Adobe MAX 2018: Key Announcements and What We Learned about the Future of UX/UI Design

An attendee at Adobe MAX 2018 poses for the camera while holding UXdesigner and Adobe XD stickers.

Image credit: Evan Yamada.

User experience and interface design took center stage at Adobe MAX last month, with top UX leaders forming a strong contingent of the more than 150 speakers across the creative industry. At the forefront this year: the need to design for new interfaces, beyond the screen.

Adobe MAX was also a big moment for Adobe XD; a major highlight of the keynote address on the first day was principal designer Khoi Vinh unveiling the latest XD updates, which include voice prototyping — making XD the first UX/UI platform to add this capability.

As voice plays an increasing role in digital experiences, especially in voice-based devices such as those with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, the message was clear: the Adobe XD team is working hard to listen to designers and provide them with the tools they need to be better at their job, now and in the future.

Adobe Principal Designer Khoi Vinh takes to the MAX stage, announcing new features for Adobe XD like voice prototyping and Auto-Animate.

Adobe Principal Designer Khoi Vinh takes to the MAX stage, announcing new features for Adobe XD like voice prototyping and Auto-Animate. Image credit: Evan Yamada.

“One of the biggest things I learned about UX and UI design at Adobe MAX was how rapidly this space is changing every day,” said senior visual designer Cody Brown. “We are evolving with digital experiences faster than ever and must learn to adapt our designs, so they are scalable for these new strides in technology.”

Check out some of our top takeaways along with the biggest UX/UI announcements from Adobe MAX below.

Voice prototyping is here

As no other UX design platform has introduced voice capabilities to their tools, the announcement at Adobe MAX came as a big surprise to many. Prototyping has always been at the core of XD, and now with the addition of voice triggers and speech playback, XD seamlessly connects screen and voice prototyping in one app.

The number of U.S. smart-speaker users is expected to reach 90 million this year, and it’s clearly where communication is going. Product and UX designers need the power to build for this future, and that requires the right tools.

“There are so many reasons why prototyping for voice is important in the world of UX design,” enthused Jill DaSilva, head of UX Strategy and CEO of design agency Digital Karma. “Before, there would have to be a lot of imagination when prototyping for voice. Now, the experience can be tested and iterated so much more quickly, without having to involve the development team.”

Jill DaSilva, head of UX Strategy and CEO of design agency Digital Karma, at the UX Leaders Summit at Adobe MAX 2018.

Jill DaSilva, head of UX Strategy and CEO of design agency Digital Karma, at the UX Leaders Summit at Adobe MAX. Image credit: Evan Yamada.

Designer and developer Heather Weaver agreed and pointed out that having the ability to showcase the entire application experience while still working in a design program was crucial for rapid prototyping and improved design communication. “We have never been able to show how the transitions of voice UI will work. Now we can,” added Chris Cannon, art director and founder of Colours.

Slicker animations

Animation has established itself as one of the most important tools in interaction design over the last few years. We use it to draw attention to something important, show a relationship between elements, or to enhance continuity between states and the flow of the experience.

Creating animations that are a cohesive part of the design is challenging but prototyping rich experiences with animation has become easier. The October update of Adobe XD features Auto-Animate, a simple way to create immersive animations between artboards. Simply duplicate an artboard, modify object properties (e.g. size, position, rotation), and apply an Auto-Animate action to create an animated transition between artboards.

“These new tools are incredibly useful for product designers because they allow us to build high fidelity and immersive experiences in minutes,” explains senior visual designer Cody Brown.

Cody Brown (right) and fellow designers collaborate at Adobe MAX's UX Leaders Summit.

Cody Brown (right) and fellow designers collaborate at Adobe MAX’s UX Leaders Summit. Image credit: Evan Yamada.

“We are now able to design elegant microinteractions that help inform the user journey in ways that weren’t possible before due to limited time and resources. The ease of use allows us to explore new ways of storytelling in our projects with smooth gestures, delightful animations, and natural motion.”

Drag Gestures, which have also been added in the latest release, takes this feature one step further and enables designers to simulate the drag experience of touch devices. For example, you can now smoothly drag between artboards and simulate image carousels.

Extensible platforms empower product and UX/UI designers to improve and speed up their workflows by customizing tools with the features they need.

To make this possible, Adobe has opened the XD developer platform and, with the October update, built an ecosystem that gives developers access to a growing list of plugins and app integrations that extend XD in new and exciting ways within the app.

Developers can now customize XD, so that it’s perfect for them and their team, adding powerful tools and features from Adobe’s developer and partner community while connecting it with the productivity and design services teams use every day.

