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Adobe UI - really bad, or is it just me?

I've been working with trial versions of Adobe FrameMaker and InDesign, trying to find something to do a medical conference brochure and other stuff with.  (My university gets major Adobe discounts.)  I played with FrameMaker for about twenty minutes before deciding it wouldn't work.  I've been fooling with InDesign for a few hours, and while it's more powerful, it has many of the same shortcomings.  Why is the user interface so bad?

A lot of stuff is done through what I'll call "tool windows", which can be called up through the Window menu (hardly an intuitive choice in my opinion).  Some of these tool windows can be resized, and some can't.  Some can be combined as tabs in the same window, though it takes several drags to hit exactly the right pixel to combine them; and sometimes they combine in the same tab row, while sometimes they stubbornly appear above or below another group in the same window.

Since only some can be resized, there's no point to sticking them all in one tabbed window anyway; click on a non-resizable window and it shrinks down to an inch across, and all the tabs are crammed together where you can't read what they say.

Ideally I'd have all this stuff in ONE big window, autohidden against the right edge of the screen, instead of in more than twenty individual windows all floating around my screen.  Dragging this crap out of the way of what I'm doing is a phenomenal waste of my time.  None of the windows and toolbars seem to be able to dock anywhere; they just float around here and there all the time.

Has anyone else noticed all this?  Do all page layout/graphic design programs have UIs this bad?  (I haven't seen any reviews that emphasize these problems.)  I did last year's brochure with Word, and painful as that was, this seems twice as irritating and counterintuitive.  Other opinions?

Friday, March 14, 2003

I used to feel the same way about Dreamweaver.  As a once-in-a-while user the multitude of windows were a real trial.  I imagine, though, that if you make a living using the tool so that jumping around the windows is second nature, it probably isn't so bad.  I wouldn't mind having hotkeys for everything myself...

Friday, March 14, 2003

I've never worked with those products, but I've been using Illustrator and Photoshop for years, and the UI you describe is the same in those programs as well. I like it, and find that it's easy to use after learning for a few days Since their entire line is designed that way, once you learn one, you can find your way around the others in minutes. And as far as the windows being in the way, remember that most designers use larger monitors. My design machine is a Mac with dual 21" monitors.

I'm not saying there isn't a better way, but for legions of graphic professionals, this works.

Friday, March 14, 2003

You are probably not wrong. But do try it for a little while,
most people stop complaining after dealing with it
24/7/365 for years. One or two really angry users had tried storming the Adobe Head Quarter and were all promptly shot.

Li-fan Chen
Friday, March 14, 2003

hmmm. i use photoshop alot and yeah it exhibits some of the behaviour you mentioned.

as a graphic designer i know most if not all the shortcuts, and whatever palettes i need, so i'd say it's a pretty alrite ui.

the thing about adobe (as previously mentioned) is that all of their software products exhibit similar behavior. =)

Friday, March 14, 2003

I've abandonned all GUI documentation tools, including Word.  Pretty much, I'm down to text files now.  Kind of ridiculous, I will admit, but...

1. Using Word like tools takes too long.  I try to keep the docs up to date, and WYSIWYG tools take too long to use.  This actually discourages accurate documentation since the tools are so cumbersome.

2. Its impossible to grep through the document when stored in binary formats.

3. The anti-intuitive nature of Word like tools finally forced the issue.  One of my biggest gripes is that I wanted uniformity across documents by using a common template.  Change the tempplate formats and the docs based on the template should automatically change.  Never worked.  Very little of the expected results of documents nesting documents ever worked properly.  In fact very little ever worked as expected so text and some HTML became my norm.

Screw it.  If they cannot read text, it sucks to be them.

Nat Ersoz
Friday, March 14, 2003

Anon said: "I wouldn't mind having hotkeys for everything myself... "

Alas, there ARE hot keys for everything. I find TAB to be a particularly useful one, as it will show/hide all tool bars and windows. I usually work in Adobe products with everything hidden, using the hot keys to switch between tools/settings. A simple tap on the TAB key will reveal all when I need something else.

Friday, March 14, 2003

This phenomenon is mentioned in one of Joel's older articles, that the 'UI-sucks' issue is irrelevant when it is the type of application that its users are expected to use it very often. What's more important in such apps is maintaining consistencies while adding features in version upgrades.

This is a mainly coders forum, and you complain about a graphical app's UI, so how about complaining about IDE's UIs too?

