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December 20, 2006

Details are emerging about the forthcoming Adobe CS3 suite. Big news today: the icons were announced!

Adobe CS3 Icon Chart

Alright, now I’m sure every industry experiences this: from time to time, controversies brew up that appear to the outside observer as obsessive, myopic navel-gazing. Talking about application icons definitely falls under that banner; as a crime against humanity, it ranks somewhere around the level of accidentally using 1% milk instead of skim in someone’s coffee. There are indeed more important things to worry about in this world. A lot of them. That said… what in the world led them down this path? Paint chips! For an entire suite of application icons! Did I sleep through the announcement where Pantone bought Adobe or something?

Hey, they probably looked great through a projector’s lens during the meetings. And placing them on top of the ultimate designer’s emblem, a colour wheel… maybe that Kool Aid wasn’t too hard to swallow. I just can’t imagine an actual icon designer was involved in those meetings, or maybe they simply got voted down.

Icons in Mac OS X dock and Windows Quick Launch bar

Figure: CS3 Icons mocked up in place within OS X dock and WinXP quick launch.

Because when you actually look at them in situ, it strikes me as glaringly obvious how poorly these work in the view that designers will be seeing every single day. I wasn’t overly impressed with the new Office 2007 icons, but they’re a world apart from these paint chips.

Commenters on John Nack’s original post seem genuinely baffled that these are considered production-ready icons for the world’s premiere design suite. Upon seeing the blue “Ps” icon slapped onto the Photoshop CS3 beta, most assumed they were looking at a placeholder.

Jason Santa Maria expressed his feelings quite elegantly:

When making icons, you usually try to design something simple and recognizable to identify things. At the expense of creating a family of icons, you’ve watered them down so much as to be unrecognizable at a glance. The variety of color, while great in theory, does little to help matters because of the sheer number of icons. The plain facts that monitor variations kill the subtle differences, and there are quite a few color blind people out there who can’t distinguish certain shades from one another, should have led you towards a backup plan. That may be what the periodic letters are for, but in choosing to go with one font, and one orientation, you’ve created enough noise that none of them would be recognizable among the others. Plus, baking in the action of having to read the icon just to decipher it adds an unnecessary step.

This is an utter design failure.

Alright, so maybe it’s all subjective. Maybe most of the people who have seen them so far just simply don’t like them, but everyone else will. No? No. There are ways to quantify how badly these icons work for their intended purpose.

They fail because there is no shape variation. Every icon is contained within an identical square. Nothing breaks the silhouette, the only shape variation occurs inside the square, in the form of the letters. But using a common typeface, stroke weight, and posture across every icon means the various letters have more in common with each other than they differ, and at a glance they all blend together. Since this is the sole shape differentiator, it’s a big, big problem. Don’t just take my word for it, go read Matt Queen’s detailed article, Icon Analysis: Evaluating Low Spatial Frequency Compositions for enough detail about icon shapes to make your head spin.

And these icons fail because conveying important information through colour must be done with care; the current design appears to sample at random from the colour spectrum. More specifically, relying mainly on colour to distinguish between items is a basic HCI no-no, and something anyone who has ever glanced at WCAG knows by heart.

I’m rather wondering if this prominent colour issue won’t open a Pandora’s box of inept colour usage. “I know I’m using colour as a sole distinguishing factor here, but hey, Adobe did it too, so I’m in good company.” Repeat ad nauseum.

There’s hope, I suppose, that the situation will improve somewhat. John Dowdell of Adobe chimed in on his post with this, and a call for a bit of patience until the full picture is revealed:

For what it’s worth, I agree that it’s difficult to get the full picture from that single screenshot.

I’ve seen a more complete presentation of this design, though, and it makes a lot of sense to me, seems a lot more intuitive than feathers and such.

Okay, we’ll see what that turns out to be when it happens, but I’m not recommending anyone hold their breath. Let me echo Jason once more: what a mess.

cam c. says:
December 20, 21h

Upon seeing the blue “Ps” icon slapped onto the Photoshop CS3 beta, most assumed they were looking at a placeholder.

