What's up with the new Photoshop icon & branding?

"Taken in isolation, the individual icons are in no way spectacular – that was never their role," writes Ryan Hicks, Sr. Experience Designer at Adobe.  "Their elegance comes from how the entire desktop brand system works as a whole. The more Adobe apps you have, the better the system works. Adobe’s icons stand out instantly in the visually-dense world of user desktops because of their simplicity; complexity ≠ information."

The crisp, simple imagery of the Photoshop CS3 Beta icon and splash screen has drawn both rants and raves on the Labs forum, so I thought I’d invite the folks behind this effort to share their perspective here.  Ryan’s thoughts follow.   –J.
[Update: See also the other CS3 icons.]


Adobe’s desktop brand system is a pragmatic & systematic approach to creating a cohesive functional visual language carried across our hundred products and their thousands of branded icons and screens. With a specific emphasis on clarity and legibility, this system expresses a singular focus of better enabling our customers and their work.

The merging of Adobe and Macromedia product families posed an interesting challenge and a unique opportunity to reconsider the role of brand and product identity as applied to the desktop. Adobe’s mission is to make our customer’s work easier, more efficient, and their time spent with our products as effective as possible. This focus is driving a fundamental shift in our interface design, product architecture, as well as the role desktop iconography plays in the overall user experience.

As Adobe’s products have grown deeper and broader in their capabilities, the effort to visually represent what they can do in a literal icon has become increasingly difficult. This challenge became particularly evident when the legacy of eyeballs on beaches, prancing horses and Venus De Milo was replaced with nature imagery in the current Suite era. While the CS1/CS2 feathers and butterflies were aesthetically beautiful and made for gorgeous marketing collateral, they broke down in terms of a practical and functional desktop identity system. For CS3 we’re doing something radically different.

Our approach is pragmatic and utilitarian, literally "less is more". We have created a concise and coherent unified language in a deceivingly simple and highly distinctive visual system – from the branded desktop work through to interface and product design. Top-level point products (authoring environments eg. Photoshop, Illustrator, etc) follow a two-letter mnemonic ‘nickname’ system as their primary identifier.  ‘Feature’ and supporting-technology products use a more descriptive figurative icon in a similar style as in-product ‘workflow’ icons. At every icon size, a specific emphasis has been placed on legibility. The icon illustrations have been carefully optimized at each size to best take advantage of the available level of detail. Specific drawings have been done for each icon size to leverage every available pixel to the fullest.

A product’s icons are paired with a specific color, usually based on historical color association (Flash is red, Dreamweaver is green) and familied within a particular vertical. This color association is carried throughout the product’s desktop brand in lieu of ‘primary imagery’, from install screens through app icons and reinforced through details on document and supporting icons. Critically, the use of an assigned color frees the desktop system from creative-agency artwork timelines as well as future-proofing the product’s desktop identity.

Overseen by small internal group gathered from Brand, Marketing, and Experience Design, the core members on the team executing the desktop brand work are comprised of a project manager, production coordinator, two designers – one acting as creative and art director for the experience design – and a full-time production specialist. Together we work with each product team and all technology efforts to assess requirements and define improvements to the existing desktop experience. Then we set out drawing, producing, and delivering every branded asset for the desktop; hundreds of products, thousands of icons and screens… a massive effort executed with exacting detail and consistency.

One last point: if we wanted to design a ‘Periodic Table of the Elements’ we certainly have the capabilities to have done so. Our desktop brand system isn’t a marketing or advertising gimmick that we will toss out on the next rev, it’s a solution to real usability and identity problems and is something we can call wholly our own.

PS–Bonus bit for type geeks: The lettering on the new icons was designed by modern type legend Robert Slimbach. According to Ryan, “The mnemonics use a custom cut of Gauge, a typeface Robert has currently in development. It was his recommendation that the type work the way it does, mixing upper/lower and cap/small cap based on both phonetics and aesthetics. He breathed a bit of life into the system for sure.”

0 thoughts on “What's up with the new Photoshop icon & branding?

  1. “Our desktop brand system isn’t a marketing or advertising gimmick that we will toss out on the next rev”
    Wanna bet? Some designer conned you folks into thinking “feather, shell, flower, and butterfly…brilliant!”
    Unfortunately for your new design, Dow Chemical’s current “The Human Element” campaign beats you to the punch by months with a similar visual approach and concept. It’s a twisted road that can lead to Adobe having a mental link to the Bhopal disaster.
    [Bhopal? Damn… Btw, that was Union Carbide. –J.]
    Whatever you do, just make the desktop icon easy to identify. The rest is mostly pretention for internal Adobe consumption.
    [I think it’s pretty darn easy to spot and identify. Form follows function. –J.]

