Maeda: “What if Adobe said, ‘New Photoshop CS3 with 80% less features?!’” Matt 01 Feb 2006

52 comments Latest by Ryan

Design by Politics is an interview with John Maeda where he discusses why many software business models are built to support fat.

I think it’s because more is measurable, as a valuable outcome. Less is not measurable. What if Adobe said: New Photoshop CS3 with 80% less features?!…In Photoshop I use 10% of the features, easily, maybe less.

Maeda also brings up what he sees as an interesting paradox about creative thinking: The USA’s need for creative thinking is increasing yet many of the classes that emphasize it are being eliminated from our schools.

I believe that creative thinking is rapidly disappearing, because business is so focused on measurable outcomes and the economy is known to improve if reading and mathematics are strong in society…In the US there’s an emphasis on test-taking to determine the school budgets. What do the tests test? They test reading and math, so the schools are smart - if they want a good budget, they teach the right things so they remove music and art and gym. So the bigger problem is: how to we change the value of creativity? How do we get politicians to believe that greater creativity is good for the economy? Because if you look at all the literature on outsourcing, everyone says: “all the jobs are going to India, Romania, whatever, Pakistan, but don’t worry, we people in the first world have this thing called creativity!”, but the schools are removing creativity.

On the labels designer/artist:

It’s just about being human. People always ask me “Are you a designer, are you an artist?”. I’m just a person, there’s no categorization necessary.

52 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Anonymous coward 01 Feb 06

Twice in one day, I had to say something.. use “Fewer” when you can count them (features can be counted.) Use less when it can’t be counted (less air, pressure, or water).

Brad Daily 01 Feb 06

I am not sure the Photoshop argument sticks. Assuming everyone used 10% of the features, you could also argue that no one uses the same 10%.

Plus, the user base of Photoshop includes many pros who use far more than 10% of the features, what do you say to them?

Mathew Patterson 01 Feb 06

What if Adobe cut out all those features that aren’t needed for most amateurs and sold it as, say, Photoshop Elements….

People respond to ‘more features’ to some degree because it makes them *feel* like they are getting a better deal, even if they actually get a worse experience.

The challenge is 1) Getting people to try another less complex option and 2) making the alternative experience so much better that it overwhelms their desire for ‘more’.

RyanA 01 Feb 06

Hahahaha. I laughed heartily at the title of this post.

The only useful feature I can think of since v6 is the healing brush.

However I’ve never met two people who use Photoshop in the same way. It’s a rather expressive program. I’ve worked in a few different places where people use Photoshop in radically different ways.

Photoshop Elements is the ‘less’ version as far as I know, but the interface is not much different if I remember correctly so it makes it harder to use. Photoshop is a hard application to open and start using for the first time.

Not as bad as Quark, though.

beto 01 Feb 06

Photoshop is not the only prime example that “more” (even if that ‘more’ are features you won’t ever use or need in your lifetime) sells. Just look at good ol’ MS Office… it’s simple, we come from a culture where we’ve been taught ‘more’ equals to ‘better’ somehow in all counts (which, after the anxiety and initial high for a new product wanes and realize what we really count with, is not really so… but try telling that to a MS or Adobe rep doing a sales pitch).

People always ask me �Are you a designer, are you an artist?�. I�m just a person, there�s no categorization necessary.

This phrase is gold for my ears. If I had to give an explanation to anyone who asks, this would mean giving a Web Development/IA/Design 101 course every time. No thanks. I just happen to work in… a lot of things. Let’s better leave it at that.

Julian Leviston 01 Feb 06

The point is that if we had an extensible framework instead of a bloated application, we could load JUST WHAT WE NEED instead of EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD.

Rabbit 01 Feb 06

Wow… that was one wide interview.

Not sure if that was typed or spoken, but I didn’t dig everything being in lowercase - mbas? (MBA’s?)

That aside, the article gave me the willies. (Kind of like Mulholland Drive did…)

That’s a guy that “gets it.” He spoke of the political realm and our values as a society in tandem with software and art and business.

Truly, truly scary world we live in. *sigh*

Rabbit 01 Feb 06

Ah, interesting. The downcasing is done via CSS. Change the styles using a web developer plugin and you can read it as it was actually written. :)

Justin 01 Feb 06

how about Adobe cuts down on all the bloated code?
id be in for that
CS2 has to be the slowest photoshop to date

bucky 01 Feb 06

not everyone has the same workflow, so saying 80% less feature would severly cut down on their user base, just because they don’t know exactly who they are letting down.