“…and an ugly placeholder, at that” was exactly what I was thinking when I saw that icon… Bleah.

Chris F. says:
December 20, 21h

OK, I’ll probably get flamed for saying this, but I don’t hate the new icons. I don’t really think they were thought through too well and there’s certainly not a lot of design involved. But when my dock starts getting full of icons of applications I’m using, that really becomes a mess. And Adobe’s current set of CS2 icons have their problems when trying to distinguish one from another. I’m always clicking on the ImageReady icon when I meant to hit the Illustrator icon. I’m wondering if it’ll be easier for my brain to handle seeing the letters as opposed to seeing some artistic thing that doesn’t really resonate.

I’m not saying they’re right for going so…”blah” with these icons. I’m just saying that icons are an art form of their own and very few companies make icons you immediately recognize as to their purpose.

Plus when you think of it in the context of the dock, which is overwhelmed with color and iconography, these may REALLY stand out when they’re sitting in there.

December 20, 21h

That has to be the worse designed icons I’ve ever seen. Sure the whole feather, shell, butterfly, flower icons might not have made any sense, but they were distinguishable from one another in several ways and only required a brief relearning of the icon sets when upgrading from CS to CS2. These will be a nightmare to use on a daily basis, and if they were going to use letters instead of images couldn’t Adobe have learned something from their new Macromedia friends about icon design?

December 20, 21h

Wow. Just… wow. Count me among the masses that assumed the generic blue “Ps” icon was a temporary fix until we saw the real ones.

Also count me among the masses that are horribly disappointed. Yeah, they’re “just icons,” but this shows an appalling lack of attention to detail that a company such as Adobe shouldn’t suffer from. Some of the best creative minds must work there… surely they could have done better than this.

December 20, 22h

The discussion is only hours old and it already feels like it’s gone on for far too long.

Some people like the icons. Some people hate them. Others, like me, are indifferent to them.

I said this on JSM’s blog and I’ll repeat it here:

One thing I think most people fail to take into account is that most people aren’t going to have ALL of these icons on their desktop/dock/quicklaunch/etc. Most might have just the CS apps. Some might have the video apps. Most might have Flash and Acrobat. But then what? We’re talking 10 icons tops, that once you get USED to them are going to probably be easier to identify than a stupid feather, butterfly, starfish, flower or a snail shell. I don’t know about you guys, but when that change was made, I was like WTF app is that?

As plain as these icons are, they’re hours old and people hate them as if they’ve stared the icons for hours on end for YEARS.

Give them time. Let’s see them in the proper context before passing final judgement.

Dave S. says:
December 20, 22h

“Give them time. Let’s see them in the proper context before passing final judgement.”

You’re acting like it’s a done deal. I wrote this specifically because CS3 hasn’t shipped yet, they still have time for a do-over if enough people speak up.

Matt says:
December 20, 22h

I don’t believe that Adobe would ever intend on having these icons in their final product. They almost seem like placeholders.
I’ve really liked the look of Adobe’s icons in the past few versions, these seem like a massive step in the wrong direction.

shorty114 says:
December 20, 23h

Don’t kill me or anything, but I don’t really mind the new icons. They are pretty drab, and have a *lot* of accessibility issues, but it’s a cool concept. The whole family’s icons look the same yet they’re subtly different.

But looking cool is only half the deal. I don’t know how easy it would be to differentiate those when you just glance at the quick launch or the dock. I too hope they’re placeholders – in the end, I think Adobe could have done much better.

David Robarts says:
December 20, 23h

Note to self: If I upgrade Adobe CS, copy old icons to use on new version.

December 21, 00h

@cam c., comment #1: Dito.

I thought “well, okay — it’s not very nice, but hey, this is a beta and they want to keep the secret of a glorious realignement with feathers as long as they can”. So I was a bit surprised as I saw this icon wheel yesterday.