  2. Well that answers that. I was wondering what had happened with the iconic eye while I never did really enjoyed the “nature” branding. It seemed a bit too abstract and conceptual. I like the font at any rate. Any idea when Slimbach will release it?
    [I’m not sure, but I’ll ask. –J.]

  3. “Their elegance comes from how the entire desktop brand system works as a whole.”
    But how does one see this “brand system” while working inside of a single app?
    All I see is art that looks like a temporary placeholder. My first impression of Photoshop CS3 was that Adobe was holding off on the real art for the final release.
    Obviously no opinion of any Adobe user really matters on this issue, but the branding for CS3 does not inspire this creative professional.
    [Your opinion does matter, which is why we took the time to write and post this. But at the end of the day, there’s no arguing with taste, as they say. At least I don’t think there will be any debate about the utility of the new system. –J.]

  4. I actually like the new icons, because in CS2, I would sometimes click the wrong app. InDesign, Bridge, and Acrobat are all reddish blobs on a white square when displayed at a small size in the OS X Dock.
    In terms of utility, the new icons are unquestionably superior. I thank Adobe for that.
    But just at the very point that more developers are coming up with wonderfully creative icons that use transparency for non-square icon shapes, Adobe goes for icons that seem to yearn for the solid bounding boxes of the pre-transparency era. That is not inspiring.
    It is also questionable to push a “periodic table of the elements” theme for the Adobe high end products. If you don’t get that yet, here’s another version of it. Photoshop should be pro level, but the “element” icon gives you a subliminal “Photoshop Elements” message.
    [As Ryan pointed out, they weren’t shooting for a periodic table look. –J.]
    The new icons are more functionally useful to me, there is no debate about the utility. But the obvious aesthetic and symbolic problems with the approach make the windy academic explanation about them in the post sound like pretentious creative agency handwaving.
    [Would, “They’re more functional; now let’s move on” do the trick? ‘Cause we can say that. 😉 –J.]

  5. this is a nice and sleek icon and i know that it resembles the periodic table of elements. however, it is a very simple, functional and elegant approach to the icon.

  6. Here’s a crazy idea. With CS4 why not beta test the branding art?
    [Well, I’ll leave all those decisions to the folks responsible for them, but I will say that design-by-committee tends to produce some bland results. –J.]

  7. Hi,
    I’m the one who started the rant on the CS3 forums 🙂
    While I’m not questioning the new icons usability, my concern is, that “less is more” is the current hype, and tomorrow it would be an old hat.
    In my opinion the new icons have this generic “web 2.0” look. And we all know that is – gradients, reflections, sans serif typefaces, etc. People begin to be tired of that look.
    Anyway, I’m happy, that with the beta-release of CS3, the only thing I can complain about, is the icon 🙂
    [I could live with that. 😉 Glad to hear you’re liking it over all. –J.]
    Michal Janowski

  8. For the first time the Adobe icons and splash screens are actually a bona fide designed system vs. just pretty meaningless pictures. On top of that the system is actually more usable as the mnemonics can be more easily recognized an associated with their products, vs butterflies, feathers, flower petals in CS2.
    One person here argues that you don’t see the system b/c you work only on one app at a time. Not true here, most designers I know have a set of Adobe apps they regularly work with and as you launch or switch between them or use Bridge or the file system the icons act as landmarks for the different apps.

  9. I quite like them, for just the reasons stated: they are clear and easy to pick out of a line-up quickly, which is the whole point. Be honest, how much time do you spend looking at the icon anyway? Most people I know have their Dock on auto-hide.

  10. It really does not matter one way or the other its the app that we need to use not the icons. But If Adobe is going to give us crappy icons that take seconds to design & create please give us a price break in the upgrade since you did not have to pay anyone to make these new icons.

  11. The new icons do all that you say.
    I still find them uninspiring and was astonished to read that they were not temporary.
    Never had a problem distinguishing the Photoshop icon from others.
    I do like PS 10, however.

  12. i have to admit when I first saw the new iconography start showing up, I considered it placeholder artwork as well. But once I noticed it in the fully released Adobe Reader, I caught on to what was going on.
    All in all, I think it’s a noble attempt at a rather difficult design and branding challenge. And as Ryan mentioned, the usability challenges. Just consider the multitude of applications Adobe offers and then add in the ones being brought into the family from Macromedia. Now try to put yourself in the place of all the different types of creative professionals and content creators that use these applications and the combinations they use them in. With all that, come up with a solution that’s successful on all these fronts.
    I like the attempt to use historical color associations. Anyone who’s been using Macromedia products through the years will realize they did something quite similar around the time they moved to the Studio suite. Before then, the icons for Dreamweaver and Fireworks were these circles with all these crazy, abstract elements coming out of them. Then they went to simple one- or two-lettered, emblazoned spheres.
    Sure, I’m not surprised that some would consider this a design cop out but I think the more you start using these application together, you’ll realize the simple beauty of it all. These are the tools we use to design great things. Tools are meant to be utilitarian, right?
    [I’m with you, George. –J.]