Too many people from too many different types of work use the program, so to chomp photoshop off like that would be devistating.

If you know whats your clients use and don’t use than cut the fat.

jeff 01 Feb 06

Anonymous Coward, thanks. Less/Fewer is one of my pet peeves, and it bothers me to see people who take such pride in appearance and function make simple mistakes.

Does grammar matter? Absolutely. In the same way that color or placement matters. Bad grammar is like bad design: it makes you look unprofessional and your ideas seem inconsequential. Of course, I teach writing, so I have a teensy little bias on the matter.

Oh, and I use Photoshop CS2 simply because I don’t like running programs in Classic, otherwise I’d be using PS5. That, and I wanted InDesign CS2 and Photoshop came bundled. And I expect that’s how they’ll get future upgrades. If they can add one perceived killer feature to just one app, many users will upgrade the whole suite, just to keep things in sync. When that “killer” feature is something as lame as Cue, however, it might be time to stop the madness and quit upgrading.

ChrisH 01 Feb 06

While I agree that Photoshop is too complex for a novice user, I must argue that Photoshop was built for editing and manipulating photos, morphed into a print design production tool, and only somewhat recently has tried to incorporate web features.

I wouldn’t expect a web designer/interface designer to use most of Photoshop’s tools for that reason - it wasn’t built for web design.

Fireworks, in my opinion, is better suited for web design (even ImageReady isn’t as intuitive) and much easier to use. So rather than belittle Photoshop because you happen to only use 10% of its features, why not switch to a more suitable software program like Fireworks and save yourself the grief?

Gary R Boodhoo 01 Feb 06

Bad grammar or branding opportunity?

- Apple: “Think Different”�
- Sara Lee: “Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee”�
- Milk: “Got Milk?�”
- 37signals: “Less�” (???)

Dru 01 Feb 06

+1 for the load features on demand. How much faster could my PS start time be if I didn’t have to wait for every damn little thing to load up.

Chuck 01 Feb 06

I tend to see less as better - but I think the Photoshop example (and most software) is more tied into adding features FOR your users (um, people)…

I just noticed that Basecamp added a few new features, at this rate when will it become bloated?

Think back to the 1, 2, and 3.0 versions of everyday applications and you should find that they were far simpler than the higher versions of the same today.

Now that creative thinking discussion - right on target, seeing less creative thinking in my students is enough to make me scream some days. Not all can be “creative”, but at least most should be able to have a spark or two from time to time.

I also see that creativity is floating away - we have to bring it back somehow.

Paul D 01 Feb 06

“how to we change the value of creativity? How do we get politicians to believe that greater creativity is good for the economy?”

Maybe it’s too obvious for Mr. Maeda to grasp, but if he’s relying on corrupt politicians and bureaucrats to competently educate his children and make them creative, he’s dreaming. If he wants the best in creative education, he should find the best and pay for it.

“I�m just a person, there�s no categorization necessary.”

Kind of a dumb statement. You can’t have useful communication without categorization.

Tom 01 Feb 06

I don’t agree at all.

Politicians exist to serve the democratic process, and to strengthen the country. Despite their many failures, there is no reason we shouldn’t attempt to hold them to a standard of accountability. He views creativity as vital to economic (and cultural) growth, and so why shouldn’t he want politicians to understand this? They are representatives, after all.

It depends on what you define “useful” as, and in what aspect. Business-wise, it would be silly to work without classifying, but I think he’s referring to the tendency of people to have biases for and against certain labels: categorization only serves to reinforce these spot-judgments.

Shane 02 Feb 06

I would be happy if Adobe removed all of the features that I will never use. I think the true challenge for them should be to make Photoshop more intuitive. There are so many shortcuts, and tricks and this thing and that thing. It is such a powerful program, but most of it is lost on the average, even the above average user. I would like to see Adobe focus on streamlining workflow, making the UI more intuitive, speeding it up considerably and not add any new features.

One program I would love to see 80% fewer features in is word processing programs. I want something more than a text editor, but something considerably less than Word.

Tomas Jogin 02 Feb 06

If Adobe had released a new Photoshop missing some of the stuff I use on a daily basis, I simply wouldn’t upgrade.

Paul Watson 02 Feb 06

If they said 80% less features and 20% faster (and it was a true claim) I’d be happy. So long as they didn’t drop the features I use ;)

Jeremy J 02 Feb 06

Speaking of Adobe… Check out the number of features in the Acrobat that aren’t used. Ever used audio features? Forms? Annotations? Barcodes? I haven’t, but the reader still loads them all up at the start, and takes ages to do it. Sure, you can move a whole load of them into another directory to avoid loading, but they should just be loaded on demand, as Dru points out above.

