September 28, 2008

Dear Adobe - A quest for the perfect feature request

I once worked at Adobe. I was the product manager for Adobe Illustrator from January 2001 through January 2004. During that time, I've had the opportunity to speak with many folks who use Illustrator. From all over the world. At the same time, I've realized that it's impossible to meet with everyone personally -- and so I've tried where possible to participate in as many online forums and communities as possible to stay in touch with the Illustrator community at large. Even after leaving Adobe, I still enjoy participating in online discussions about Illustrator and Adobe products in general.

So it was with interest that I saw some recent mention on InDesign Secrets and John Nack's blog as well as other places about this website called Dear Adobe - a place where users could make requests for their favorite Adobe applications. What a great concept! Even though Adobe does have a feature request form that anyone can use, admittedly, it doesn't feel the same when you're making a request to someone who you "think" is not paying attention anyway.

So I took at a look at some of the requests, and was disappointed to see that most of them were just rants that were useless in the form of any type of request. I understand the frustration users may feel (I feel it too), but if you really want to help the situation, you're better off providing useful feedback.

Back when I was the Illustrator product manager, I tried to help Illustrator customers provide me with useful feedback. I was then able to use that feedback to do whatever was possible to improve the product. Comments like "make Illustrator suck less" isn't very useful to the team. I also worked closely with beta testers at the time, teaching them how to write better bug reports and feature requests -- which ultimately helped the team identify issues quickly and fix them.

So I wanted to take this opportunity to do two things. First, I took the 25 top Illustrator requests from the Dear Adobe website and have responded to each of them. Some are valid, some are actually addressed in CS4 (I guess that shows that Adobe is listening to customers on some level), and some are really good examples of what isn't useful feedback at all. Hopefully my responses will give readers some idea of what kind of feedback is useful to Adobe.

Second, I thought I'd share some instruction for what kind of feedback is useful to Adobe -- how to write a great bug report or a great feature request. In fact, I'll talk about this first.

Tips on Providing Feedback to Adobe

First, let's talk about bugs. If you think you've found a bug, or are experiencing an issue, the first thing to do is try to replicate it. If you can reproduce the issue, that's easier to work with. A bug that happens once but never again is much harder to deal with. This is because Adobe can only log a bug in their system if THEY can repeat it themselves. Adobe has labs with all types of computers running all types of operating systems. Once a bug is reported, the first thing Adobe will do is assign someone from Quality Assurance Engineering to try to replicate the issue. The most important reason for this isn't because Adobe doesn't believe you really have a bug -- it's because if they develop a fix for the problem, they need a way to verify that the fix actually solves the problem.

If you can replicate the issue, you should clearly list to Adobe 4 important items:

1. What is your system setup? Sometimes, a bug occurs on Windows but not Mac, or on a specific operating system, or with a certain graphics card. Where you can, fully describe your platform, your amount of RAM, your operating system, and probably most important of all, which version of software you're using. I can't tell you how many times I see people post issues on user forums but who don't state which version they are using.

2. What are the exact steps you did? This is important, to ensure that the folks at Adobe are following the exact same steps you are. You might even number this. For example: 1. Launch Illustrator. 2. Draw a rectangle. 3. Rotate it 37 degrees. etc.

3. What was the result? Tell Adobe what it is that you saw. Did the program crash when you rotated the object 37 degrees? Did the object disappear?

4. What was the expected result? This just makes sure Adobe understand what you were trying to do -- to make sure everyone is on the same page. You might say "I expected the object to rotate 37 degrees and NOT crash" :)

Although not necessary, you might also include additional information (for example, you might state you tried rotating the object 38 degrees and everything was fine, etc.)

As for feature requests, things like system information or exact steps aren't necessary at all. But what is necessary is a clear description of what you're asking for. What are your expectations? What are you trying to accomplish? More so, Adobe is REALLY good at solving problems that designers face. If you describe WHY such a feature would be important to you (i.e., I am constantly getting Excel files from clients and want to be able to import those directly into Illustrator) instead of just making a blanket statement (i.e., "graphs suck, make them better"), Adobe can build case studies and examples and prove to their managers that they are solving real world problems.

Dear Adobe's Top-25 Illustrator Requests

1. Why is it easy to make a transparent gradient in Photoshop and so damned involved in Illustrator. Could they not be the same?

