The design of Adjustments in CS4 [Part 2 of 3]

On Thursday I talked a bit about how the Adjustments panel introduced in Photoshop CS4 fits in with the team’s larger vision for the product. Now I’ve asked my fellow Photoshop PM, Bryan O’Neil Hughes, to elaborate on some of the design goals that informed the effort. Bryan drove the development of this feature, so I thought you’d like to hear his perspective (in this post’s extended entry).

When we looked at improving the user experience for Photoshop CS4, we decided very early on that we wanted to help as many users as possible–no small nut to crack when you consider the incredibly diverse user-base that the application serves. Although Photoshop has several core competencies and an admittedly large trough to draw from with regards to becoming more “walk-up simple,” we found that the many options around image adjustments and selections were both dizzying and, at times, limited. Here I’d like to specifically address what we did with the Adjustment Panel and why it’s one of CS4’s most important and transformative features.

Whether you’re a seasoned veteran of the application or someone who has popped over for the first time from Lightroom, Photoshop can be a bit intimidating (I can hear you agreeing from here). I can’t tell you how many times I would loom over a professional’s shoulders and hear, “you probably know a better way to do this”…what a terrible way to feel with so much power at one’s finger tips.

Luckily, when it came to image adjustments, we knew that there was a set of feature that in many cases, were far better than the rest – Adjustment Layers. Adjustment Layers are non-destructive and re-editable (think history that lives with your file); they offer unparalleled creative control with 25 blending modes and 100 levels of opacity; and they can be easily shared, duplicated and repurposed. The problem here is that in order to appreciate the benefits of adjustment layers, you need to know where they are, how they work and a series of secret handshakes to leverage their power.

The problem was clear, but in order to help as many users as possible we needed the solution to be easier to find, faster and more powerful. Let’s step through those one by one:

1. Easier to find: Step one was getting the features where people would find them, out of the menus and into the application’s main interface (oceanfront real estate). This addressed discoverability, but more importantly it delivered a non-modal solution. No longer did a user need to navigate from a menu to a sub-menu to a dialog box (which held the application hostage in a frozen state) to an “OK” button.

In the Adjustment Panel you’re enjoying the many benefits of layers in real-time with the entire application LIVE, by default. You can wander anywhere in the application as you choose without being handcuffed to a dialogue. For those of you using multiple monitors, having these controls in a panel means that much more control of the interface.

2. Faster: As you might imagine, moving from one’s image to a panel beside it is far faster than combing through various menus and dialogues – as it turns out the experience uses up to 89% less mouse travel than the old, menu-driven, modal method.

In CS3 we introduced the notion of on-image editing with the then-new Black & White feature. This tool allowed users to click on the desired tone in the image itself, then pull left to right to darken or lighten the image – no additional UI required. For CS4 we took a page out of Lightroom’s book and brought on-image editing to Curves, Hue and Saturation in the new Adjustment Panel. Talk about fast and easy, you just click on the desired area and pull (up and down for Curves, left and right for Saturation, add the Command modifier for Hue).

Another thing that helps both new users and old is the power of presets; being able to get started quickly and re-use your work can be both inspiring and fast. CS4 added preset mechanisms to Levels, Exposure, Hue/Sat and Selective Color (the others we added in CS3), I personally created 22 new presets that ship in the CS4, but you can generate your own as well (don’t forget that presets can be shared too).

3. More Powerful: To leverage power from Lightroom and Camera Raw, we brought the Vibrance control to CS4 in the form of the Vibrance Adjustment Layer. The best way to appreciate the benefits of this powerful new feature is to let the results speak for themselves – open a colorful image and increase saturation to 100%, then reset and try Vibrance at 100%. Vibrance is most effective with keeping skin tones within the range of the believable, but I think you’ll find that it’s a superior method of controlling the accuracy of saturation with any image.

The last thing I’ll say about power is that we assured it for all by removing stumbling blocks (those aforementioned secret handshakes)…simple things like reset, preview and deletion of layers have clear, iconographic buttons; as Lightroom has proven, creativity follows ease of use and a lack of unnecessary interruptions….”just let me get to work!” we often hear.

In closing, while I’m proud of what these features offer all users, I’m most excited about what they mean to newer users or those not previously using layers. For the first time in the application’s history we’ve advocated the right thing, up front and helped all users of CS4 take full advantage of the best we have to offer, by default.

