What I Learned at Adobe MAX 2021

What I Learned at Adobe MAX 2021

What a year! Somehow 2021 has been even more adventurous than 2020. One thing I’m glad that’s continued—free virtual Adobe MAX! Although I didn’t get to take full advantage of its accessibility last year, this year I carved out time in my packed schedule to truly dive into Adobe MAX 2021. In fact, I watched about 15 hours of it. Oh, also documenting all my learnings during the hours that followed. However, my favorite part of attending Adobe MAX 2021 is feeling so creative and inspired! (Although I felt pretty cool winning a free t-shirt, too.) Lots of new techniques to explore. Lots of processes to revamp. Lots of creative experimentation! While I haven’t made any portfolio-worthy pieces out of my explorations (yet!), I’ve truly loved acting on my passion for design with no particular end goal. Here’s what I learned at Adobe MAX 2021.

Categorizing the Sessions I Watched

Adobe MAX 2021 offers breadth and depth. Therefore, I’ve categorized sessions into these main topics:

  • MAX Sneaks
  • Creative operations
  • Speakers’ portfolio tours
  • Trending design
  • Product tours

Now, let’s dive into Adobe MAX 2021!

Recapping Adobe MAX 2021

What I Learned at Adobe MAX 2021

Create Tomorrow Together

Adobe MAX 2021 explores the theme, “Create Tomorrow Together.” Many people have given pause to reflect on what’s happened and what they’d like to see more of in the future as a result of our current events.

“Create Tomorrow Together” reflects on how technical advancements drive the future. Although recent media questions whether design jobs are safe from the AI takeover, Adobe reminds designers that AI is just another tool that makes designers’ jobs easier. Indeed, many of Adobe’s upgrades use AI to expand—not curtail—the designer’s creative reach.

Additionally, Adobe MAX 2021 also reminds designers to use data to drive their designs. After all, design is not ars grata artis—design is a service that provides creative solutions to actual business problems. Data-driven design allows designers to make informed designs while crafting a solution.

Furthermore, data-driven design allows designers to back up their decisions with quantitative and qualitative evidence. Sometimes, designers find describing the reasoning behind what feels like gut instinct difficult. However, data-driven design gives designers a framework and language to help answer those questions in ways non-designers can understand and appreciate. Indeed, several Adobe MAX 2021 sessions explore just that.

MAX Sneaks

Adobe MAX Sneaks this year focused on the introducing more collaborative editing and sharing tools, bringing Adobe CC apps to the web, and applying Adobe Sensei* tools to your favorite Adobe programs.

*Adobe Sensei is Adobe’s AI program behind many of the latest advancements and upcoming features. This tool can search for content, make essential edits, and intuitively fill in information gaps. Ultimately, Adobe Sensei speeds up the creative process with smart automation. You’ve already worked with Adobe Sensei if you’ve ever used Photoshop’s Content Aware background replacement, Photoshop’s Spot Healing Brush, Illustrator’s Global Edit tool, or InDesign’s Content Aware picture fit.

MB180 – MAX Sneaks with Kenan Thompson

This session highlighted lots of Adobe Sensei. Many of these new tools are already active in the 2022 versions of Adobe CC applications.

Upcoming Adobe Sensei applications in 2022:

  • Use ON POINT to search Adobe Stock for photos of people while querying a specific pose
  • Use SHADOW DROP to dynamically apply realistic shadows to objects
  • Use Illustrator’s PROJECT SUNSHINE to trace sketches, colorize, and shade the artwork automatically
  • Use Illustrator’s STYLISH STROKES to automatically generate font inlines and apply brushes to font fills (previously had to hand-trace to do)
  • Also use STYLISH STROKES to create typographic illustrations and replace type pieces with certain graphics (like vertical strokes become columns, horizontal bases become brick walkways)
  • Use PROJECT STRIKE A POSE to apply a person’s pose from one photo onto another photo

S327 – Imagining Illustrator on the Web

Illustrator is perhaps my favorite Adobe CC application. Of course I watched this session! Adobe is planning to bring the desktop version of Illustrator to the web as a web-based app.

