Adobe defends the new CS3 branding

Ryan Hicks, the Sr. Experience Designer at Adobe (and brainchild of the new branding?), defends the new designs with the following words on Veerle's blog:

"Honestly, we have been living with the icon system internally on our own machines for so long now that it's a bit hard to remember what the big deal is. We're as varied and hardcore a user group as will be found anywhere, we've found the stuff just works. Done."

This is how I read it:

"We designed them. We like them. We use them and they work for us. Done."

You won't believe how many times I've encountered this mentality at software development houses. As the technorati, we can sometimes come to believe our own hype and become entrenched in our ivory towers where the WiFi flows free.

I was once doing usability consulting at a medium-sized software development house and had a programmer show me a ridiculously complicated interface. It had hundreds of tiny buttons, and tiny text that even I couldn't read with my contact-lens augmented 20/20 vision. This programmer, who was the lead programmer at his organization, however, knew the interface inside out. He had designed it and had worked with it since its inception. He swept through the demonstration so quickly I could hardly keep up. That's how he worked. His brain was on fast-forward and his fingers battled to keep up. He probably thought in binary too. That was fine, of course, but here's the catch:

He thought that everyone else thought in binary too.

Here was a man who was a completely different creature to his user base and yet he thought that he *was* his user base. And, since he was the lead programmer, no one dared argue with him on the design of the interface. Everyone else did their best to ignore the huge grinning elephant in the room as he went through his demonstration. When I finally interrupted him and told him that I couldn't understand a single workflow he had shown me and that the interface was terribly over-complicated, he appeared to deliberate my words for a few moments and then began repeating the tour i--n  a  s--l--o--w--e--r  v--o--i--c--e because he apparently realized that I mustn't be too bright.

I wonder how many people working at Adobe feel they can honestly express their opinions to the Sr. Experience Designer. There is a reason we do user testing in our field. Organizations have a power hierarchy and culture that can quickly become very insular and result in an environment where everyone continuously pats each other on the back, all the while edging further and further away from the plot. (I believe Americans call this "drinking the Kool-Aid"). This is exactly the type of mentality that software developers have to drop if they want to understand what their users want.

The biggest fear any organization should have is being out of touch with its customer base's needs. Regardless of whether those needs are rational or not. After all, Photoshop is Photoshop regardless of the branding right? And people buy $1,000 watches because they're just $900-worth more accurate than a $100 watch.

Companies that make tangible products like perfumes and cars and flat-screen TV sets have understood for a long time that they are not just selling the actual product itself but values, expectations, a lifestyle, a self-image, a story, an idea, a feeling. Your users are telling you that the new branding doesn't agree with their expectations. They make beautiful things (both form and function) and they want the tools they work with everyday to inspire them. Purely subjective? Perhaps (although many people have pointed out worries regarding localization of the icons and the impact of relying so heavily on color for color-blind users). Irrational? Maybe. But it doesn't mean that these concerns are any less important to your user base.

Being transparent with your users and running things by them is great but the value of asking for feedback is greatly reduced if you then ignore what people tell you and fall on the defensive.

The overwhelming response to the new icons and the new application branding is negative. Instead of labeling your customers as people who "rise up and scream heresy" as Ryan does in the interview, perhaps you should listen to them. They're only screaming because they care. It's silence that you should be afraid of.