Henrijs says:
December 21, 02h

This is not the first time Adobe fires designers. Illustrator 6 had uber ugly splash screen :) But I like these icons. They are not beautiful, but they work.

rob-ot says:
December 21, 02h

Did Adobe just released a chemistry kit ?

December 21, 02h

I could write a book about how much I loathe these icons, about how ugly and uninspired they are. But I’m lazy, so I’ll sum it up in one sentence:

If these are the actual CS3 icons, then Creative Suite should be renamed Suite.

Damien says:
December 21, 04h

I think the step ‘back to basic’ is a good one. Not that these icons are better then the old one’s but their certainly a chance for better icons with CS4. The way the old icons were evolving was not great.

Apart from that, I like the overall style in the programs, granted I’m only using Photoshop CS3, but the new gui looks good and works very well with the new icon(s).

December 21, 04h

@Dave: But seriously, this much uproar over application icons? I mean, come on! I’d lose a lot of respect for Adobe if they changed directions on the icons just because a lot of designers whined about them. That would be like telling Nintendo, “I can’t believe you called the system ‘Wii’, that’ll never work.” (But we see how that turned out.) Some people are going to find these icons incredibly useful. Others, like yourself, might not. And that’s why people design replacement icons.

December 21, 04h

@Chris Harrison: “But seriously, this much uproar over application icons?” Because we want greatness from Adobe. We want to stand behind a product that is solid, through and through. Just as Dave says, Adobe has a profound effect on our industry to set the bar. And I shudder at the days we will see people justifying their designs against these.

(from a comment on my site): Anyone can learn to use bad design over time; others and I will learn to use these icons, but that’s not the point. it’s not just the aesthetics here; the icons are clean and professional. But design is more than just visuals, it’s about communication, and I still hold firm that these icons fail on a number of levels to communicate some of the most important things.

We are in an uproar because we care.

December 21, 05h

When I installed the latest Adobe Reader a few days ago I thought how strange the new icon was. These new icons are beyond strange! However, I’m not particularly disgusted by them.

Perhaps Adobe are designing these new icons with Vista in mind? Vista does tend to be a bit ‘darker’ (as do these icons).

dpiercy says:
December 21, 05h

I think the posting and comments over at Veerle’s blog:

are a bit more informative and constructive.

These icons don’t seem too spectacular, but we are seeing them out of context w/the rebranding of the suite.

December 21, 06h

Pictures good / Typography bad?

The icons are utilitarian, and address a concern I’m sure Adobe UI designers caught alot of slack for with CS and CS2…the fact that many of us often clicked on the one icon (Photoshop) when we meant to click another (InDesign).

I, for one, don’t need the icons for the apps that I use to be creative…I have plenty of other sources for that. I’d much rather Adobe’s time be devoted to improving the app. design.

As an aside, Adobe should commission Marian Bantjes ( ) to design the icon set.

December 21, 06h

The change from good old version numbers to “CS” was ugly. The shift to multicolored abstract icons (and branding) was REALLY ugly – impossible to differentiate at anything less than 32px, and even then I had to take a good look.

Adobe has a large number of products. You won’t have them all in your dock at once.

Your screenshot shows that they’re easy to pick out when placed in proximity:

In terms of usability, these are *significant* upgrade from the rainbow feathers.

beto says:
December 21, 07h

Leave it to designers to make a storm out of something like this. From beta software no less.

You see paint chips, I see a design team that seemed to have too much fun with the periodic table of chemical elements. A stroke of genius certainly it isn’t, but hardly something worth so much moaning and kvetching about.

As long as I can identify an application at a glance in my already too crowded dock and Finder, I couldn’t care less about the artsy-fartsyness of a given icon. Besides, it’s not like Photoshop has to go and convince everyone on how great a piece of software it is - they did that already a long time ago.

If you hate these new icons so much, replacing them is a snap (and there will undoubtedly be tons of alternatives to do so). Perhaps thats kind of the point - maybe Adobe wants us to get crazy and creative with them?

