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Looking Back At 20 Years of Photoshop with Product Manager Zorana Gee

photo“The art I practice has limitless capabilities in terms of how I like to put moves together and how I’d like to react to moves thrown at me, all leading the goal of creating a beautiful and fun game to play.”
– Capoeira1 Instructora & Photoshop Product Manager, Zorana Gee

There was an uncanny parallel between what Zorana was describing as her Capoeira practice and the underlying dynamics of her oeuvre, Photoshop. This ubiquitous digital image editing software from Adobe systems turns 20 this year. “We sometimes like to think of Photoshop as a ‘playground’ for Adobe customers.“

You can trace the element of play in the early exchanges between John and Thomas Knoll, the brothers who created Photoshop in late 1980s: Thomas, a PhD Engineering candidate, would create the program and John, his brother, a visual effects guru, would ‘play with it’ and suggest refinements. The iterative process of tinkering and refinement eventually gave birth to ‘Display’, which would later be acquired by Adobe as ‘Photoshop’. This trope also permeates the enchanting and delightfully entertaining tutorials by Russel Brown, Senior Creative Director at Adobe. Brown helps users ‘pilot’ what initially resembles the cockpit of an Airbus A380.

ps-1-boxIn her almost decade-long career as Photoshop emissary, Zorana describes the remarkable and often unexpected ways in which Photoshop encourages human ingenuity and creativity “all leading to beautiful artwork.” She cites the example of Image Stacks, a feature in early versions of Adobe Creative Suite Extended; this was used initially in astronomy and later adopted by photographers to rid images of unwanted people or objects.  
Zorana has been involved with Photoshop Extended since its genesis and was instrumental in the 3D effort. She continues to help drive the implementation of 3D tools within each version of Photoshop Extended. 3D visualizations became a reality in April of 2007, when Adobe released CS3 Extended software. The Extended line of software facilitated the uptake and application of Photoshop technologies in new disciplines including architecture, medical imaging, and movie animation [think models and creatures in Avatar!]. October 2008 saw the release of CS4 Extended, the next generation Extended line, which offered users more direct manipulation of 3D images. On April 12th 2010, Adobe announced the release of CS5 and CS5 Extended which incorporate “more technological advancements from Adobe Labs than any other release.”

Indeed, Photoshop CS5 Extended pushes 3D and motion-based content editing capabilities even further. For example, users can leverage Adobe Repoussé Technology, (inspired by an ancient metalworking technique for embossing art on metal), to easily create and manipulate 3D artwork and logos while other tools help enhance the appearance and realism of 3D images.

The use of 3D technology is certainly growing and expanding beyond the purview of ‘specialists.’ The inherent flexibility of Photoshop allows users “to understand the 3D tool, how object moves in 3D space, how lighting affects it.” This reflects why Steve Guttman, an original Photoshop1.0 team member, said that Photoshop ‘democratized’ image editing by making it accessible to artists rather than just those in photo production.2

“The goal is to allow people to start customizing their best idea.”zorana

Zorana’s team has been at the forefront of Adobe efforts to tap the soul of the Noosphere3 to help identify unmet needs and customer concerns which often serve as inspiration for future offerings in Photoshop.

Photoshop has almost 525K fans on Facebook, additional connections on LinkedIn, Flickr, over 15K Twitter followers and close relationships the National Association of Photoshop professionals’ 70K+ members.

This direct connection to the ‘customer voice’ allows Zorana to help the internal design teams craft newer versions of Photoshop that more closely align with customer needs.

Photoshop response to customer influence was evident most recently in the CS5 ’Just Do It’ initiative. This effort was designed to “address many of the smaller feature requests and enhancements that don’t necessarily get top billing, but definitely impact everyday workflow.” The marketing teams were able to integrate more than 30 of the most requested features from this initiative into CS5.

Adobe provides tools to facilitate even more collaborative solutions. Forums such as Adobe Labs are an ‘incubator’ for ‘Photoshop-related pre-release and experimental technologies.’.‘The Configurator panel’, for example, is an “[open source] tool that allows customers to create , test [and share]customized panels containing combinations of their own tutorial scripts with Photoshop original tools and menu commands.“

Technologic innovation in Photoshop are also the result of research partnerships between Adobe internal research teams and leading academic institutions: Collaboration with University of Washington and Columbia University yielded a technique to calibrate and remove ‘vignetting’; the gradual darkening of the image toward its periphery when aligning images for panoramas in Photoshop CS4.

Adobe tends to tantalize its customers with ‘sneak peaks’ into these forthcoming technological advancements. This was evinced in the recent pre-launch site for CS5, which invited users to an ‘exclusive online preview’ of new CS5 features. Some of these previews went viral; Adobe reported almost 2MM views of its eagerly anticipated ‘Content Aware Fill4’ feature video which also became a top trending topic on Twitter. The site featured a dramatically designed countdown clock and encouraged participation in the April 12th online global launch. There was also ample opportunity for social interaction. Some passionate users even started their own multimedia preview site CS5.org –‘independently published and intended as a public service.’

“It’s about user experience and how we can make that smarter and how we can make that more approachable for users including those who have never opened a copy of Photoshop.”

Adobe has already infused elements of predictive intelligence into the Photoshop experience. For example, the Photoshop 3D panel: “We make it easier for new users to create a 3D panel that not only links to an existing 3D panel but also shows you tools that you will need and the steps that you might want to [use].” This efficient, semantic design can show a new user not only “what they could do in 3D” but also “how to play with 3D.”

photoshop_before_and_afterPhotoshop CS5 is expected to provide even “greater intelligence and awareness of the content within images.” This is illustrated most dramatically in how Content-Aware Fill technology can “remove an image element and magically replace it with details that match the lighting, tone, and noise of the surrounding area so that it looks like the content never existed.”

Perhaps this and other CS5 enhancements will provide an even more intuitive, predictive and fluid user experience.

“It is very creative, it is not choreographed…the ‘free fluidity’ that you get in a [Capoiera] game is also something that I have to be able to do in my job.”

And Zorana’s ‘job’  has allowed users to  ‘unleash their passions’. Thus, it may be fitting to end with a sentence about the history of Capoeira from the Capoierascience website: “Capoeira is celebratory of both the art itself and the community which engendered it.” Perhaps the same could be said for Photoshop.


1 “a Brazilian martial art that integrates balance, music, acrobatics, fight and dance. It is a well-balanced art form”– Zorana is an 11-year veteran of Capoeira and holds the title of Instructora, black belt equivalent.
2 From ‘Startup Memories’ a video documentary about the early days of Photoshop
3 Using this to refer to the ‘collective consciousness’ of the web which reflects users collective insights, including those from the ‘blogosphere’
4 A feature in PS CS5 Extended which “removes any image detail or object, examines the surroundings and seamlessly fills in the space left behind.”