Paul D 02 Feb 06

“He views creativity as vital to economic (and cultural) growth, and so why shouldn�t he want politicians to understand this?”

I’ll agree with that. All I’m saying is that creativity comes from entrepreneurs and artists � people whose livelihoods depend on being creative. It’s a wonderful side-effect that their creative accomplish enrich all of us.

The politician’s job, on the other hand, is to take money from hardworking, creative people and give it to other people (typically campaign supporters and key vote-winning demographics). You can’t really expect them to foster creativity; getting them to stop interfering with it is difficult enough.

Tom 02 Feb 06

I love John Maeda.

Tony 02 Feb 06

Anonymous coward said:

Twice in one day, I had to say something.. use �Fewer� when you can count them (features can be counted.) Use less when it can�t be counted (less air, pressure, or water).

You do realize that what you are harping on is inside a quoted piece of text?

I’m getting really sick of these rules for the sake of rules activists. Is there any confusion as to their meaning when they use “less” instead of “fewer?” No, there is not. Just like many, many people use “over” (which means “on top of”) in place of “more than,” and it causes no confusion what-so-ever. Every day we choose words for reasons other than their strict dictionary definitions — this is one of the ways that the meaning of a word changes over time.

But, what would I know? I’m only an editor, not an anonymous commenter going around taking pot shots at people for no good reason.

Oh, and Gary R Boodhoo, it’s “Nobody does it like Sarah Lee.”

Arne Gleason 02 Feb 06

�What if Adobe said, �New Photoshop CS3 with 80% less features?!��

Really. No one would upgrade, and no new takers unless it was $29.00. Really.

The question I have is: If you use Photoshop only for a few basic moves, why are you using Photoshop? (cause that’s what the cool kids use?)

Less is better about as often as more is better. If you’re making great progress by beating only one of these drums, it’s only because someone else is banging relentlessly on the other.

Jeff Schiller 02 Feb 06

I don’t have a problem with more features, even if I don’t need or use them, as long as they don’t impact my existing workflow. Don’t add 10 more buttons to a toolbar, don’t lengthen my menus so I have to scroll and search through them, don’t lengthen the time it takes to load or use the application. Obviously this is not a trivial task, it’s “have my cake and eat it too”.

But I think that’s the key, making the software SEEM simple but at the same time providing a rich and complex set of features that can be easily found and invoked as needed. I’ll be interested to see if this new Microsoft Office ribbon interface takes off.

Gene 02 Feb 06

Maybe 37signals should stick to commenting on web based applications and not get into desktop apps, as all of us know are two totally different user experiences all together…

Darrel 02 Feb 06

I’m going to stick up for Photoshop. It’s one of the few apps that seems to be able to add more and more features without necessarily becoming difficult to use. Granted, I’m still partial to Photoshop 3, but I understand the more powerful features that have been added.

I completely agree with the sentiment, though. Often FEWER features are better if it makes the application easier to use.

However, having worked in the software business a bit, I can tell you that EVERY customer is really only focused on those 10% of features. The catch is that, as stated, it’s not always the same 10%.

There’s always that fine line when deciding to add a feature as to whether it will benefit more folks than confuse.

Anonymous Coward 02 Feb 06

Sorry Tony, but proper grammar and spelling is all about holding yourself to a higher standard. I propose all further comments be posted in Engrish, Spanglish or Ebonics, since they are clearly the future of English. As far as the ‘Sarah Lee’ jingle:

In 1968, Sara Lee introduced … �Nobody Doesn�t Like Sara Lee�. The jingle initially began, �Everybody Doesn�t Like Something, But Nobody Doesn�t Like Sara Lee� …

I agree that a extensible framework with on-demand plug-ins is the ideal application environment.

Cody Foss 02 Feb 06

I’m still not buying the “less is more” arguement. I think it all comes down to the interface. There are a million examples I could think of.

OS X vs. Win XP - probably same amount of features, but OS X has a much better UI.

Word vs. Page - Pages is simple and easy to use, but it definately doesn’t skimp on features.

I think something 37 Signals has down is the interface. I believe that does more of the selling (for me at least) than the lack of features any of their products may or may not have.

Jason Johnson 02 Feb 06

The philosophy 37 Signals has adopted (not their invention, by a long shot) simply does not apply everywhere. It is not the grand unified theory of building software. “Fewer features == better software” isn’t the holy grail of software development.