The UI problem is really the learning curve. If someone invents a way for a new user to learn a UI without reading a manual or hitting the help key, i.e. within the app, then he/she will make lots of money.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Don't tell that to macormedia, they got sued (and lost) for emulating those very things. I use those products and similar ones all the time. One thing to remember about that type of product is that there is a wide swath of very different tasks done in each product. So in say photoshop, an icon maker will have a totally different setup than a person working in print.

You don't want long lists or customizable dialogs, as most users only use about 15% of the features for any given task. But - the 15% that you do use are so used that having them anywhere but front and center is a non starter. Second thing, as was pointed out, most graphics people have at least large monitors, usually dual. That really helps.

Actually I think the programming IDE's and office apps could learn from graphics in certain areas - there just hasn't been as much pressure for easy access and customization in these categories, so they haven't worked as hard on it...

Robin Debreuil
Friday, March 14, 2003

Don't forget that Adobe is a Mac company, and they do things differently over there.  Not better, not worse, just differently.  I think Joel did an article on it once. 

Rahoul Baruah
Friday, March 14, 2003

Actually, rexguo, the forum is for "open discussion of topics raised on Joel on Software", so UI qualifies, whether or not it's in a coding-oriented product.  But I will concede that (a) I'm not a professional graphic designer, (b) my monitor is only about 17", and (c) this is probably not the proper tool for me.  It appears to be of far more use to people who are going to be using it for most of the day every day, and who are willing to spend time mastering it, than for people who want to create something just every now and then.

But that said, apparently the fact that professional graphic designers have big and multiple monitors and spend time learning the key shortcuts is what lets Adobe get away with such a sloppy user interface; contrast it with something like Acrobat, which is more likely to be used less frequently and on one smaller monitor, and which has a much cleaner UI.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Hold on, there. Adobe Acrobat has a better UI than Photoshop or Indesign?

Setting aside the fact that these programs all have entirely different purposes, the main difference is that Acrobat buries most of its functions and preferences in obscure corners of the menus under non-intuitive names. The eight to twelve most-used functions (zoom, select, etc.) are in a toolbar at the top, obfuscated by tiny, baffling icons.

This has the advantage of leaving the maximum possible screen area for viewing documents (which is the main idea of Acrobat), but navigating the document can be very difficult. Most of my clients have needed to be told that the little magnifying glass means zoom and the little binoculars mean search.

Ye Olde Photoshoppe and Indesign do call for a completely different UI, one that may not be intuitive at first, but one that can be customized enough to make the user more efficient. They are professional tools, after all. While I agree that some aspects of managing the palettes are more obscure than they should be, the small investment of effort into learning how pays big dividends in efficiency over the years. And, of course, the knowledge transfers to other Adobe products.

If I walked into a machine shop, I wouldn't have the vaguest idea how to operate all the knobs and buttons on an electronically controlled lathe. But after a bit of time spent learning the controls, the professional operator will be able to use the tool with maximum efficiency.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Have you looked at the price of those products? Pretty hard to justify for the occasional user that wants to print a newsletter... Visual Studio is pretty confusing to the new user that want to put the occasional javascript in html, but I would say that is a mistake either.

Robin Debreuil
Friday, March 14, 2003

Personally, I find most Adobe products very hard to use and I need to use them on an on-going basis (that's what clients use).

So I don't buy the "user can learn interface and then will like it" argument.  (Similar to this forum, I use the product in spite of, and not because of the limitations of the user interface).

It has nothing to do with monitor size - I have two large monitors.  I also don't think it has anything to do with the assumptions coming from the Mac World (although I do mainly use a PC), because I've seen Mac users struggle with the same things that drive me crazy about it.

Aside from all of the little windows that you can't dock and don't dock/undock automatically - it's hard to find things in the menus, which are incredibly badly laid out, and as someone else mentioned - poorly named.  As a consequence of this, to use any Adobe product requires a great deal of clicking to get anything done.

There's a high learning curve to use the products, and especially to do more than the bare basics.  And while to some extent the attitude "oh well, [graphic design] is complicated" is justified, that doesn't mean that actually using the program on a day-to-day process should be so hard.  On a "we can choose how to accomplish this" basis, we eventually switched to Paint Shop Pro from Photoshop (which aside from being easier to use, is also a heck of a lot cheaper), and to Word from Illustrator.  I'm sure all the Illustrator users in this forum will give me heck, but with the exception of dealing with printers (requires some file format creativity), the result has been faster turnaround and superior quality of work.  And recently, we had a client whose normal shop couldn't handle a task in Illustrator (said it was "impossible"), which we were able to accomplish with no problems.  And Word is not really designed for this kind of work!  What's wrong with this picture?