Thanks for reading,

Bryan O’Neil Hughes

19 thoughts on “The design of Adjustments in CS4 [Part 2 of 3]

  1. Many power users feel differently about the hard-to-close panels. I personally hate it. I work in Prepress, and me and my 30 co-workers are in PS 8-9 hours a day. We really don’t care if it’s “easier” to find (we know where it is, most of us have a F-key assigned). Specifically I am looking at using the Curves panel. We need it to work well and fast for us, and unobtrusively. Within 1 minute of trying to use CS4, I was appalled by the working of the Curves adjustments panel. I want it to go away/accept when I press Enter, or cancel changes when I push Escape. Now neither works, it applies instantly or I have to find a tiny little undo button. Plus, I can’t use the keyboard shortcuts for the channels, command-1,2,34 for CMYK channels. Now its what?- Option 3,4,5,6? That makes no sense. This is not progress. This is regress.
    I applaud you for trying to make Adobe apps more accessible, really. But I really hate that in order to do that, you either make the function less functional, or do not consider some of the core of professionals that use it every day as their job. I think needs of professionals need to trump “discoverability” for newbies. Some apps just have a learning curve to use properly.

  2. I agree on all points mentioned. I like the adjustment panel a lot as well as on-image editing. Just two things:
    – If panels are minimized, only one panel at a time is visible. So that’s the adjustments panel. I used to have a look at the info panel whenever editing an image for exact color values. That’s not possible with adjustments as a panel in the aforementioned setup. Suggestion: (as an option) display color values just like a quick tool tip when hovering over the image. Or, however, make it possible to constantly display pixel color values somewhere else (bottom window border?), so no panel has to be open for this crucial information.
    – on-image editing can be confusing, e.g. with Hue/Saturation. There are three sliders, but which one do I alter when clicking and sliding right on the image (secret handshakes again, you have to know which extra keys to hold down)? In Lightroom hue, sat and lum are separated, which I find to use more intuitively.
    Oh, and a third thing, just a minor thing: Black/white used to have an saturation slider. It’s gone in CS4 🙁

  3. 1. Icons are useless to non-newcomers. I already have to turn off the icons for the panels, now you give me icons I can’t turn off, exactly the opposite of what you promised “everything you need, nothing you don’t”. Neither do I get the old dialogs when I double click (what I need) nor can I turn of the icons (what I don’t need). Why force us?
    [Please don’t keep making the same point over and over. You’re not giving me info that helps improve the panel. Putting one’s head in the sand is not an option. –J.]
    2. To claim it’s 89% faster than a really crappy workflow doesn’t help much, John.
    [FYI you’re addressing Bryan. It’s his post, as he drove the development of the panel. –J.]
    We didn’t work that way and you know that very well. You use an F key and can already set the standard curve. For example one F key creates a curve with pulled in ends in Luminosity mode (to prevent clipping when going from LAB or RGB to CMYK) and another is set to Color Mode colored and named for clear visibility. No way this is faster now. You have to manually rename and recolor the layer.
    Little icons all over the app are annoying and things that are visible permanently are the Lightroomish nonsence so many users have asked you not ot implement for years, I remmber one even posting a screenshot of his nightmare GUI and it had you saying “Step 1…”. You just got a step closer to that.
    3. Vibrance is nice, why not a normal dialog for the pros and the AP for the noobs?
    [It doesn’t matter how many times you say the panel is “just for noobs.” It isn’t. If you don’t value the things it makes possible for pros, then tell us how to make it better. But please do not post additional comments repeating the same non-starter point. –J.]
    Give us both and everybody’s happy.
    [Except that we’ll be criticized for “bloat,” redundancy, even more ways to do the same thing, etc. So it goes. –J.]

  4. Now this is something I can agree with that Adobe does right. I work in design and layout. I love the Adjustments panel, and while I’m not in PS 8-9 hrs. a day, I am in it every day. I have no problem with an Info panel that you can tear-off and float or dock elsewhere and keeps itself open and reading out selections while working in Curves or whatever. And that is how I have it set up. I love instant feedback of what I am doing with Curves, “Live”, on screen. I also go to Adjustments, then to brushes and stamp and back to Adjustment panels, all without doing it the old way of closing the Curves, doing some brush work, opening this…etc. That is slow and encumbering.
    Now, where are my self coloring brushes?

  5. Reply to To Dr. Watson:
    Your comment does not seem to take into consideration the dynamics of bell curve-normal probability distribution. Coincindentally, this graph looks just like a properly exposed photo in levels.
    Between “newbies” and pre-press experts there is a wide distribution of PSCS users who like the new Adjustments panel. I am one of them and consider myself a PS expert…I tutor others.
    I totally disagree with this statement:
    I think needs of professionals need to trump “discoverability” for newbies.
    I am all for redefining the phrase Photoshop professional and inviting “newbies” into the inner sanctum.

  6. //RE: Oh, and a third thing, just a minor thing: Black/white used to have an saturation slider. It’s gone in CS4 🙁
    You have it by clicking on the tint color square. That turns on a “select target color” color picker box with all possible colors – tick the “s” radio button.

