselves in a single, utterly indefinable, medium.
‘The Wild Isles’
In June 2013, Adobe took one of the biggest gambles in its history when it discontinued its popular Creative Suite (CS) software on disc in favor of Creative Cloud – a Web-based version requiring a monthly subscription fee. To show longtime users just what they were getting for the additional cost, Adobe turned to Volume to do what it had been accomplishing successfully since the launch of CS5: create a single “show” product.
“It was really about how are we going to explain all these disparate features – some of them significant, some of them kind of small,” explains Volume Co-founder and Creative Director Adam Brodsley. “And some of them were just existing features that people didn’t actually know about from the last release that they wanted to remind people of.”
To that end, Volume created The Pluralist: The Wild Isles, a fictional travel-gear catalog conceptualized as a print product, a website, a tablet publication – absolutely any project a potential Creative Cloud user might handle in their daily work. And each and every component was designed to show off a good dozen or so features of the Adobe products that had created them.
By the time of the Creative Cloud launch, crafting fictional publications and websites for Adobe to show off its latest software had become something of a tradition for Volume.
Though the software giant could’ve easily gone to any of its partner companies for real-world demonstrations of its own products, “they needed to have control over what they’re doing and not worry about rights and licensing,” Brodsley explains.
In 2010, Volume created a fictional sustainable-living magazine called Local that Adobe used at tradeshows and in videos – pretty much any time they needed to demonstrate a particular CS5 feature. The idea came in response to Adobe’s history of having each product team hire different artists to create examples. The resulting mishmash didn’t communicate the all-inclusive aspect of the software that the company desperately wanted to get across.
The idea was to make Local “one cohesive story, so no matter who from Adobe is showing these new products – whether it’s someone from Photoshop or someone from Acrobat or InDesign – it would feel very cohesive and part of everything they’re doing,” he says.
For CS6, Volume transformed months of design work and a Northern California photo shoot into The Pluralist, a fashion magazine (also fictional) showing off the clothing designs of real-world New York fashion designer Alice Ritter.
The Pluralist “name had to be run through legal, it was copyrighted and trademarked,” says Brodsley. “It was basically like we could’ve started this as a real company because it had to be all thought through.”
With 2013’s The Pluralist: The Wild Isles, Volume imagined that their imaginary fashion company had added a high-end travel gear department. Alite Designs, a camping equipment company down the street from Volume’s studio, agreed to let them feature their sleeping bags, tents and chairs in the cross-media project.
Ah, the tents. “We had brought three on a photo shoot and we were sitting out there on this point trying to set them up and it was kinda windy,” Brodsley recalls. “It wasn’t THAT windy, but all three of the tents broke while we were setting them up. Let’s just say this wasn’t the best way to start the photo shoot.”
Still, the shoot WAS on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. “Adobe’s an international brand – they’re in Asia, they’re in Europe, we didn’t want to feel like we were just shooting in California,” he says, and chuckles. “And serendipitously this worked nicely with vacation plans.”
Why Would I Use This?
Writing and designing a print, website and tablet version of a travel-gear catalog would’ve been difficult enough for the three-person crew at Volume who worked on it. But the idea was to sell the latest version of Adobe’s different software programs, after all, and more importantly the very latest features – features that hadn’t even been released yet. That meant getting up to speed on those immediately, and then using them to make the Wild Isles components. Each application carried with it 12-15 features that needed to be highlighted in the end products.
“I can’t emphasize enough some of the bizarre tools and software features we’re trying to use, all to make this one set of brand materials and make it feel cohesive,” says Brodsley. “We’d have to do a lot of this up front – creating user scenarios of why I would use this thing and how I could show it in a way that a designer would be excited about it. It was also the fact that we were using tools before they were even developed – pre-beta phase and, in many cases, helping debug or improve the tools.
“The biggest challenge was just coming up with some inspiring design. Inspiring, but not so inspiring that some of the audience would feel like it was not something they would actually do in their daily job.”
A Virtual Reality
To fully appreciate the level of detail that Volume included in The Wild Isles, you need only look at a single item in the catalog – a photo of three purple water bottles (below right).
“One of the features of Photoshop now is that you can bring in 3D objects,” Brodsley explains. “So those are bottles that we completely built. You can then import the 3D object into Photoshop. It allows you to take that background image of that piling on the sandy beach and match the perspective and the shadows and the lighting. Further, in Photoshop you can map on all that splatter paint, get very involved, map on that ‘P,’ map materials onto the surface like the anodized gold top on it. That was actually a feature that they wanted to show.”
The backpack with the “monogrammed” P on it and the hangtag – yep, both examples of Creative Cloud wizardry.
To create the tablet versions of the catalog, they had to design it all in Adobe’s DPS [Digital Publishing Suite] software.
Not only did Volume have to build all of these elements, but they also had to make careful notes about how they designed each and every one so that Adobe could explain how they were created at tradeshows and in videos, and display them in various stages of completion. Adobe even made short videos demonstrating the various steps necessary to accomplish certain effects.
Across all Media
While there’s something exciting about being smack dab on the cutting edge of something like this, being some of the very first people to use new software is not one of life’s little pleasures. The small Volume team frequently were the first to discover bugs in the very features they were trying to promote – probably the biggest challenge they experienced over all, Brodsley admits.
On the plus side, “we learned a lot more about the features and we picked up new tips. It was actually a nice thing for our studio to learn some new features and to expand our abilities.”
Though it took Volume the better part of six months to complete The Wild Isles, the lifespan of the project is incalculable.
“If you look on their website or print materials or things they send out to end customers, you see pieces of all this stuff because they just became assets for the entire company,” he says. “It’s not like everyone gets the entire story. You might just see one little piece of this island map, but it shows up all over the place.”