Sometimes your software does need to act like water on pavement, finding every crack and crevice of every feature imaginable.

In the case of Photoshop, we’re talking about an application decades old. Show a little respect for development houses, Adobe in this case, who could take us all to school on building software.

Overheard in the 37s break room:

ML, “…okay, okay… guys… i read this article. what if apple released darwin with 10% of the unix commands?”

JF, “genius.”

Not so much.

Jesper 02 Feb 06

Jason Johnson (and some other people): 37signals didn’t say that, the guy in the quoted article did.

And what would happen if Photoshop CS3 got “80% less features” is that no one would get it. Most people only use 10%, but it’s a different 10%. Most professionals actually exploit a great deal of the application, and uses different subsets of the functionality depending on the project.

The way to go, like someone else said, is dynamically loadable plug-ins or pieces of functionality. Why does bog standard Photoshop take at least 20 seconds on any machine that’s not bleeding edge? Because it loads everything on startup. With dynamic loading, even if you were to use 60% of the features, it would be much faster to start with, and consume considerably less memory, even when all those 60% have been loaded in (and way less before).

(It should be noted that this is drastically over-simplified. Dependencies, as an example, will probably cause around 30% more to be loaded for any given feature set. But it’s still the way to go for a leaner Photoshop, and I could bet the farm that Adobe is all over this internally.)

Tony 02 Feb 06

Sorry Tony, but proper grammar and spelling is all about holding yourself to a higher standard.

Sometimes it’s just about being pedantic for the sake of being pedantic.

The only improper grammar is that which is not easily understood by the audience. Sometimes being clear is more important than being correct. Sometimes style is more important than prescriptive grammar. Sometimes one should take one’s head out of one’s ass long enough to realize they are complaining to the wrong person about the text above, as it is a quotation.

Speaking of less, can we get less complaining in the comments? It’s one thing to disagree, but the constant bitchiness gets old pretty quickly.

James 02 Feb 06

“Why does bog standard Photoshop take at least 20 seconds on any machine that�s not bleeding edge?”

Not sure what you’re running, but PS CS2 loads in 6 seconds or less on a PC I built a year ago for ~$1000. Sure, it’s high end, but I wouldn’t call it bleeding edge. Besides, it’s a powerful program. You don’t see 3D guys complaining that Maya doesn’t render quick enough on their P4 - they just use appropriate hardware, as you should.

Ruminator 02 Feb 06

Who’d of thought there’d be such a descriptive vs. proscriptive grammar debate here at 37s. ;-)

Darrel 02 Feb 06

Speaking of less, can we get less complaining in the comments?

You are complaining about the complaining. I’m going to complain about the complaining about the complaining. Who wants to complain about me complaining about the complaining of the complaining?

“complaining” is a funny word when you say it enough times.

Jared White 02 Feb 06

I really wouldn’t want Adobe to remove features or stop feature development in Photoshop per se, because throughout all of my different projects, I’ll probably end up using almost all of the features at some point in time and will be glad they’re there.

However, I think it boils down to a UI and modularity issue. If Photoshop’s features and tools were all part of modular plugins, then people could load up “Photoshop Simple” and have 10% of the available features. Then, if they changed their minds, they could click a button and relaunch “Photoshop Godzilla” and have every feature under the sun. Ideally, an experienced user could pick exactly the features they need and hide the rest to make a custom version of Photoshop.

The problem here is that software is still pathetically monolithic. People are using OOP all over the place, yet users have virtually no control over the objects, only the developers do. That seems pretty dumb, IMHO.


pwb 02 Feb 06

I don’t think you could take PhotoShop, trim 80& of the features and market it as an upgrade.

But I definitely think there is an opportunity for Adobe or (more likely) someone else to market a lighter weight, easier-to-use product to a wider audience at a lower price point.

Drew Pickard 02 Feb 06

I don’t think Photoshop really needs to lose so many features as it does need to be re-thought and lead the charge into the next software-design-paradigm


And there’s GOT to be a better concept for the interface that takes less space …

Chris Lloyd 02 Feb 06

Cut out 80% of the features? All that would be left would be the 20% that I don’t use. Working with motion graphics / web design / image correction pretty much covers all the uses of Photoshop. I always look forward to new features and use them often. (ie. Perspective clone and smart objects).