  7. The panel is cool and faster to work with for creative stuff. However, I would like some slightly better integration with masks panel. If I become addicted by clicking on the adjustment icon from the layers panel -I would expect the same functionality from the masks panel. I know the usual suspects shortcuts are taken – but why not make the dobbelclick go for the mask panel instead of the “layer mask display options”. That would be topnice ultrasuper.

  8. I think the people complaining about the way the adjustment panels behave might be thinking the old modal windows are no longer available. They are. Ctrl+M for curves for example!
    Just use photoshop the same way you’ve used it with the model windows!
    However I do think the modal windows should have an additional option to “turn these settings into an adjustment layer” along with the normal instant-application ‘OK’ button.
    And maybe the adjustments panel should have a button for “open the curves modal window with these current settings” just to make everybody happy from both sides.

  9. I think the last sentence is most interesting: “For the first time in the application’s history we’ve advocated the right thing, up front and helped all users of CS4 take full advantage of the best we have to offer, by default.”
    I think you (the developers) ought to recognize that there is some controversy over whether the feature is a good thing for designers already experienced in using adjustments. That you continue to push down the path, ignoring complaints, is frustrating.
    The words “by default” are particularly galling, since there is no option other than the default. I wish a script were the simple answer to use modal dialogs, but it isn’t a full solution. I wrote a more complicated script than John’s to pop up a modal dialog for any adjustment layer. It still can’t be used to create the layer and it can’t be bound to a double click on the layer because that isn’t a scriptable event.

  10. “Except that we’ll be criticized for “bloat,” redundancy, even more ways to do the same thing, etc. So it goes” – I fail to see how a single option in Preferences or in the layers panel flyout to enable “Modal Adjustments” could be accused of bloat, and CERTAINLY not of redundancy. Because in CS4 the modal dialog is still the most efficient way to use adjustment layers, brought up using an F key action. ‘more ways to do the same thing’ – this only an alternative way to do things in the INTERFACE, and that’s to be applauded not criticized. Fair enough, hide it behind a preference.
    The modal dialogs are faster to use when adjusting the values, deliver useful readings in info, respond to essential speed saving keyboard shortcuts – which mean a lot less mouse clicks.
    Another major problem with Curves in the Adjustment panel – Curves Display Options (which I need to change regularly to toggle histogram, or flip Ink to light) is now reachable only via a difficult to access drop down menu. The Dialog has those options permanently visible. Again, a lot less mouse clicks.
    There is really a huge list of inconveniences and cludges, and downright useablity issues, that the new panel creates – all of which are avoidable.
    I think the main objective , which seems to be making adjustments discoverable for beginners, or people who haven’t done their homework, is OK. But PLEASE don’t make it compulsory for those who do know what they are doing.
    Finally to be honest, I agree with most of all is T. Schmidt’s rather aggressively made point – ‘To claim it’s 89% faster than a really crappy workflow doesn’t help much’ – and that’s directed to Bryan
    I have only one counter to all these points – The Targeted Adjustment tool has potential, and being able to adjust values within the image is a move forward. It’s not working quickly enough on high res files at the moment.

  11. Guess my comments are going to go against the grain of things then. 🙂 My first introduction to Photoshop was with CS3 and in all honesty never got to use all of it’s feature set as the entire UI seemed so unfriendly. In the short time that I have been using CS4 I’ve probably used it 500% more than CS3 and find the entire application a dream to use. There are an awful lot of non power users out there to be taken into consideration so I for one wouldn’t like too many changes to the UI.

  12. Thanks to all of you for the feedback, it really is our hope that you’ll help us move these features forward for ALL of you. I can’t tell you how much your constructive criticism and detailed suggestions are valued – if you’re happy just the way it is, that’s certainly fine too 😉
    I wanted to share a great article from Debbie Grossman of Popular Photography:
    As always, please feel free to ask any questions or pass any feedback directly.
    -Bryan O’Neil Hughes
    Photoshop Product Manager