Illustrator on the Web offers many advantages, like allowing designers to Illustrator wherever and letting clients view a designer’s work instantly via the Share web link.

Unlike the mobile app, the web-based Illustrator will be full-featured like the desktop app, plus some new features:

  • Infinite zoom
  • Fast, even for big and heavy files
  • Live Preview of Pathfinder options

Illustrator on the Web isn’t “official” yet—but you can join the private Beta. View the session for more info on that.

Creative Operations

Many sessions offered a behind-the-scenes look at their business approach to managing design workloads. From setting a creative request process, to building efficient editing and approval workflows, to overseeing creative staff, Adobe MAX 2021 explores creative operations’ best practices.

L260 – Building an Efficient Design & Approval Workflow

This role-play session described how to define the process in which Accounts people can submit requests for creative from Design people. It was interesting observing how they created an interactive form, shared it within an internal company Slack channel and MS Teams, and gathered approval via digital signatures. However, the digital signature process was the most interesting.

Fillable form PDFs are one thing—but adding a digital signature ability is another.

On one hand, fillable forms allow users to input information, then simply save and share the form. No questions asked.

On the other hand, digital signatures verify user input. They ensure the form owner/delegator and the form user/signer are who they say are and provide a time-stamp.

Additionally, designers create fillable form PDFs directly in InDesign and/or Acrobat.

However, designers must use an additional digital signature service as well to enable digital signatures on their interactive PDFs. Fortunately, Adobe Sign provides just that. It is, nonetheless, not included in the usual Creative Cloud suite and is an additional purchase.

Here’s the quick summary to create reusable form fields with Adobe Sign:

  1. Import the PDF as a web form to create the fields Set form collector as Delegator, user as Acceptor
  2. Once Adobe Sign generates the textbooks, drag-drop into the Acrobat document
  3. These Adobe Sign fields can also be saved as Library Assets and added in following InDesign docs
  4. Be sure to assign Delegator/Acceptor to field or Adobe Sign says there’s an error with the web form

S213 – Data-Driven Creativity: Using Data to Propel Creative Work

This is a big-picture session for overseeing design department staff and workloads. This one is a must-watch for managers and employees alike!

Indeed, I’ve already been doing many of the recommended implementations for years now, even as a non-manager, exactly to make my case for requesting resources, delegating work, and identifying areas for growth (that align with my professional goals, too, of course!).

The speaker explains that data-driven design helps designers to deliver on the highest levels of their organization’s goals. However, he points out, that although many design teams aspire to use data, many don’t act on that aspiration.

It’s important to track data that’s useful to design. Indeed, there’s many strategic advantages of having a design team having that data. Data sheds lights on things that are unknown and provides:

  • Visibility on the unknown, working less on feeling and more with facts
  • Quantification and add some weight to observations
  • Validation that allows one to communicate with authority about problems and/or successes a team is countering

Two of the biggest problems data-driven design addresses is reducing unplanned revision cycles and reducing unnecessary requests overall.

Ultimately, the data that’s useful varies based on one’s role within the team. Accounts people, Design people, and Project Managers can measure different kinds of data.

For example:

  • an account manager can track the ratio between planned vs. unplanned projects;
  • graphic designers can track project completion times; and
  • the project manager can track the rounds of revisions a project undergoes.

As a result, this data allows the company to determine the best performing assets and whether the right people are working on the right projects.

Portfolio Tours

Many sessions focused specifically on the creative process of the speaker with many, many visual examples. These portfolio tours were useful to explore applications of different trends and see ways to solve creative problems I might not have originally considered.

S707 – Shaping Your Style via Personal Projects to Boost Your Career

Paloma Rincón’s Photography Portfolio

S711 – Brand Identities in Motion

Liza Enebeis’ Motion Design Portfolio

S326 – Seeing Beyond the Colors

Zipeng Zhu’s Graphic & Motion Design Portfolio

Trending Design

Of course, Adobe MAX 2021’s exploration of “Create Tomorrow Together” would be incomplete without a discussion of upcoming design trends.

S717 – SUX: The Sustainable UX Manifesto

What does sustainable graphic design look like? It’s a question admittedly many designers can’t answer. I couldn’t either, which is exactly why I watched this session.