  13. They are certainly clear and easy to distinguish – but really the debate is astonishing, its the application that matters not its icon

  14. To be honest, i liked the “old” icons (can I call them old, while they actually are the current). Anyway, the new icons are a step down the ladder – not a big step, but probably a step necessary to embrace all the products in one brand.
    I loved the beauty of the CS-icons showing the purpose of the program. I love seeing them break the boundary of the box trying to encapsulate them. The new concept of using small parts of the “periodic table” to make the living, breathing thing, is in some way ok – but the programs are giving up their souverainism for a greater course. For people using only a single program, that is bad – cutting of the arms and legs. Seeing it as a whole, it is a nice thought though.
    [I like that metaphor; makes me think of the icons as one of those big Japanese robots made up from lots of smaller robots. 😉 –J.]
    As You can hear, I’m in a mental battle, but I guess time will heal – but maybe one more meeting in the design group, had ended up with an even better idea 🙂
    Anyway, as a true believer, I’m with You guys aaaall the way.
    P.S: Don’t talk “Web 2.0” – no rounded corner on the icons 🙂
    Best Regards
    Karsten Vestergaard

  15. Liked the new Color/Iconography scheme adopted in PS CS3… would like to see the whole Suite just to check their combination – both aesthetically and workflow between applications.
    Best Regards,
    Dede Villela

  16. I was thinking similar to what the first poster said. The instant I started reading, it was like “alert, pretentious marketing-speak”. Oh well, no matter what I say, people will always pretend that their icons or branding have these subtle yet evident layered meanings that reflect a company’s higher values. I feel this way. “hey, a new icon, and splash screen!” Cool, I was getting tired of looking at the old one.” And pretty much it ends there. At least no one said anything like “And we think the text-message style brevity aims more at our target youth urban market.”
    [Oh, don’t tempt us!! ;-> –J.]
    If I had a choice to forego the new icons in lieu of getting a desired feature, such as a “generate layered document from multiple images” [Stay tuned on that, actually –J.] I’d rather have my feature and use Adobe software to create my own icons and splash screen. I still love you guys though. And the new graphics are cool looking.

  17. “but really the debate is astonishing, its the application that matters not its icon”
    Why is it astonishing? People that use Photoshop are often creative types that appreciate art and design.
    When Photoshop CS2 launches I see a beautiful and inspiring splashscreen. It sort of sets me up with the idea that I am running a program that is capable of creating beautiful art.
    The CS3 branding is pretty much the lowest common denominator. You really couldn’t create something any more generic than what it is. It does not inspire.
    Photoshop is indeed a tool, but it is a *creative* tool. Adobe has always done an excellent job with the art that accompanied its creative tools. This time they disappoint.

  18. New icons and splash screens says: “Hi, I’m a Pro app for Pro users who don’t need childish & eye-catching representation like CS2 have.”
    I agree with George. Simplicity and functionality are fundamental things in making a professional tool. And I think most professionals appreciate this.

  19. While I am not generally against the new icon design, I do think that the gradient makes the icon look unnecessarily non-professional on first sight. It is not a matter of bad design, but the simple fact that the first thing most people start experimenting with when confronted with a graphics software for the first time are gradients. Moreover, software like PowerPoint has contributed a lot to the notion of gradients being the key part of cheap/bad design.
    The problem I see with that is that Photoshop as well as the other members of the Creative Suite family are aimed at a highend market and the new icon set makes it seem too much like a toy for beginners. So my suggestion is to find an alternative to the gradient, but I do understand that this is not really an option any more now that Adobe Reader has been released. Maybe next time 🙂
    Yet maybe I am being too rash in my verdict since all I have seen so far is the Photoshop icon. Maybe you could convince us by posting some screen shots that showcase the new icons in context.
    Anyway, it’s great to hear that usability has been given higher priority than marketing. In any case, this must be the first time ever that artwork is being public-beta-tested 🙂

  20. Well, personally, I hated the CS Icons, because so many times I’ve opened Image Ready instead of Photoshop, so I like the new icons over them, but to me something is missing … a little detail.
    I’ll probably like the new collor scheme, as you said, Flash is red, but isn’t bridge also red ?
    [Flash is red; Bridge is kind of brownish. –J.]
    What are the odds that we could see all the new icons ?
    [I’ve been trying to get permission for that, actually. We’ll see. –J.]