  13. I’ve only responded once before to a post on this blog, and it was on this very topic. It was during the CS4 development cycle, asking for comments on a narrow topic, but I went on a rant asking for non-modality everywhere in Photoshop. When I saw the new Adjustments panel in CS4, I decided you made it for me. 🙂 So, thanks. You’re not finished yet, but this is the right direction.
    For those crying about how modal dialogs are so much better: …um, seriously? You actually prefer having a window that obscures what you’re working on, with the lame Preview checkbox which merely simulates non-modality? That’s 9-inch Mac classic screen thinking, right there. Today’s bargain PCs come with 19″ monitors minimum. Cheap little netbooks have bigger screens than the systems Photoshop was first designed for. It’s long past time to do away with modality. It was a fix for a problem we no longer have.
    That said, yes, the Adjustments panel does suck a bit, in a 1.0 kind of way. The primary problem is the time it takes to learn what all those little icons do, with no built-in option for moving past that to use keyboard shortcuts. They’re like welded-on training wheels.
    Yes, I’m aware you can use the keyboard shortcut editor to reassign, say, Cmd-L to New Levels Adjustment Layer, but the point is that CS4 didn’t do this. You pulled your punch. And, if you do make this change yourself, you don’t get the same effect from pressing Cmd-L as clicking the Levels button on the Adjustments panel: it pops up yet another modal dialog (the “Option” dialog) when you use the shortcut, whereas the button gives fully modeless behavior.
    It would be a risky step to reassign all the Cmd-singleletter commands for the image adjustment commands, but doing so will give you more of that Lightroom sort of feel. That is, a tool you can drive like a race car: head always up, flying along at a hundred and fifty down the straightaway. That’s what I want, Adobe, a race car. And a pony.

  14. I use Photoshop 8-10h on daily basis and Adjustments panel has definitely improve my work speed. I have been using adjustment layers for some time before the panel was introduced and don’t consider myself a newbie. But the panel itself still need some more refinement. Most of the things have already been mentioned in the previous posts. But one thing hasn’t been addressed: presets in the Adjustments panel. My request, or wish is that you add ability to apply preset that can create multiple adjustment layers – similar to an “action.” That would relay make the presets useful and speed thing significantly.
    [Oh yeah, we really want to do that one. –J.]

  15. I really like the changes and the non-modality. I’d just like to see an easier way to set the blending mode – eg include it in the adjustments panel. Most times I apply a curve, for instance, I also want to apply Luminosity or Color.

  16. Nobody says the AP doesn’t have potential. That’s not the point. You’re making up an easy to bash claim, that I never made. Take the AP and keep working on it but even if you might come up with something decent one day, that is still no reason to keep us from working the old, but way more importantly FAST way.
    I’m not suggesting to stop working on the panel. I’m mostly aggressive against this attitude to just set defaults for us, as if we needed your presets and symbols, because we’re to dumb to come up with decent adjustments ourselves.
    I know you hate repetitions but you keep asking for it. We’re not agianst the panel’s existence (although rather redundant). I’m against your way to force us to use it.
    And talking about bloat, what other than bloat are the icons? If I could turn them off I’d ignore them. You force me to hate them, poor icons.
    A function I find neat is the ability to drag inside the picture, still no need for a panel, just add it to the old dialog.
    The worst thing is that you made that mistake with the Screen Mode in CS3 and now you repeat it. Just offer us to turn things off and you won’t hear me complain.
    I love CS4, you did a great job, don’t ruin it by forcing us and don’t force us to use other features in the future. The AP would find more acceptance if it was an option. Remember mouse and keyboard, both useful.

  17. All of these things are EASILY customiseable with Actions. If you want a new Color blended Curves adjustment, you create an Action for it and assign an F key. Its really simple, always was.
    The main problem with the panel is that while you are USING the adjustment layer – adjusting the values, changing ranges in Hue/sat, toggling the histogram, trying to use the scrubby sliders etc – its MUCH more cubersome than its been since Photoshop 6.
    The scrubby sliders (one example, useful for making subtle hue adjustments in Hue/sat for example) have been ruined, with any double click on the word resetting the values back to zero. As a result its now extremely fiddly and difficult to do this with a tablet. It’s changes like this that make you wonder if they are consulting professional users at all when making these decisions. Its like things are happily going backwards in terms of usability.
    [So, then, no one must value the ability to easily reset the values of the sliders. (We only consult with inebriated vagrants at the Greyhound station, btw.) –J.]

  18. Yes, problem is they do seem to be getting more inebriated as the years and the versions roll by John
    Its a feature worth having – but would be better implemented by holding down some MODIFIER keys and double clicking – remembering please that Option and Shift also change the scrubby sliders operation in very useful ways. This new annoyance, at the moment in Adjustment Layers at least, downgrades all the great work you did on scrubby sliders.

  19. Excellent piece from Bryan. Thanks to both of you. I agree that the new Adjustments panel is a big step forward. Kudos.
    But (and there’s always a but, isn’t there) I’d recommend working on making the panel smaller. It’s so big it ends up hogging my valuable right panel column. Dragging it out of there into another column isn’t a great solution, because the inner column gets in the way of the doc window–particularly when teaching at a lower resolution required by many projectors. If leaving the presets out of the initial view of the Adjustments panel would help make the panel smaller, that’s what I would vote for. I seldom think of using a preset until after I’ve gotten into the controls for a specific adjustment. I’d imagine other people take the same approach–macro to get to an adjustment; then micro to access presets as well as individual settings. Just my two cents after using the Adj panel so much lately.

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