Combining wireframing and interface design tools, Adobe's new UX design application Project Comet is coming in 2016.
There are many areas of the creative industries where Adobe's software rules unrivalled – with competitors either annexed (Macromedia) or pushed back to the hinterlands of enterprise document layout (Quark). But one plucky tool remains favoured by Web and app designers around the world: Sketch.
According to the 2015 Design Tools Survey by Subtraction.com (which is run by Khoi Vinh, who recently joined Adobe). Sketch is the web-design community's favourite software tools for wireframing (beating Illustrator and HTML/CSS), interface design (beating Photoshop, HTML/CSS and Illustrator) and even brainstorming (though a long way pencil and paper).
Project Comet – which was announced at Adobe Max on 5 October alongside several other Creative Cloud updates, but won't ship until 2016 – is a brand-new software application for wireframing and interface design, and also prototyping with live on-device mobile previews in a way similar to tools like Marvel. You can see it in action in Adobe's video above.
Like Sketch, Project Comet is designed to be fast and focussed on UX design. In the past, Adobe might have tried to build Project Comet's features into Illustrator or Photoshop (like Photoshop's Generate feature for those creating web mockups) but the application is an acknowledgement that much of the reason for Sketch's success is that it wasn't trying to be a tool for everyone – and that made it faster and better for UX work, especially for quick-and-dirty early designs.
Project Comet has two main workspaces: Design and Prototype. Design lets you create interfaces using vector design tools – and some innovative ways to create grids of content that I'm sure we'll see in future versions of InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop too.
Screens/pages are connected together using visual links (the blue lines in the above screengrab) that allow you to build working prototypes (with transitions). These can be tested on-screen or on mobile devices using a companion app.
While not mentioning Sketch by name, Adobe's announcement clearly has one eye on trumpeting what it believes it can deliver that Sketch can't – for example, interoperability with Photoshop and Lightroom. There's also a not-so-sly dig at Sketch's stability, highlighting UX designers' need for a tool that offers "quality and stability that you expect from Adobe".
Following Adobe's announcement, we spoke with the company's Director of Product Marketing Jane Brady about the project to find out more about what made the company decide to build Project Comet, when we'll be able to get our hands on the application, and what sets it apart from Sketch and other tools that designers are already familiar with.
"Comet really started with looking at our customer base and noticing that there were some customers moving away from Photoshop - they were using Sketch in some cases - and there seems to be two different areas to that. The first was people who were doing heavy app design, because it's so repetitive creating all those different buttons and elements for different devices and sizes, and they were finding that Photoshop wasn't performing enough and there was too much in it that they didn't need - Sketch was so much more focused," Jane explained.
"The other piece of it is that, when you look at what they're teaching in design in education, the design curriculum has exploded. It used to be that you learnt about typography and composition and colour theories, but now you have to learn all of that as well as interaction design and user research, so there's all of these new disciplines that need to be incorporated in the curriculum so they've stopped teaching the tools."
"Educators no longer teach you how to use Photoshop and Illustrator. Instead they'll say you have to submit this project and it has to be a jpeg but we don't care what you use to create it," Jane continued. "On one hand that's awesome because it's teaching kids to be self-sufficient and find a solution, but it does mean that they're looking for simpler solutions, because learning Photoshop as well as getting the project done in time for your deadline is challenging."
"So that led us to think: do we do something in Photoshop and/or Illustrator, and do we try to make those into these kinds of tools, or do we need to build something from the ground up?"
Adobe opted for building a new application from the ground up, and that's where Project Comet was born. Comet needed to be fast and capable of allowing designers to work with hundreds of artboards. "The more we talked to customers that were using other products, we found out that they really didn't have a solution – they were cobbling together other stuff," Jane told us. "When you talk about user experience design, it's really a combination of the visual design, interaction design, and the prototyping and how it comes together, and there's no tool out there that does all that. They were using Sketch or Photoshop or Illustrator to do the visual design, then people were using things like Keynote or Indesign or After Effects or Invision. None of them were very productive. It was hard and cumbersome, with a lot of wasted time."
Project Comet release date: When is Project Comet coming out?
Adobe thinks Project Comet, which will have a new official name when it's released, is going to solve all of those issues for designers by offering all the tools you'll need within one app, but only time will tell whether the company has achieved that. You can expect to start using Project Comet early next year, but it'll start off as a preview.
"The plan is that we'll have a preview, there'll be multiple releases of that preview, and we'll add extra features over time," Jane said. "It'll be the full end-to-end workflow, but it won't necessarily be feature complete in all of the areas. We want to be really transparent about how we deal with it – as we get closer to the release we'll provide more information. What's in this release and what's coming in the next release, for example."
<"Plus, we'll be listening a lot. We have community managers who'll take all feedback and pass that back to the product management team, and we have the project managers, as part of their role, looking at Twitter and responding to people on forums that we have. It's part of the DNA of this team. It's amazing how quickly we can turn things around. We used to spend two years building stuff but now we can get stuff out within months."
So why has Adobe teased Project Comet now when it's simply not ready yet? "It felt like we couldn't not say anything," Jane explained. "To come to Max and not say anything about user experience also kind of said a lot. We were hearing after our June CC release, 'Is Adobe really going to get into this space? What's going on?' So we felt like we had to do something."
We'll bring you more information on Project Comet including the first preview's release date and its official name as and when it's announced, so check back for the latest news and updates.