  21. I have to weigh-in… my first thoughts after installing the beta was ‘Why the ugly icons?’ and then my second thought was ‘They must be placeholder graphics.’ However, CS3 is an amazing upgrade – even with the ‘ugly’ icons! 🙂

  22. Just wanted to say I think the new icons are shockingly bad – sorry. The idea of an icon having literal text on it is -bizarre-, I assumed it was placeholder artwork too. Icons are supposed to be representative images not text, and the ‘mnemonic’ system you’re using seems basic and crude.
    [FWIW, I’ve never heard people beef on it in Mac Office or the Macromedia Studio, but maybe I haven’t been listening, or maybe people prefer those graphical treatments. –J.]
    Colour coding is a great idea. Putting two text characters on a plain (ok slight gradient) background is not!

  23. This stuff about “utilitarian” and “tools” – do you have any decor in your office or is it set up like a machine room? After all it’s just a “place of work”.
    [Since you’re asking, it’s full of boxes. I used to care, but now I work insane hours and wouldn’t trade the chance to do my job for the chance to make my office look nicer. Diff’rent strokes… –J.]
    For me, my working environment is very important and it should be aesthetically and physically comfortable – after all I probably spend more time here than in any one other place!
    The computer desktop is an extension of my working environment and I spend many hours staring at it. There is a compromise to be reached between comfort and aesthetics, and utilitarianism. For me the new Adobe icons don’t get this and are far too utilitarian.
    I guess that’s why I’m a Mac user rather than a Windows user. My working environment matters to me.
    [Me too. Anyway, it looks like people are already coming up with alternative icon sets for PS, as they will for the other Adobe apps. Vive le difference. –J.]

  24. “I guess that’s why I’m a Mac user rather than a Windows user. My working environment matters to me.”
    Mine matters to me as well, but I’m a Windows user. But that’s for another arguement 🙂
    As for the CS3 icons being “professional,” I couldn’t disagree more.
    They look simplistic and amateurish to me, and do not speak of the power under the hood.
    This is Photoshop, the best image editing application in the known universe, and it gets a solid color and some abbreviated type. Oh, and a subtle gradient. It reminds me of something one might have seen in the early days of the open source movement. The kind of art programmers make. (Ouch, maybe I’m being too harsh with that).

  25. yes macromedia had color coded icons for their products but admirably designed whereas the new adobe ones look crude and so not what adobe is about.
    [Well, the same team is behind ’em, for what it’s worth. –J.]

  26. “The more Adobe apps you have, the better the system works.”
    I see, the icons stink unless you buy a lot of Adobe products then they start to look good.

  27. “The more Adobe apps you have, the better the system works.”
    Quite the opposite. Slight variations in color palette and obtuse two-letter codes might be good if you love rote memorization of the periodic table.
    This scheme didn’t even make it to one product cycle. Flash and Acrobat both survive the elemental makeover. Someone had the sense to retain a huge amount of product brand equity in the face of stupid minimalizm.
    This ain’t Bauhaus form follows function. The function of these icons is to communicate product identity and branding and the form fails function horribly.
    Be sure to post links to those alternate icon sets. Perhaps we can have a contest.

  28. I quite like the new icons. They are simple, attractive, and most of all, practical.
    As pretty as the previous icons were, I always found them a bit arbitrary and unclear.

  29. Adobe’s desktop brand system is a pragmatic & systematic approach to creating a cohesive functional visual language carried across our hundred products and their thousands of branded icons and screens. With a specific emphasis on clarity and legibility, this system expresses a singular focus of better enabling our customers and their work.>
    etcetera, etcetera …
    Utter and unadulterated BUNK (sometimes known as “Agency-Speak”) to try to bull-shit your way out of the abysmally badly conceived and designed results that you have presented.
    Where did Adobe find this creature?
    He should be replaced before he wrecks another thing because he is rapidly destroying the superb and functional design of software that the name “Adobe” has come to epitomise.
    These new icons are not only plug-ugly and devoid of all originality, but they are also extremely hard to pick quickly from the Dock when you have it set for icon-miniaturization on a high-rez. monitor.
    [I’m impressed that you can speak with such authority & confidence when you’ve never had more than, at most, two of the new icons in your dock. –J.]
    This is definitely a case for “Back to the Drawing Board”.

  30. J:
    Just those two are hard to pick-out and the situation will get far worse if and when the whole set, as presently conceived, is dumped on us.