December 21, 07h

I’ll post the same thing that I posted over on Jason’s site -

Adobe should really take a page from Apple’s book and use icons that are very descriptive about the purpose of the application. Take a look at the icons for iPhoto, Mail, Address Book, iCal, GarageBand, Photo Booth and to a lesser extent, iTunes (only ‘to a lesser extent’ now due to iTunes video support - it’s not all about music anymore). It’s easy to see just by glancing at the icons for these apps what the program is all about.

I’ll add a little here because we’re specifically talking about how distinguishable they are - Apple’s icons are all fairly different from each other that deciphering which is which in a short amount of time is almost automatic.

Dave S. says:
December 21, 09h

Why am I getting the feeling that some people pushing back in the comments here just completely skipped the justifications I used or the articles I linked? Particularly this one:

If you haven’t read that, you need to before commenting here. This isn’t just a subjective issue. There are quantitative reasons why these icons fail as icons, and I’m providing it.

Patrick says:
December 21, 09h

Colour-blind people are going to have a fit trying to distinguish these apart.

December 21, 09h

I agree with dpiercy that Veerle does a much better job, constructively writing and critiquing the new icons.

Also, speaking as someone that has some color blindness I think their using color to differentiate the application differences is mute and a silly argument since they also use letters and each icon will have name of the application when you hover over it just like you have with the title attribute for anchor tags in XHTML.

I made an screen shot of the title that appears when you hover over it here,

C says:
December 21, 09h

Nice gradients. All they need are rounded corners. (im sure theyre present in some iteration on the designer’s hard drive)

Adobe hired an agency (MetaDesign) for their last identity. I know that seems ironic, but Adobe are engineers more than designers. Metadesign created all the icons, boxes, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the same agency following current trends (minimalism, i assume).

Sean says:
December 21, 09h

What no one seems to have pointed out, is that these icons are like a square version of Macromedia’s collection of icons for Studio 8.

Every Studio 8 icon was a different colored sphere, with the same type face, but different letters.

December 21, 10h

My brain is split. The old icons were too ambiguous like many people have pointed out. And the accessibility issues get at me for the new ones. But I think another major gripe is the “Web 2.0” feeling these icons have. Does anyone else see that problem?

David says:
December 21, 10h

These icons don’t exactly portray “the world leader in creative professional and communication software.”

For around $700 per each CSX version I’d like to be under the illusion that I’m getting something worthwhile. This CS should come with 1GB of ram to make up for the money saved on hiring an intern to design their icons.

December 21, 10h

I dig ‘em. Been using the PS beta since its release and already it’s easier to find than that feather. Just so long as other developers don’t follow suit, I think it’ll work just fine with most folks.

December 21, 10h

I don’t think these new icons are the pinnacle of design achievement, but I do think they communicate more than the previous set. The CS2 icons also have no shape variation, and don’t use iconic graphics that help to signify what the app actually does. instead, they require you to make random associations, like “Photoshop = Feather” and Illustrator = Flower.”

The CS3 icons still require you to make associations, but I’d say it’s easier to associate “PS” with Photoshop than it is to associate a feather with Photoshop.

They’re not great, but they’re better than the old ones.

December 21, 10h

Macromedia was the worst thing that happen for Adobe. What you have today isn’t Adobe as you know, in fact it’s all Macromedia. They are using Macromedia’s website design, Macromedia’s interface design for all the new applications, Macromedia’s icon design, etc.

Dave S. says:
December 21, 10h

I should be clear, I never thought the CS/CS2 icons were any good either. That white rectangle bounding the various graphics suffered the same problem the square box of these new ones do. And I continuously click the wrong one. But I’ll give them this - the shape variation of the coloured area between the feather and the flower and the butterfly made them easy to distinguish from each other in the dock or when Alt-Tabbing, even if I didn’t know what the hell each one actually was.