There are two basic users that exist within the software market today: the users and the creators. For the users “less is more” works because they can’t be bothered with the features which allow them to do _everything_, they generally only buy a program to do one thing. However for the creators, if you took features away and didn’t give them the level of customisation that they deserve, then that is when you start to limit creativity in society.

Writeboard is a great product, I use it almost every day. I am a user. However, how many major newspaper or magazines do you see using writeboard for all their content? Don’t drag “pro” applications like Photoshop into the “fewer” argument.

And about the difficult interface (that only if your learning it), have a look at After Effects 7 to have a glimpse of what PS might look like in the future.

Brian 03 Feb 06

I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned InDesign’s “everything as a plugin” architecture. Pure genius, if ya ask me. Pretty much every feature in InDesign exists as a plug in. Don’t like the feature? Take out the plugin.

The developer of PathFinder is adopting a similar idea for future versions. I’d like to see more apps work like this.

Scott Gingrich 03 Feb 06

I deal in the world of CRM software and I’m starting to see a movement to focus on the user experience and not simply bloat the software (starting to see…there’s still plenty of bloating happening!).

With the on-demand packages like and Sage CRM, I’m hopeful that Web 2.0 “feel” will gain momentum and provide for very focused user experiences.

Darrel 03 Feb 06

But I definitely think there is an opportunity for Adobe or (more likely) someone else to market a lighter weight, easier-to-use product to a wider audience at a lower price point.

Like Photoshop Elements? Macromedia Fireworks? Corel PaintShop Pro? The Gimp? ;o)

Seems as if Photoshop’s success is an argument that ‘less’ isn’t always more. There’s often a market for both.

I�m surprised nobody�s mentioned InDesign�s �everything as a plugin� architecture. Pure genius, if ya ask me.

Well, for all the things Quark did wrong, that was probably one of the nice things about QuarkXPress…it used the same concept.

Dave Wright 04 Feb 06

Part of the problem is that Photoshop began as photo editing software and has grown into the single most important tool in the arsenal of print designers, web designer, photographers and motion graphics professionals.

Perhaps it’s time that Adobe split Photoshop into separate applications that specialize in each field? The new Lightroom Beta seems to be a step in that direction. And ImageReady, while underwhelming could be the basis for a product that speaks more readily to the web design population.

With the acquisition of Macromedia, Adobe is going to have to do something about the joint product line. Especially because Apple has seen fit to fire a shot across their bows with Aperture.

What would happen if Apple created a Photoshop killer in the same way that Adobe created InDesign to go after Quark Xpress? Apple have certainly demonstrated themselves as powerful players in the motion world. I for one, would love to see them bring their savvy interface design to a Photoshop type program.

Andrew M Lin 06 Feb 06

Great post Matt. Thanks for pointing out this interview. I’m always a fan of John Maeda. Whereas I do think that Adobe Photoshop is one prime counter to the “less is more” argument (in this case, bloated Photoshop just seems to work so well for so many users in different profesions), I wholeheartedly agree with a previous comment that perhaps there is space for a smaller niche graphic software to come to market here.

Besides, maybe Apple has already done something like this? “Aperture” anyone?

Matt, if you are in NYC, maybe we should meet up some time, talk geek speak. I live in NYC too. Send me an e-mail.

NotSaraLee 06 Feb 06

Q: What is the slogan for Sara Lee Bakery?
A: A. Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee!
B. Nobody Does It Like Sara Lee!
The correct answer is ‘A’.

Funk 07 Feb 06

Problem is, even if we all only use 20% of Photoshop’s features, we’re not all using the same 20%.

JD 09 Feb 06

What is John Maeda announced that his brain had 80% less knowledge? We only use about 10% of our brains anyway, right?

Dan 22 Feb 06

A long time ago computers were very expensive and exotic. They were used by specialised users who wanted very powerful applications.

I think that this is how the idea that more features = good appeared.

Now the average user is not a computer specialist, and generally has zero interest in computers. He or she just wants to get the job done as fast as possible, without having to worry about lots of features.

This is why simple applications are all the rage now. :)

Ryan 28 Feb 06

Generally, companies think more features are better, because they believe that too much is better than too little. Some developers have managed to bridge the gap between a simple, easy-to-use interface and a program packed with features by having a “simple” mode, and an “advanced” mode. The simple mode just hides all of the features that the average person is not likely to use. The advanced mode has everything you could possibly need, but the interface isn’t as easy to navigate. If I had to pick one though, I’d definitely rather have more features.

Even though the average user is only going to need 10% of the features, that doesn’t mean that nobody will need them. There will always be those that will need something else. Besides, which 10% would you keep?