  31. I am curious, did Adobe conduct usability testing to see if people were in fact having problems finding icons due to their ‘ambiguity?’
    Or was this just an assumption made by executives and technical crew?
    For some reason I find it hard to digest that users have a hard time distinguishing between their programs. Or whether the blue square (PS) and the red square (Fireworks) are easier to distinguish from the reasons made above.
    What about a blue square, a green square, a red square, and a purple square? Does colour hold that much sway over easily discerning a program from another?
    As a budding cognitive psychologist interested in usability and cognitive ergonomics in the field of UIs, I am curious if there is actually (a) the problem you claim, and (b) whether this solution is the best…

  32. I love the new icons, they are very practical and instantly recognisable. People that use a number of different Adobe products together will really see these babies pay off. I can already see a number of products I use daily are nicely spread out in the colour wheel.
    Someone needs to put the icons of different ‘suites’ next to each other instead of looking at all the icons together.
    Icons are Icons, they have an important job to do, they’re not works of art.

  33. “…and familied within a particular vertical…”
    Sheesh, “familied”? You been hanging out with the MBA suits much? I assume this is akk part of an effort to monetize strategic solution initiatives for continued growth, then?

  34. I like ’em. I have to say, my first thought was also that it was placeholder art, but mostly because adobe has always assigned elaborate and arbitrary artwork to its products – the simplicity is a shock at first, but I’m quite used to it by now, and I don’t mind them in my dock at all.
    I have to disagree with Ann Shelbourne above; The icons for me are immediately recognizable even with the dock adjusted to the smallest possible setting, a feat that the CS2 (or CS, for that matter) icons could never accomplish. Creating the color association with the letters works immediately and intuitively for me.
    Do they match perfectly with my other icons? No. I may make some minor adjustments in the future, since I am a perfectionist designer blah blah. But the concept and execution are a welcome change in my mind – I was actually never a fan of the CS2 icons (which never sat perfectly in the dock either, IMHO).

  35. I’m confused. If you want your desktop to be aesthetically pleasing, it seems that supporting personalization (how many people have not selected a custom desktop background?) without imposing someone else’s visual style would be highly valued. As this thread clearly demonstrates – “aesthetically pleasing” is in the eye of the beholder.
    Does anyone here think that Apple’s minimalist visual language (in hardware, packaging) is “dated” or belies its beauty or sophistication?

  36. Will these new icons be the same across all languages? As someone involved in developing international software, I wonder about the viability of an icon that has the Latin letters “Ps” in say a French or Arabic market.
    [The plan is not to localize the icons, because the product names themselves are not localized. –J.]

  37. As a designer (yes aren’t we all designers now) I like to critique the smallest of details. But for usability an icon is not a small detail. I do feel that the new icons have a great look as far as the slight gradient and flat square design goes. They pop exceptionally well in my dock and on my pc desktop.
    But the exception is the use of the initials. This makes the programs hard to distinguish. The Acrobat symbol is great, but then why us the initials of things like PS? Doesn’t PS mean postscript to most people that use Adobe’s products? Having a PS icon beside every PSD file just makes me feel like I have a lot of distilling to do. I know people will HAVE to get used to it so eventually everyone will wonder what all the complaining was about. Or WILL WE get used to it? Remember the last round of changes? I am still getting used to some of the icons from back then (was it one feather or two? oh wait what version is this? ok so its a camera lens then?) Well thats all because my comp is running out of question marks.

  38. As both a designer and artist myself, I appreciate and place a high value on ascetics so to some degree I can understand people’s concern over the icon change.
    That being said, as a traditional media artist, I never looked at a tube of paint or the writing on the side of a pencil or ink jar for my inspiration and to that degree, I think people are blowing this *way* out of proportion. I would say to anyone on here that if you feel the change Adobe made to the icons and splash screens of Photoshop (and apparently all other Adobe apps) is going to have any impact on your work (creatively or otherwise) at all, you would seem to have far more to worry about in life at this point than Photoshop.
    I realize that the above sounds like an incredibly inflammatory statement because it would appear that I’m calling more than half of those who have posted so far unstable but I’m not. What I am calling those people are big babies who if they sat down and thought about it for a second, would realize that the texture of their shirt or the wave lines on the screen of a poorly connected TV are more uniquely inspirational than the same icon looking at every other Photoshop user out there in the world every time the application is launched.
    Most of these people are latching onto a religious cause that I’m sure they don’t even *really* care about even if they think they do at the moment.
    John, maybe you guys could provide a simple easter egg hack-like trick for all the apps that will bring back an older icon (like can be done in Illustrator today) and then quietly leak it so that everyone who feels the sky will fall without it can spread that tidbit of knowledge to the far reaches of the earth like it is something actually useful that only the ‘in’ crowd know about – Adobe can have its consistent and more usable branding that the majority of the world will stick with and those who still think Betamax will some day beat out VHS with its superior quality can still be happy with their previous muse.