But this is a step backward instead of forward for all the reasons I’ve mentioned. I’m sure that initially learning them will be a lot easier for English speakers due to the immediate connection between letters and the names of the applications, but that’s not the use case that I’m concerned about.

oomu says:
December 21, 10h

as many, I sure thought CS and cS2 was NOT great icons. very similar, not so creative, and not easy to spot in a dock.

these are worst. _very_ too much similar between them. it’s not style, it’s just the same thing over and over. and it needs to read to recognize them. no shape, no identity between applications. sure there are identity for the Adobe brand : dull.

Bryan says:
December 21, 10h

I’m pretty sure MetaDesign didn’t do these icons.

Scott Dye says:
December 21, 10h

I am not a fan of the homogenized CS 2 era icons any more than I am of these - but the main question I have is why do the icons have to change with each version, anyway? The Eyeball icon of old is very much a recognized icon of photoshop, as was the Venus for illustrator. Why make new things we have to re-learn every couple of years, just to “update” the brand? If anything, go with the CS2 icons, and ADD the letters - and then stick with them.

It’s similar to logo design - designers (myself included) want to re-do the “brand” to keep it fresh every few months it seems, while not realizing that consistency is often much more powerful - look at the Coca-cola logo - virtually unchanged for decades. Nothing special about it, really - but who doesn’t know it?

Patrick Taylor says:
December 21, 10h

My concern is mostly about emulation of Adobe’s direction by other companies, ones that might not hire a real icon designer (as Adobe has) and try do something similar: make a rounded square and slap a couple of letters and presto! instant icon.

These icons might appeal to you or not, but I foresee a future with more and more icons trying to look like CS3 icons but with unkerned Arial or Comic Sans. ::shudder::

“Hey if Adobe can do it, why not us?”

Dave S. says:
December 21, 12h

Oooh, this one makes the shape variation point quite nicely:

December 21, 12h

This doesn’t have much with the new design of the Adobe icon but after reading all this about them I was surprised to realize that my dock has become a place for rarely used applications (if I except currently running apps, of course), often the ones that I was interested in for a while but then forget to remove them (my dock is a little junkyard). I think that dock is overcrowded easily, no matter what kind of icons is used.
Using Quicksilver changed my work habits and my dock significantly. I don’t have any of Adobe CS2 or Macromedia studio 8 application in it, and I use them most of the time. I use a few keystrokes to launch them and the keystrokes are really very similar to characters on “new” icons. Something to think about, perhaps?

Leo Klein says:
December 21, 13h

Seem pretty generic to me – almost like place-holders.

FWIW, I vote for ‘feathers’.

Dan V. says:
December 21, 15h

I want my venus back, damnit. And the eye with filter too. Adobe flushed a decade and a half of branding down the toilet with the CS series, and it’s just getting worse.

Why did they try to fix what wasn’t broken back with CS1?

ed says:
December 21, 15h

I originally had concerns about the icons but after seeing what they’ll look like in the doc and in the xp quick launch panel i’m quite sold, though i’m sure that wasn’t your intention :)

After all, the only packages I use are Ps, Ai, and Id… they’ll certaily be the most instantly obvious and recognisable icons in the dock

Yann says:
December 21, 17h

I too assumed this PS icon was a place holder, I didn’t even doubt that one second…

But, for anyone who’s concerned about productivity loss because of these icons, I recommend you spend the free time you have looking into Butler or Quicksilver (that’s OS X, I’m sure there’s something similar on Win) instead of complaining, cause anyone using the dock is already wasting a lot of time…

And the old icons are a copy+paste away if you miss them that much…

I know it’s sort of off topic, but I was blown away by how much better Photoshop (and Bridge, and Camera Raw…) is in CS3, even as a beta, and I’m perplexed that people would whine about the icons instead of commenting on the drastic improvements of the application itself…