Pixels and vectors are different. That aside, Illustrator CS4 (finally) features the ability to add opacity values to any gradient stop.

2. Could you please add auto-saving to Illustrator? It crashes more than the auto-saving InDesign. And I can't keep punching through laptop screens like this. Cheers!

If Illustrator is crashing that much, there must be something going on with your system. Are you working directly off a server? Maybe some corrupt fonts in your system? I've can't remember the last time Illustrator crashed on my system. But that issue aside, I do hear a lot of folks ask for an auto-save feature. Considering how long is can take to save an Illustrator file, I don't think it's in the best interest of anyone to every 5 minutes have Illustrator tell you to hold on for a while as it saves your file. What I think people are really asking for is something like InDesign's ability to automatically write to a temporary file every 60 seconds, basically ensuring that you never lose more than 60 seconds of work. Alas, InDesign was built from the ground up as a fail-safe application. I too would love to see this added to Illustrator. It's a valid request. But it's also one that I know would probably require a tremendous amount of architectural work under the hood.

3. It would be nice if Illustrator didn't attach 20 unused brushes and 40 unused styles to every new document that is saved.

You have complete control over what Illustrator does or does not add to a file. The default profiles that Illustrator ships with does contain sample content (brushes, styles, swatches, etc.), but you can change that to your needs and liking. For more information on how to do that, read this.

4. All I ever want in Illustrator is to make a SYMMETRICAL FREAKING CURVE, but that's apparently an unreasonable request.

Not sure exactly what this request is referring to, as it could mean one of several things. It's a perfect example of a comment that isn't very helpful to the Illustrator team (or to any team at Adobe for that matter).

5. Fix Illustrators 'export to psd' so the outputted psd actually looks EXACTLY the same as the illustrator file... please...

There are two options available when exporting a PSD file from Illustrator: Flat Image, and Write Layers. Due to the ways that an Illustrator document may be structured and any of those elements that may or not have compatible appearance equivalents in Photoshop, your document may change in appearance when opened in Photoshop. However, if you want the EXACT same image in Photoshop, use the Flat Image option. If you really need the layers in Photoshop, my suggestion is to remove any transparency from the Illustrator and file, and then reapply the transparency as needed when you open the file in Photoshop. At the end of the day, it's the transparency structure that causes the "issues".

6. When I move my Illustrator palettes to my second monitor, could they stay there? Instead of hopping back to my primary monitor?

My understanding is that this was a limitation of the user interface infrastructure. The new user interface added across the Suite products in CS4 (what Adobe internally refers to as "OWL 2.0") now supports two monitors and you should now be able to also save workspaces across multiple monitors.

7. Make the text tool in illustrator able to scroll type choices like in photoshop.

How crazy is this? This is a feature that works just fine in Windows, but is "broken" on Mac OS. It works on Mac in Photoshop and even InDesign. I share this user's frustration with this issue. It's a valid request and something Adobe is well aware of.

8. If I have an object selected and I zoom in, why can't you zoom in on that object?

I usually zoom in with the Zoom tool and by drawing a marquee around the area I want to zoom in on. But this is actually a valid request -- if you have an object selected, Illustrator should zoom in on that area when the general zoom functions are applied. InDesign does this perfectly. Illustrator should follow that lead. Good request.

9. Why the hell would I need a QuickTime codec to see a picture I dragged into Illustrator? It works fine if I use your [expletive deleted] import function.

I don't know WHY this has been an issue for so long now in Illustrator. I do this all the time -- when trying to drag images from a web page in Safari right into an Illustrator document. The good news? This is fixed in Illustrator CS4.

10. Fix your memory issues in Illustrator, I'm so tired of waiting for my files to save.

Here's another example of a request that is of absolutely no help to Adobe. First of all, why are you so sure that your long save times are related to memory issues? Second, what KIND of files are you saving? Do all files save slow? Maybe there's something else that is causing the delay? I'm not saying that Illustrator doesn't have memory issues -- maybe it does. But a comment like this doesn't give Adobe anywhere to start looking. More detail or a description would be helpful.