The problem with the vast majority of Adobe product is not just that the program is complex.  We also use TrueSpace (basically a 3D animation tool) which is for a highly complex task, and the interface is certainly daunting at the beginning if you know nothing about animation (only about a million coloured icons across several menu bars), but once you learn about animation (and the relating terminology), and learn how the user interface is put together, actually using the program is pretty easy.

To be honest, I think the poor UIs are a mix of sloppiness on Adobe's part, which they can get away with because they have such a big market share, and legacy code from umpteen versions and platforms.  They do fix things - but as an example, how long did the text selection tool in Adobe Acrobat select text along a single line, even if it was formatted in columns? Answer: several major releases, which is way too long.  And did anyone have the misfortune to actually use the "forms" feature (also in Acrobat) a version or two ago (to be fair, this is much improved, but it still sucks to use).  I'm picking on Acrobat because it's the product I had to use yesterday and I'm still steaming with frustration after the experience.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Brain a little behind fingers today.

Obviously, I meant Page Maker and not Illustrator.

Going back to bed.
Saturday, March 15, 2003

I've read in various places that Adobe is one of the "we know much better than the luser" companies. It can get away with an atrocious interface firstly because of the other things it does better than anybody else, and secondly because so many people have been forced to use it that it has become the norm, so even programs such as Corel's Photo Paint copy the basic design.

The best user interface I've seen was MS Photodraw, but because it was different from the Photoshop way of doing things it never took off (being buggy didn't help either - it was the source of my favourite MSKB bug, "MS Photo Draw won't start if an odd number of fonts are installed on the machine".

Now from what I've heard Photoshop is positively user-friendly compared to Quark Express.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, March 15, 2003

As a Windows user, I can't stand the Photoshop-style apps that have tons of tiny, floating toolbars. I like my windows maximized. I don't wany my windows or toolbars moving around or inefficiently wasting pixels by letting the desktop show through..

I think Adobe apps use tiny, floating toolbars because that is the Mac style.  My girlfriend is a graphic designer and (inevitably) owns a Mac. When I use her computer, I have great difficulty juggling many apps and windows because they don't show up in the Dock.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Also, is there a Mac hotkey equivalent of Windows' ALT+TAB (to cycle between apps) and CTRL+TAB (to cycle between MDI windows within a single app)??

Saturday, March 15, 2003

It's CMD-TAB on the Mac to switch apps.

OS support for switching windows is in OSX but not 9, its OPT-F? or CTRL-F? -- forget which FKEY and which modifier but it's there.

Dennis Atkins
Saturday, March 15, 2003

I also find Adobe's "little tool window" interfaces annoying (mostly in Photoshop and Premiere - stay away from Premiere!).

I think the reason the widgets are so small (way too small IMHO) is that Macs have historically used lower resolutions than Windows PCs on typical monitor sizes. (e.g. 800x600 instead of 1024x768, or 1024x768 instead of 1280x1024). So buttons that are "just right" on a Mac end up looking "too small" on a PC.

Dan Maas
Saturday, March 15, 2003

Macs do not have native support for MDI last I checked, so there probably isn't a native hotkey for switching - not sure about osx, but I've heard its the same.

All those tabs can be rearranged, combined, closed, toggled by key, or tabbed away - not sure what everyone is talking about...?

Robin Debreuil
Sunday, March 16, 2003

This article is interesting in the context of this conversation (it's about Microsoft's forthcoming push into Adobe's turf, and Adobe's chances of fending them off).,1653,47988,00.html

Sunday, March 16, 2003

The problem with the tabs is that they're a little *too* flexible - I spend time fiddling with the window layout when I would rather be working on the content underneath.

e.g. Adobe could make the Photoshop toolbox permanently fixed to one side of the master window; then it would never get in the way of one's work.

An argument *for* movable toolboxes: you can bring them right next to a small area you want to work on, which saves mouse mileage... But then I'd claim that most experienced users choose tools with keyboard commands, not by clicking on icons.

Dan Maas
Monday, March 17, 2003

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