This session is a big-picture discussion of the designer’s responsibility to the environment and a calling for designers to lessen the design footprint.

The speaker points out that even the digital world impacts the physical environment.

For example, the web emits a lot of CO2! Those flashy carousel slideshows nearly every client wants on their website. Firstly, they’re proven to be ineffective. I wrote about that in 2019. Secondly, carousels consume a lot of energy. Therefore, they’re not environmentally-friendly either.

Here’s some more suggestions to design sustainably:

  • STOP designing for users only
  • Move AWAY from human-centered design (HCD) to environment-centered design
  • Ask ourselves who else is affected by the products we create?
  • Need to find ways to consume less energy
  • Offer more environmentally-friendly solutions
  • Consider taking on “less cool” but more “sustainable” clients
  • Digital solutions are more environmentally-friendly than physical products
  • Encourage clients to share their success stories on sustainability to raise awareness
  • Don’t create unnecessary waste; not everything needs an app
  • Add an additional persona for the environment when doing UX
  • Be proactive. Don’t just post a manifesto

S614 – Type Trends: 2022 & Beyond

What do designers forecast to be typography trends for 2022?

We’re already witnessing several trends:

  • Old type in new settings
  • Variable typography, especially animated
  • Neue nouveau, a modern take on art nouveau

The concept of Neue nouveau is striking.

Art nouveau responded to the industrial revolution as manufacturing eclipsed craftsmanship.

Similarly, the speakers point out, Neue nouveau seems to be emerging in response to increasing automated, digital design. Here, I also added some notes that it could also be responding to the vulture capitalism highlighted in current events.

Product Tutorials

Besides the Adobe Creative Cloud suite programs like Photoshop, Illustrator, Photoshop, After Effects, and more, Adobe MAX 2021 also put a spotlight on its other products, such as: Adobe APIs, Workfront, Illustrator on the Web, and Aero.

Still, more speakers also spotlighted products that complement their Adobe workflows, including: 3M VAS, Wrike, and Autodesk Sketchbook.

S613 – Designing for First Glance Attention

First, this session describes how human eyes focus on the most important object in a design.

Humans identify edges, intensity, color contrast, and human faces in their first glance. Yet, the speaker mentions, the actual field of vision is quite narrow. Indeed, the subconscious stitches the rest but we’re not actually “seeing” it. In other words, the brain is guesstimating.

Then, this session also shares how graphic designers can utilize AI to craft that perfect first glance.

The speaker explains that while first glance vision is difficult for humans, because the brain fills in the gaps. However, AI doesn’t have a subconscious vision. Consequently, AI is a useful tool to test first glance vision.

That AI tool is 3M Visual Attention Software (VAS). It’s a monthly paid plugin compatible with Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and XD.

L200 – Learning the Fundamentals of PDF Accessibility Step by Step

Many of my company’s clients advocate for accessibility. Indeed, it’s something I considered when designing the ACS Fall Meeting 2021 Digital Signage, for example. So, I was curious to hear about how I could make interactive PDFs more accessible as well.

This session gets into the nitty-gritty details with a thorough walk-through. Additionally, the speaker uses his experience to discuss how to fix the most common errors and even a glitch in the program users should bypass.

I decided this would be a good project to explore and attempted to follow the steps with my own What I Learned at Adobe MAX 2021 interactive PDF.

Admittedly, it’s more challenging than I thought. I’m quite inexperienced with InDesign’s and Acrobat’s accessibility tools.

Nonetheless, my experience of trying to create an accessible PDF highlights how much more I could be doing to make my design work more inclusive.

What I Learned from Adobe MAX 2021, All in One Interactive PDF!

Browse all my notes for many more Adobe MAX 2021 sessions in my interactive PDF!

For ease of access, I’ve linked session title to its online page. However, you’ll need to login into your Adobe MAX 2021 dashboard to view the PDFs.

Already missed Adobe MAX 2021?

Fear not! Most sessions are still available online on-demand. Registration is free. So, go ahead and sign up to watch the webinars, follow the presentation slides, and download practice files.