11. Please make Illustrator handle actions the way Photoshop does.

Photoshop has Actions that support "if-then" functionality -- something I know that John Nack, the PM for the Photoshop team, has specifically pushed for. Sadly, automation in general has been somewhat lacking in Illustrator over the years. This is a good request, but it would be extremely helpful to know exactly what it is you're looking to do in Illustrator. A lot can be done with Actions, so rather than leave it up to Adobe to decide what they can add in that area, why not take your great request and make it even better by articulating exactly what you'd like to be able to do with better Actions in Illustrator?

12. Masks in Illustrator need some major re-thinking.

I would agree, and as such, I'm happy to see that masks are much improved in Illustrator CS4. While the request itself is extremely vague, my hope is that the user was looking for easier ways to work with masks, where artwork that falls outside the masked areas doesn't get in the way.

13. Why has "Lock Guides, Clear Guides, New Guide…" it's on menu section and only "Show—Guides" is hidden somewhere else?

Not exactly sure what this request is. Illustrator's Show Guides feature is a toggle. When guides are visible, it reads "Hide Guides". When guides are hidden, it reads "Show Guides".

14. Give me layer comps in illustrator.... and the ability to organize layer comps into folders like you can with layers.

Illustrator "kinda" has Layer Comps if you consider using the Custom Views feature (see this link for more info). That being said, I do think it's a valid request -- it should be easier to manage multiple design ideas now with the Multiple Artboards feature in Illustrator CS4 -- but a Layer Comps-like feature would be welcome in a future version of Illustrator.

15. Mouse-wheel scrollable layers palette in IllustratorCS3

Now that just about everyone has a scroll wheel on their mouse, I think it's important for software developers to extend that functionality wherever possible in their applications. Thankfully, Illustrator CS4 does feature support for scrolling in panels with the mouse wheel.

16. Please fix all the (expletive deleted) that used to work in Illustrator 10, that you then broke in CS1 (and CS2 and CS3)

Wow. That is an AWESOME request. I'm sure the team will get right on it. Don't get me wrong -- I totally understand the frustration of users. But a comment like this doesn't give any direction to the team. If there's something specific, then spell it out.

17. Fix snap to pixel in illustrator

Hmmm. I'm not aware of anything wrong with the Snap to Pixel command in Illustrator. Again, this request kinda leaves it up to the imagination of Adobe to decide what the "problem" is. I can never emphasize this enough -- if you are seeing a problem, then clearly describe it. That being said, as I had mentioned, I am not aware of Snap to Pixel being broken. What I am aware of is an extremely difficult to manage antialiasing issue in Illustrator in general. While Pixel Preview helps to display where bad antialiasing happens, it provides no way to fix it. And the current toolset in Illustrator makes it difficult to get great looking web graphics out of Illustrator -- especially where text is involved. My request would be "make it easier to avoid nasty anti-aliasing issues where art is blurred, and give us better antialiasing settings for text, like Photoshop has".

18. Please educate Illustrator how to deal with the situation of 2 files open with the same name.

Um, OK. I just tried opening two files with the same name in Illustrator. No problems there. Another great example of a request that doesn't really help Adobe understand what the issue is.

19. I've been sitting here for the last 5 mins looking through all the bitching and that spinning ball of death is still going for no reason in Illustrator.

Again, I totally understand the frustration, but what can you do with this comment? It's not like Adobe is purposely adding the spinning beach ball of death as a feature of the program. So it's not like they can say "oh, sorry about that -- we'll just remove the spinning beach ball of death -- sorry for the inconvenience". What would help would be some more details about what you're doing when that occurs. Is it repeatable or does it happen often? Is it a specific file that causes the problem? Where you copying and pasting something? These types of clues can help engineers guess at where a problem might occur and find it.

20. Why do i require a quicktime codec to view the image i just dragged into illustrator from my browser. and why does this quicktime file not exist

This request is similar to the one above -- and is fixed now in Illustrator CS4.

21. Give Illustrator some upgrade love, already...

Well, in my own opinion, Illustrator CS4 is a pretty suite upgrade (as were the previous ones). But I'll let others decide that for themselves. From a feature request perspective, this doesn't give Adobe any specific direction, but it does a good job at expressing an emotion. I too have sometimes felt that other applications have gotten more "love" than Illustrator. But in reality, each application has a dedicated team that cares very much about their product and that do their best to produce the best upgrades possible.

