January 2, 2006

Kool Aid is Poison

In the tech industry, we refer to the marketing ploys of a company as kool aid. You drink the kool aid and you believe everything the company says. Apple has incredibly strong kool aid, and Adobe's kool aid works well too. This is especially true when you're selling technology that's cool, because when something amazes you, you tend to ask less questions and marvel in the "coolness" factor.

Kool aid sells product and generates buzz and excitement. There are plenty of great things about kool aid. But there's a danger about it that I've come to realize over the years -- and it's directly related to how features themselves are marketed. Adobe is usually very good about showing you new features and cool technology. They pick a workflow or an example and say "here's what you can do!" and you stare at the screen (or stage) with your mouth open and say "holy #$%!" I need that. But let's say that the item they are showing doesn't interest you? Then you say "well, that feature is worthless to me - I have no use for it". And that's where it all heads south.

There are some features in Illustrator that have a certain pre-determined use, which exists only because Adobe marketed the feature that way. And in doing so, many people overlook those features because they don't realize that there are other ways the feature can be used.

In recent Illustrator history, I can offer two classic examples of a feature that was marketed in one way, yet the feature itself has far greater potential. These are 3D, and Live Paint. Sure, at face value, these features seem useless, or "not for me" -- maybe even a "yeah, it's cool, but come on -- I would hardly ever use it".

I'll admit that when I was first introduced to Live Paint, and I was told from Adobe how to use it, I was like "oh, this is dumb, it's so far from what people really need". Then one day, while fooling around with it, I realized just how powerful it was. I was looking at it (and using it) from a completely different angle -- the angle that Adobe was telling me about. Now, I use Live Paint daily -- I hardly use Pathfinder anymore. It's changed the way I think about building shapes and working with artwork. All of this because I drank the Adobe kool aid -- which blocked me from playing with the feature on my own and deciding for myself what it could be used for.

I see similar issues with 3D. When I talk to folks about the feature, their first response is "I don't do 3D graphics" -- but after showing them a few things that I could do using 3D, or artwork mapping, they flip out.

Bottom line is this: don't believe what the marketing folks tell you about features. Illustrator is a powerhouse that is there to be exploited. I define a power user as someone who knows a feature so well that they can use it for cases when you wouldn't think you would need it. So take my advice, drink the kool aid, but in small doses -- look beyond the face value of a feature -- you'll see that there's a lot more power to work with.


Newmango said...

I can see I need to spend more time around Live Paint. I use it regularly, but for the kinds of things you might expect - painting vectorized hand-drawn sketches and the like. But I use 3D every day, for everything from creating 3D objects for use in an illustration to precisely mapping a label to a product illustration.

I guess the thing that bothers me most about new feature kool aid is, from my perspective, the time that was wasted on a useless feature that could have been spent improving another. I think the 3D feature is only about half done. It needs more development. Yet I think in the same release cycle we got the amazing - and useless - Scribble feature. And how much time was spent perfecting the Line Segment and Arc tools? (I apologize to anyone who depends on these - if there are any).

Mordy Golding said...

I think the 3D feature is only about half done. It needs more development.

Ah! Of course it does. Many features do. But as you learned in some previous posts, a feature is drawn up into individual line items and not all of those make it into the product. Between you, me, and the four walls, we're lucky to have artwork mapping in there.

The question that comes up then is -- do you split such functionality over several releases, knowing you can't do it all in one (The new text engine is such an example)? And then, it gets put in the pile with the other 400 or so features on the plate and you end up asking yourself -- hmmm, Live Trace, or enhanced 3D functionality... usually, the new feature wins.

Anonymous said...

I can remember that ages ago (Illutrator 88 perhaps) when the blend tool was introduced as a morphing tool (as that was the popular thing--remember Michael Jackson's "Black and White"?). But instead turning the number 2 into a swan, users realized it was a great tool to create these new things called "gradients."