  39. I appreciate that Adobe acknowledges that the task of differentiating between it’s products is becoming a huge task, and personally I’m not sure this new branding completely solves the problem.
    The icons however, are beautifully simple. Anyone who says it looks like it was designed in 2 seconds is either being deliberately obtuse, or they do not appreciate the power of typography and the use of subtlety in professional design.
    It seems adobe is facing a lot of criticism because their product branding has jumped about so much in the last couple of years. This new brand just feels like the latest trend to be quickly adapted and then dropped.

  40. “Venus De Milo” ?!! man you could use some art history lessons…
    [Actually I don’t think anyone said it was the Venus de Milo; rather, it’s Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. –J.]
    otherwise, I find the new branding a very effective one… good work

  41. Personally, I have nothing against the new Adobe icon scheme. In fact, I hope that it brings together a new sense of unity with the addition of all the Macromedia applications to the Adobe family.

  42. It communicates nothing unique about the brand. They’re easy to read, but ugly to look at. I certainly like the artistic style of the CS and CS2 icons better.

  43. lyubo, that’s a good catch. You’re right about Venus.
    Various folks had a hand in the notes John quoted above and the “de Milo” was a late – and incorrect – addition. It should be said those notes are a bit out of their intended context here as they were originally pulled together for a researcher working on a process-focused magazine article.
    For what it’s worth, I’d like to say thanks to all the posters here for taking the time to voice their opinions and perspectives.
    More soon,

  44. Please – just stick with one iconic concept and quit changing it around. Variations on the concept are fine but when Photoshop icons changed from the classic Venus type figure to the current feather, that was really distracting.

  45. I know you will probably want to respond to every comment, but here is just a gut reaction based on the fact that my company is going through a “re-branding” effort of its own. Your images don’t seem to speak to the customer. Look at all the criticism and make sure the right people see this.
    I need to be honest, I think the best branded applications you offer now are Acrobat and Flash, and it seems to be they are the applications with the least amount of change.
    I understand you want to collectively group all things Adobe and show how integrated your new product line is, but the proof will be in how you engineer the applications, not how you brand them.
    Think about this: Frame and RoboHelp. I am not a technical writer, but I always hear our writers complain about “styles not matching between the two products” and “your products are not localized for all regions consistently”. Now that you own both, your customers will expect to see integration on that level for all your products, not just on the icon level.

  46. Wow. I’m really surprised at how strong the negative reactions are to the branding. All I need and expect from Photoshop’s branding is a clear identity system that stands out and distinguishes itself from the other 12 icons in my launch bar. Macromedia did a nice job of this with the round Dreamweaver and Flash runes. Honestly, I find the new system to be more sophisticated and quite sleek. I think the argument could be made that over-pimping the startup screen is sort of silly and distracting to visual artists. Finally, I’d just like to say that Photoshop is a tool that has put lots of food on my table over the years. I got nothin’ but love for you guys.

  47. Sorry, but using non-unique character forms in logos is a complete design cop-out.
    These aren’t mere icons – these are brands. Or at least, with the prices Adobe charge for their products I should hope they have individual branding strategies :/
    It’s basic unspoken law in logo design that a logo should work in monochrome.
    Remove the colour from these logos and they become nothing but letters. Letters that aren’t even unique, and aren’t consistent. As has been said above, PS is PostScript not photoshop. AI is the illustrator extension, yeah, but it might as well be Adobe InDesign.
    Sure, colour is a good addition, but it should never be the only symbolic differentiation. You gotta make sure that you always have a symbol to fall back on in case colour no longer exists.
    What happens to the “PostScript” icon on compatible laser printers? I guess that turns into a square with Ps inside it. Oh wait, isn’t that Photoshop? Well who knows, there’s no way of telling without colour ;).
    Cf/Co is even worse. COld fusion vs Cold Fusion.
    For a good example of how to design icons that work well, take a look at the Omni Group. Each of their icons is thoughtfully designed so that it conveys some idea of what the application does.
    Why not take do the same here? Sure it’s a much larger scale, but at least I wouldn’t want to vomit each time I look at the top of my toolbox.
    Then again, now Adobe has no competition after buying Macromedia, who cares about branding? I bet they could safely rename any of their apps (except maybe flash and photoshop) to Flower Power and get away unscathed..

  48. It seems that new icons are a result of the new folks in charge suffering from the “not-invented-here-syndrome”. “Hey, I can think of 500 reasons why we need to reinvent the wheel by throwing away all the momentum behind the old icons and brand equity that we’ve (I meant, “those old Adobe folks”) created in the past!”
    This tends to always happen when a team or group is “under new management”. Given the controversy resulting from the new creative direction, I’d be surprised if it’s the same folks will still be in charge come CS4. If history repeats itself, the new folks in charge of CS 4 will trash everything done in CS3 and hopefully we’ll get nice icons again.