22. Update your Illustrator graphing tool. It hasn't changed in 10 years. Needs more options.

From your keyboard to Adobe's ears, buddy. I have been advocating a modern graphic and charting tool in Illustrator for many years now. Excel and Powerpoint shouldn't be a designers' only hope for creating graphs or charts. Ordinarily, this request is too general, but this is an exception because the entire feature as a whole needs serious work. Still, if Adobe WERE to revamp this feature, how would they know what specifically this user wanted it to do? Rather than have Adobe do a whole bunch of work and STILL be disappointed, a request like "I want to be able to import an Excel spreadsheet and maintain a live link so that when the Excel file is updated, the graph in Illustrator automatically updates" will ensure that the user and Adobe are both thinking the same thing.

23. Fix Illustrator's terrible font rendering. Make it look like it does expanded.

When is this happening? How is this happening? More detail is required. Is this when rendering type for web graphics? If so, I do agree that Illustrator lacks the superior antialiasing options that Photoshop offers for type. But the wording of this request doesn't clearly describe the issue. Adobe is really good at solving problems.

24. Please give us gradient strokes in Illustrator. Please.

A valid request. InDesign can do this easily enough -- why not Illustrator? Sure, you can get this to work using the Appearance panel and a variety of effects, but still, why not just allow gradients on strokes?

25. You kindly turn off the highlight on text when choosing a color for it, but not when choosing a different weight. Would you kindly do this, or kindly jump off a cliff?

I think I'll choose to jump off the cliff. I was unable to reproduce this, but it could be because I don't completely understand the issue. More detail would help.

My intention here wasn't to answer requests in any official capacity, but rather, to hopefully shed some light on how we, as users, might help Adobe by providing useful feedback. Please don't get me wrong -- we have every right to complain or push back on features or functionality that we feel doesn't help us or is not representative of what we expect. After all, we are the ultimate consumers of the product. At the same time, if we don't clearly communicate our requests to Adobe in any meaningful way, we can't assume Adobe can read our minds. Hopefully, this post helps in that regard.


Chunk said...

Absolutely great post! What I would love to see is to have sliding scrubers for all the dialog boxes like in photoshop, so I can click on the font size and drag left or right to increase and decrease.

Andrew said...

Thanks for the post! As a QA guy, I really like it when anyone teaches how to report bugs/features. :-) Oh, btw, if my memory serves me, Freehand early on started doing smart zoom based on selection. ;-) Keep up the sharing!

Michael Riordan said...

Great Post, I too just came across the "Dear Adobe" site and was annoyed with the lack of constructive comments.

Another interesting item in your post was that you used to provide training and guidance to beta testers. For the first time in my career i was able to get the beta version of the software. I played with it and tried to find out what it could do but was stymied by a lack of help documentation and no clear idea of what or how Adobe wanted me to communicate back.

illustrationISM.... said...

i wish ILLustrator can EASILY paste in an object as easy as FREEHAND does; i.e....cut object, click on pathed object...PASTE in.
FREEHAND still rules. ILLustrator's ok.

mark jaquette @
illustrationism &
bammgraphics !

Unknown said...

22. Illustrator graphing tool Update

It' easy to see where could be the improvements.
Look at Aabel application and its various graphing options or simply browse through many of those info aesthetic blogs that we enjoy and/or contribute these last years to look for what people want.

Adobe Illustrator has way to similar graphing approach as MS Excel and it's lacking some serious creative control.
I see a dedicated panel for data graphs somewhere in the future, linked with symbols library and full layer structure.

The Geezer said...

Something I'd like to see is folders in the Layers Palette like in Photoshop - I'd also like to see it in the Brushes palette and others that can get cluttered - I put this on the dear Adobe site but too late for this version - although I did put it on the user forums for Illustrator sometime ago too...
Oh yep, its a great post, good focus and lead for everyone

Niklas said...

!Pixels and vectors are different."

That was the worst possible anwer you could have given. Ever. That aside, I am glad you finnaly fixed that thing. I have spent an accumulated time at over two full time weeks trying to emulate transparent gradients in my projects. Thank you for not wasting my time any longer but in stead adding a 100% markup on the international price.

Unknown said...

My request didn't make the top 25, but I'm surprised it doesn't already exist in Illustrator: Add Photoshop's "rubberband" option to Illustrator's Pen tool so the bezier being drawn can be previewed.