If you are going to provide feedback to Adobe about the beta, I personaly hope that you’ll spend the time crafting constructive observations on the app itself, its feature set, its UI, etc… Don’t know about you guys, but I spend WAY more time interacting with the app than its icon…

rok says:
December 21, 18h

my big concern with ALL of these “letters = icons” identification methods is how in the heck do these work in the localized languages other than English, where the names might not be the same? or even better, when you have languages that don’t use roman-style characters? you can’t tell me “Ps” means squat to someone trying to use the app in Japan. yet looking at, lo and behold…

and i thought the flora x-rays made no sense…

rok says:
December 21, 19h

p.s. for those who say “just replace the icons,” considering the OBSCENE amount of money we have all paid, either up front now or via the upgrade path through the years, for all of these apps, you expect a fit and finish to ALL apsects of the app. ESPECIALLY its metaphorical front door. i don’t spend $64K on a new car that’s gorgeous and a dream to drive but has a turd for a hood ornament, and actually swallow it when the salesperson says “well, you can always buy a replacement.” or a multi-million dollar dream home but the front door looks like a friggin’ window and i’m just supposed to “get used to it.”

um, no.

oh, and to harrison, the wii hasn’t been successful BECAUSE of the name, it’s been successful DESPITE the name. so yes, these icons may become recognizable to all that can be accomplished with the apps, but that does NOT make them good icons.

and finally, please oh PLEASE will people stop trying to convince me to give up 20 years of learned icon using behavior for something like quicksilver. i can still do EVERYthing as fast with my standard methods as a QS-guru, or if slower, negligibly so.

Emir says:
December 21, 20h

– “This isn’t just a subjective issue. There are quantitative reasons why these icons fail as icons, and I’m providing it.”

Like all design, of course it’s not a subjective issue. But it’s not an objective issue either. That sort of metric analysis can be very valuable in certain applications like vertical signalization (road-signs) where safety of people can be in question. You could argue that there, even a fraction of a percentage difference is an important difference. However, I must question the returns of such insights to an application like icon design.

What I want to say, I suppose, is that if we’re going to get so esoteric about “recognizability” and metrics of time responses, why not mention the psychological phenomena of having people evaluate something new vs. having them evaluate it after they’ve been given some time to get used to it. Why not mention the impact of my preferred placement of the icon on the dock for example (does having an icon at the place where I’m used to and where I expect it to be make more difference than the outline shape?).

There are some typographers who will fight the “legibility” wars but fail to recognize that their pseudo-scientific arguments are rendered insignificant by the fact that they can not control the type of paper their type sits on, the type of light under which their letters will be read, nor the distance at which the reader will hold the book.

Matt Queens study is good material because it defines its perimeters, it variables and constants and therefore sets up the context for what he is out to explore. Any study seeking for definitive results must define it’s scope. In no way am I trying to devalue it. But, reality is more complex than that. Donald Norman was quick to recognize that sometimes, I’d rather suffer from a fraction of a percentage drop in usability metrics (his tea pots stories) and have something fresh, new, or what I think is pretty to look at every day.

December 21, 20h

Heh, even worse than the icon - does this mean that the bland, blue-gradient Photoshop CS3 splash screen is here to stay, too? Ack. Granted, I’m already seeing a lot less of it now that the app is Universal, but still… ;-)

December 21, 21h

Visual distinctiveness is absolutely critical for icon design. The subtle shading and sameness of shape of these new icons make each application icon very non-distinct, which is bad from both a usability and branding direction.

Usability aside, these tools are for creatives. They should have icons and brands that communicate the creativity, elegance, and power of these products. Even if they overcame the usability differences (like, if they made each a different basic shape), they’d still be a horrible choice - and this isn’t a subjective matter. Icons, by their very definition draw a relation between the signifier (the pictograph) and the signified (the concept). Squares with letters in them have no relation whatsoever with Adobe’s software suite.

Not to toot my own horn, but I also wrote a post about how these new icons can hardly be called icons at all:

Jomy says:
December 21, 21h

How many colorblind designers do you know?

I think the new icons are an improvement at least.
I don’t think it will be that confusing.
I’ve rarely seen anyone with more than 6 adobe apps in their dock.
You’ll get familiar with their position and color and phonic.
It may seem jarring at first but I think it will be very familiar before long.