  49. I was looking at the colour wheel adobe published with their icons, trying to figure out what was what. Oh, there’s dreamweaver, wonder what Rh is? This has got to be the worse icon family I’ve ever seen. An icon is supposed to represent a thing in an iconographic, instantly graspable way, not literally in a way that requires consideration.
    When I use your comment form and press TAB I go to the top of the page. Very irritating.
    [Yeah, unfortunately I don’t know how to change that, esp. as it works fine in Safari. –J.]

  50. You should close the comments. The said is said and the unsaid is said too.
    [Yeah, that’s probably so. But I do think it’s valuable to let folks have their say. –J.]

  51. The new icons stand out like a sore thumb on my Vista desktop, and it’s for that reason I wouldn’t choose to have them as shortcuts anywhere. I’d rather bury them away in my start menu where nobody can see them.

  52. Every style guide I’ve ever read about creating icons for an OS say that you shouldn’t use letters and you should give them unique shapes. Is Adobe suggesting that all that be thrown away and Firefox be a big FF, iTunes a big IT, Mail a big M, etc.? It seems lazy to me.
    And if you insist on having the letters, why not at least do something subtle behind them to make the icons more unique? Use the feathers and flowers, even.

  53. I don’t think it will look good with all these 64bit OS that are coming up. The iCal icon on mac OSX or even icones in Vista looks more impressive, i would think that for creative tools they would be “shinier”, unless they look for a more “element table” with a twist(Adobe icons draft)
    “Packaging as important as product” i guess same thing for software even if it is a tool. But this only my personal opinion…

  54. I like new icons. It’s a bold move and I think in the right direction. And I’d like to say that these icons are here to stay. But I’m curious about new versions. How Photoshop CS4 icon going to look like? I like to have two versions installed at the same time and icons for them should be different. Changing color is not a good option. But I’m guessing styling could change a bit. Well, I’m impressed and want to express my respect to people who not only came up with this but also made it happen, because although the solution is great, most people need some time to get it.

  55. While I agree that feathers, flowers, and giant lowercase f’s say nothing about the product and branding, at least they are distinguishable at a glance. When I look for an icon in the doc, or the start menu, I see the shape and one strong color and gravitate to towards what my memory tells me is the correct one. When all the icons are boxes and I might have 6 icons of similiar colors next to each other, I’m forced to read the text, then mentally translate it into the name of the application (to double-check).
    The original idea behind the icon was an image that described what task the application performed. Imagine your desktop trash can as a gray sqare marked “Tc” and your hard drive a silver sqare marked “Hd”. How user-friendly is that?

  56. I always associated the graphics in the splash screens and the icons derived from them as examples of the kinds of imagery the software made possible. In no way did I ever think this was anything but a placeholder until I read this page. Adobe, you’ve been sold a bill of goods!

  57. Great work with the logos. They are more functional. When I have the complete Creative Suite and Production Suite on my Quick Launch bar and its great to have this Letter distinction for me to easily click on the tool I need. Thanks Adobe! Waiting for the CS3 release.

  58. >Great work with the logos. They are more functional…
    That’s the problem. They are logos, not Icons, but we are expected to use them as icons. They are far too similar to be identifiable. The type treatment isn’t even consistent. Can’t you at least have each abbreviation use the same first letter as the program it represents? It takes spectacular incompetence to mess that up.

  59. Upon the first launch of PSCS3b I was sure that the PS was a temporary icon. Upon finding out that it isn’t, I’m incredibly surprised. It would be easy to say “they are just icons”, but for a company who has so much stock in Design, the current solution fails miserably. To make matters worse, a few icons retain their original icons while the others use the foolish syllable-acronym strategy.

  60. The fact that there even needs to be a discussion on “branding” a splash screen really says something about these products.
    Why not just make the damn products more efficient and then you wouldn’t need to worry about having a splash screen at all, let alone branding it.
    The icons, to me, are way too inconsistent to warrant this drastic of a change. If ALL of the Adobe product lines were adopting this change then I could see it making more sense. Since there are a handful of apps that are still keeping their old branding it makes the rest of the “global re-brand” seem like a half-assed, unplanned project. Change ’em all or leave ’em be.

  61. What an incredible volume of pompous indignation over these new icons from the mouths of these self-proclaimed cognoscenti! To hinge one’s protest, for example, on the premise that they aren’t profoundly “creative” or “inspiring” is the height of pretention and/or myopic perception of all the practical factors alluded to by Mr. Nack.
    Mr. Nack states his and Adobe’s case clearly and understandably enough in the above article.
    Art for art’s sake continues to be the elusive and arbitrary hobby horse of many, an activity which thankfully plays second fiddle to the real purpose of art being COMMUNICATION. The Adobe designers saw this pragmatic need and acted upon it to the end of much greater simplicity, efficiency, utility, and aesthetic consistency.
    Very well done, I say.