There were twice daily hands-on labs at Adobe MAX to help developers learn how to build their first XD plugins. To get started yourself, check out the step-by-step tutorial, Spinning Up Your First Adobe XD Plugin, on the Adobe Tech blog, as well as the Adobe XD Platform itself, which features a quick start guide, API reference documentation, samples, and community resources.

“The translation extension demoed by Adobe opened my eyes to the possibilities of the power we now have to solve simple, time-consuming problems with the click of a button,” said Chad Q. Martin, principal designer, HP Advanced Design and Strategy, and president of the UX Speakeasy meetup in San Diego.

Chad Q. Martin, principal designer, HP Advanced Design and Strategy, at the UX Leaders Summit.

Chad Q. Martin, principal designer, HP Advanced Design and Strategy, at the UX Leaders Summit. Image credit: Evan Yamada.

“Looking at my workflow, I know there are tedious aspects of my deliverables that plugins can take on, leaving me with more time to focus on the less mundane parts of designing.”

Standout plugins that designers were especially excited about include the User Testing plugin, Data Populator (which enables you to import JSON datasets to populate your design mockups with meaningful data), the Google Sheets plugin, and the language plugin.

Accelerating feature roadmaps

While voice, animation, and extensibility were among the biggest announcements at Adobe MAX, designers were astonished by the pace at which useful features are being unveiled these days. For the Adobe XD team, it was the chance to shed more light on their working process to provide features and tools that empower UX designers to meet future challenges.

“Some of the features come from observing and listening in to conversations designers have,” explained Andrew Shorten, senior director, product management for Adobe XD. “Often we’ll go and watch people work, and they won’t always think something is a pain point or a friction for them, but we’ll look at them and think, ‘you do that thing 25 times a day, there has to be a better way for doing that!’”

Designer and developer Heather Weaver particularly liked the new assets panel and said it was a great tool for helping to create cohesive design systems. “Previously, I was leaving the document and going to the developer specs for this information, so having it baked in and clickable makes my design flow a lot more efficiently.”

Senior visual designer Cody Brown, meanwhile, favored the responsive resize feature. “Any feature that saves time for designers is a huge win in my book,” he said. “It allows us to spend more of that saved time to refine our products and build a more polished experience.”

“Manually resizing everything, copying and pasting things across is what designers do,” Andrew Shorten added. “So we look at patterns like that and explore whether there’s a way for us to provide a different way of work, algorithms or logic to automate some of it, and then extrapolate out a solution that ideally makes it feel like magic and just works.”

For Digital Karma’s CEO Jill DaSilva the ability to open Illustrator files with XD was one of the highlights. “I work with many different designers and like to let them use the design tool that works best for them,” she explained. “Sometimes that can be a challenge. I recently had one project that had source files in Illustrator, Sketch, and Photoshop. Thanks to this new update, I can now bring all of the files into one tool for prototyping and sharing.”

The future of UX/UI design happens at Adobe MAX

Adobe MAX is one of the best chances UX designers from around the world get to connect, collaborate, and learn from one another. There’s an incredibly infectious drive, passion, and dedication to making products that enrich the lives of others, improve workflows, and save on time and costs. And you never know who you could meet.

“Serendipity is one of those great things about gathering in one place with thousands of other people,” found HP’s Chad Q. Martin. “While waiting for the first keynote to start, I introduced myself to the person next to me, and within five minutes we had figured out he had the exact expertise I needed for a project I’ve been wanting to collaborate on for years!”

Adobe MAX is also where the future of UX and UI design is being shaped and design trends originate. The XD team taps in early to an initial set of challenges that they think will ultimately scale, and then they just share it with the community. Over the last year more than 60 features were added.

Andrew Shorten, Adobe XD's senior director for product management, on stage at Adobe MAX.

Andrew Shorten, Adobe XD’s senior director for product management, on stage at Adobe MAX. Image credit: Evan Yamada.

“I wouldn’t say voice is front and center of what designers have to deal with right now, but it’s there on the horizon and they have to get in soon,” Andrew Shorten, leading product management for Adobe XD, pointed out. “We have a role in helping to accelerate the creation for those sorts of devices by making the tools more accessible. So it’s a mixture of innovating around pain points and problems we see facing designers today, and the ones that are opportunities for us to get ahead and open up creative opportunities in the future.”

“It all stems from spending hours, days, weeks with our customers and living and breathing the problems they have as they try to tackle bigger projects, more screens, more devices, in less time.”

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