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear some feedback from Adobe! I'm sad to see that a lot of these requests are really vague or seemingly based on user error.

The one thing I would add is the annoying tendency for Illustrator to cling to the last used units instead of remembering whether inches or pixels are used in a specific file. I float between both screen and print workflows so I'm having to re-assign a document's units a lot.

I know this has come up before and it's not as significant to most, but it does seem like a nice little quirk to button up.

spottheblogger said...

One thing to keep in mind if you can't figure out exactly what the user is complaining about, is that these requests didn't make it into the top 25 list by being incomprehensible to other users. Clearly, many Illustrator users know what other users are talking about when they complain "I've been sitting here for the last 5 mins looking through all the bitching and that spinning ball of death is still going for no reason in Illustrator." Maybe we don't have the specifics for reproducing this exact bug, but we obviously have is a trend - a lot of times when Illustrator locks up on different users, with a spinning ball of death, for no apparent reason.

GoSpinBoy said...

The two things I'd like changed/fixed/added is being able to right-click cut/paste and for when i change a photo to grayscale for it to look as it does in Photoshop (or at least close). As it stands now, the grayscale function is pretty much useless in Illustrator when it comes to photos.

Changewinds said...

I don't know if this issue was addressed in CS4, but I haven't heard anything about whether it was addressed. Something that a Freehand user talked about that would be useful in Illustrator: magnetically joining points, ie, if you align two points on different paths on top of each other, there should be an option to join automatically. Or if an entire object is selected with multiple paths, an option to "join all points." To direct select two points and join each pair of paths individually gets to be cumbersome.
Thanks for addressing so many of the other issues with Illustrator.

Lara said...

Halleluja, please tell Adobe the specifics! If you don't have time to explain the problem, then maybe you should wait until you do? A spinning beachball of death can be caused by any of a large number of things. While the frustration is entirely understandable, saying something so vague as 'make adobe stop crashing!' is simply not helpful.

Anonymous said...

Can anyone confirm wether or not Command Tab is back to toggle the direct and indirect selection arrow?

This one 'feature' that CS3 removed cost me so much time to unlearn after using AI since 88 that I simply went back to CS2.

Don said...

#14 was my mine actually, so thanks for the response. Views aren't quite as useful as layer comps. My gripes with views is that you are limited to ~25 views, which is understandable because it lives in the menu rather then a palette. Second, it remembers only whether layers are toggled, not individual paths or text frames so I have to wrap everything I want to toggle in an additional layer. Nor would it remember appearance related settings or position like Photoshop. Multiple art boards look useful, but more if you have multiple related but dissimilar designs rather then one design with slight variances to it. (I am of course still very much looking forward to multiple art boards). Finally, while I could probably could create a script that is the equivalent of the PS script "layer comps to files" except for views, I haven't bothered since views don't fulfill my needs in the first place. I frequently have to create 40+ variances on a design and full blown layer comps would be amazingly useful.

Apparently enough people agree that it is ~#14.

PS: the second part of my dear adobe "organize layer comps into folders" was directed at photoshop but it was submitted before the dearadobe site was broken down by app.

PSS: I actually submitted a feature request for this at one point...

Anonymous said...

Please Adobe, add all the features I want and none that I do not. Fix the current bugs and do not introduce new ones. Make it faster, bigger and smaller. Automate everything but allow complete user control. Remove the bloat but pack it to the seams with features. Make it do what I tell it to do but have it protect me from myself.

Anonymous said...

You know I kid Mordy ; )

75th Trombone said...

I'm the guy who wrote #4 (which has since moved up to #3) and I would like to reiterate what spottheblogger said earlier:

One thing to keep in mind if you can't figure out exactly what the user is complaining about, is that these requests didn't make it into the top 25 list by being incomprehensible to other users. Clearly, many Illustrator users know what other users are talking about when they complain

I would think that you would make some sort of special mental effort to grasp the meaning of a gripe that's in the top 5. But let me explain it to you:

It is nearly impossible in Illustrator to make a perfectly symmetrical curve that is not an elliptical arc.

In fact, this doesn't apply to only curves; making any kind of geometrically precise figure that isn't a simple polygon is eye-clawingly difficult.

Take my personal, trivial little icon, for instance. Check out the part of that icon that's not the circle.