  62. I think the idea behind the icons is great. Keep it simple, pull everything together, and make it Adobe’s. However, I think the icons lack the power of where computers icons are headed.
    Fine keep the tiled look, but add some dimension to them. Offset the angle of the face to give a depth or height. Just some dimension would make a lot of disgruntled people happy about this new look.

  63. I have to say right out that I’m not much of a picture person; I work best with words. I like things to look pretty, but I’m not an arteest.
    The new icons are functional. I won’t find myself launching the wrong application by mistake; that’s true. They also have a common theme that makes it very clear that they are related [Adobe] products.
    Even though I respond better to text than to pictures, and these icons have text on them, they do look like placeholder art to me. They are misfits on the dock and they don’t follow the whimsical tradition of Mac icons in general. (I love the rubby ducky for Cyberduck, for instance.)
    I think you did a good job, but the icons don’t look like they were made by artists using Adobe products. You did about as much as could be expected the first time around, but you should thinking of ways to improve them for the next release.

  64. These icons are easy to use and they do tie all the products together, but why do I keep having the feeling that something is wrong with them, and why couldn’t I put my finger on it?
    Then I suddenly realized what the problem is. They aren’t icons at all! They are buttons. No wonder they look out of place–they are!

  65. My style is all about simplicity, so I think the new icons are great! They solve the design/communication problem you guys were facing, and the Slimbach font is nice! However I gotta disagree with the claim that they aren’t periodic table elements. Maybe that wasn’t your intention, but… I mean come on. 🙂

  66. You have not heard further complaints from me because I replaced the entire set of CS3 icons within 30 minutes of installing the programs as I found them so offensively ugly and confusingly indistinguishable in use.
    I had totally forgotten about those CS3 abominations because I no longer have to suffer even a glimpse of the horrible things!

  67. okay, as a graphic design, I have to say I am a bit slow to recognize words. I rely on shapes and colors together more than words. Of course you can say word are shapes but dont you think a butterfly is easier to recognize than seperate between FS and PS. Thus, I think it’s an eyesore to see my file’s icon (i got zillion of files in every directory/desktop etc..) turn into those ugly-looking-thing. Ok, the font is good but I would never want a big slap of gradient color on my icons. I agree with one of the comments says it does looks like a placeholder for a further development of icons.

  68. I have to laugh at the people yearning for feathers and butterflies—Listen to yourselves, FEATHERS AND BUTTERFLIES?
    From an ability to easily identify and select their icons, Adobe’s done a great job here, the periodic table of apps is a great solution to identifying the dizzying array of apps now offered by Adobe. I have to admit that while I grew fond of the old PS 3.x and 4.x icons.
    [Yeah, PS3 was my favorite. I don’t know why they went back to the black-and-red-only thing for PS4. It’s Adobe, not the White Stripes… –J.]
    I detested them from there on out. This redesign is a remarkable improvement in function, elegance, and usability.

  69. I’m not very pleased with the solution adobe chose.
    First if it improves on previous ones which were a total mess, Types are not the fastest way to recognize an Icon. It’s even in the definition of the word icon, it’s an image. And that image should tell as much as possible about the function of the app. And then color and shape blah blah blah…
    But what I think is very wrong is if that design work may work in the Adobe ecosystem it would fail totally systemwide. Imagine Apple chose that in 84 and everybody followed : what a mess would be the system today !
    So I really think they should go back to the very basic work of icon design and do Icons. you know…

  70. I also agree that icons need to be symbols or images and reading (even if its one or two letters) takes an extra step of brain power to recognize an app.
    Adobe has so many apps so there is no way they can keep the colors apart. (Might have worked for a company with a less than 10 products)
    I hope for CS4 they would rethink this system or atleast give an option to select from 2 (or more) sets of icon themes that is defined by some sort of global Adobe setting on the machine.
    I noticed that some of the later apps (like AMP and AIR) are starting to use real icons even though the single color box remains (I can live with the box) I think this is a good sign and lets keep our fingers crossed.
    This would still keep those “simplisity junkies” happy while letting the icons do the job of being icons!

  71. Must admit that the new style is dazzling.But have always wondered how they come up with those smooth curves in their splash screens.

  72. Umm…don’t like the icons. Make your own and use them. I dig ’em and won’t have to waste my time. I did however dig the white type of CS3 a bit more than the black transparent in CS4.

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