All I wanted was for it to be perfectly symmetrical; for each pair of sides to be perfectly parallel; and for the anchor points at the outside and inside of the point to be perfectly aligned. That took me hours of work to accomplish, and it was only possible with the help of a third party plugin that exposed precise coordinates for each anchor point and segment angle AND even beyond that I had to use hand calculations on paper!! And it seems like every time I sit down to design something, I'm confronted with this exact genre of problem.

Now, I grant you that my Illustrator-fu is low. Perhaps there's a magical method to assure geometric precision that I'm unaware of. But apparently at least 135 other people to date are also unaware of it and are as interested as I am in a solution.

I'm not asking for Illustrator to become a CAD program, but I would desperately like to see some accommodations in Illustrator for those of us — and apparently there are quite a few of us — who like precision in our art.

I apologize for the all-caps and snarkiness in my gripe, but this is in my way every time I try to use Illustrator, and I was wrestling with it at the very moment I discovered Dear Adobe. My request to you is that you not let people's attitudes affect your ability to comprehend the meaning of their words, as I think you've done here.

75th Trombone said...

Also, keep in mind that not everyone posting to Dear Adobe had any idea their issues would actually get addressed or responded to by actual, real-live Adobe folks. When I wrote that gripe #4, it was mostly to other people who had the same frustration, not necessarily literally to Adobe (yes, I know the site is called "Dear Adobe", I was taking it figuratively back then). If I'd been addressing Adobe directly, I would've probably been a lot more specific and/or helpful.

75th Trombone said...

Let me add one more thing to that first comment of mine:

The trouble with my little icon was years ago, and I'd never rethought it before, but obviously all I'd have to do is skew a rectangle, flip it, align vertically, and distribute vertically with a spacing of zero.

I don't know whether I was just an idiot before, or whether there was some aspect of my problem I can't remember. What I do vividly remember is two pairs of anchor points that I couldn't align perfectly with each other, and even when I came close, that didn't help me keep the angles of their line segments parallel.

My point is still valid, even if my example wasn't: Making any remotely complex figure symmetrical is a tremendous pain in Illustrator. I haven't used Corel Draw in years, but even back in 2001ish it was way easier than it is in Illustrator today. (Among other reasons, Corel Draw has a way to specify an anchor point as symmetrical.)

dadako said...

I agree with the units bug, I hope it's fixed with cs4. It's annoying to keep going into document setup every time I switch from a print project to a web project.

isometric grids would have been nice

Anonymous said...

I have left comments on the Bug Report / Feature Request list many times at the Adobe website. I am amazed at how often I have gotten a response from someone at Adobe within 2 hours. They really do pay attention. One time I responded to the email response with "Call me" and the phone rang 30 seconds later. We spent a half hour on the phone.

They say not to expect an answer, and you shouldn't. But they will read it.

Anonymous said...

What I'd really like to get an answer to is the cost, why does cs4 cost more than a second hand car? And why does it cost £1000 more to buy it in my country than in the US? The pricing is just insanely greedy.

Anonymous said...

I would GLADLY post more detailed requests on the Dear Adobe site, IF they wouldn't limit me to 200 characters. Why they do this I do not know, seems rather counter-productive to me.

Anonymous said...

One thing I see on Illustrator posts nearly ubiquitously: references to Freehand and it's perceived points of superiority. Maybe I notice it more because I too am a Freehand user who struggles to develop a positive relationship with Illustrator (so far no luck). Rather than rant, gripe, or try to enumerate the ways in which I find Freehand superior, which tend toward questions of usability (i.e. features that improve workflow and/or strike me as more logical and intuitive--where sometimes Illustrator's equivalent borders on extreme non-usability), I'd like to ask this simple question: how many latent Freehand users are you likely to find with similar sentiments, and why can't Adobe conduct a comprehensive survey of users who can demonstrate--literally, in person--the ways in which Illustrator might shine on par with the now-dead Freehand (sniff)? Living in Seattle I'd be happy to swing by their offices and do just that. It's the least they can do for killing a superior application and monopolizing this market sector. That or bring Freehand back to life.

Anonymous said...

I seems obvious that #4 requested the ability to draw simple symmetrical arcs. I am amazed this capability wasn't included. So perhaps I shouldn't be surprised that Adobe can't grasp the request.