December 22, 02h

The new Adobe icons are plain ugly and anti-accessible and anti-usable… And the fact that apparently they were made by the Macromedia Team (as Veerle says), adds up to the disappointment…

What else say…

December 22, 07h

As you (and others) have asked for one, here’s a spatial frequency analysis of the new CS3 icons:

The results aren’t good.

rok says:
December 22, 08h

@jomy: “I’ve rarely seen anyone with more than 6 adobe apps in their dock.”

um, since adobe bought out macromedia, let’s count…


so that gives me eight right there. and if there are any designers who have to delve into development from time to time, i’m betting they’ll have another two or three added to the mix.

we’re gonna have some serious alphabet soup in the dock soon… well, even moreso than we had.

Zach says:
December 22, 14h

You know, this could turn out to be some kind of PR stunt, and when they release the suite we will be greeted, to our surprise, by a wonderful set of icons.

The logic: Make your product seem worse than it is, and everyone will be impressed when it turns out okay. Microsoft-style.

I know, i’m just kidding myself.

Paul says:
December 22, 14h

Another reason these new CS3 “icons” are failures of design - they mean absolutely nothing in non-roman languages.

What does “Ps” and “Ai” and “Dw” going to mean to Japanese, Korean, or Hindi designers? Maybe the hyper-intellectual crew at Adobe didn’t think about that. Or maybe they assume Chinese designers all know English or they are all software pirates anyway?

I propose that if these icons are so great, Adobe should immediately change its corporate logo to a colored square with the letters “Ab” in awful-looking type.

December 22, 20h

Another small point about these new icons.

I use InDesign constantly throughout the day and it took me a long time to find the right icon, and now that I know which one it is this is why:

1. Adobe InDesign is the proper name for the application, but the icon uses an uppercase ‘i’ and a lowercase ‘d’, notice the change of case between icon and proper title (obviously required to continue on down their iconic periodic march)

2. The use of a sans-serif font made the uppercase ‘i’ look like a lowercase ‘L’ (using incorrect cases here because the comments are also sans-serif). So you get this:


At first glance that does not communicate InDesign to me, someone who uses the application sometimes up to 12 hours a day.

December 22, 20h

And I haven’t had enough coffee today, disregard my last post, I need an eye chart I’ve been staring at that gamut wheel too long.

Still hate the new icons.

Francisco says:
December 25, 11h

My question is why they maintained some icons like fireworks and acrobat.

December 25, 21h

I can’t believe I read this whole page of comments. Shea - that article on Low Spacial Frequency Compositions only demonstrates problems with these icons under certain conditions. It speaks more to the fact that squares are less distinguishable when compared flash card style with other objects that are more unique - say, for example, a star. I don’t believe that is the case at hand here exactly. BTW - if my coworker had a mouse that worked like that and a control panel organized like that I would just assume they were either a moron or a pontificating usability engineer trying to analyze me and then I would set out to screw their computer up so bad they’d have to reinstall their OS before continuing. Anyway - as a guy who owes practically his entire livelihood to Photoshop and spends roughly half of every day working in Photoshop, I think my opinion is the only one that counts. And it is… “Hmm. Nice. Easier to use. Glad they removed those silly feather/shell thingys. What’s for lunch?”

Anand says:
December 26, 11h

Wow. Add me to the list of people who thought these were quick placeholders. They get the job done, though.

Are there really that many color blind _designers or artists_ out there - people who will actually be using the icons?

On a brighter side, I’m really impressed with CS3. And if they spent more time working on the actual application and the new pallette layout rather than icons, I don’t really mind.

However, you’d think that as such a high-end and popular application for practically all designers and artists (now that they got Macromedia), they’d have more flair and stye. If it was an office app, I’d understand - but for an application that is used to create some of the best graphics, it’s kinda ironic.

It’s tough to please everyone though - like many other things, it depends a lot on taste. Judging by the reactions on here, which is a pretty narrow demographic, there’s about 25% support for them and about 75% against.

But one interesting thing I noticed: they saved a few brands, like acrobat and flash. The ones that were consistent, rather than changing by version. I still think this may be some type of place holder, maybe just for a whole version or something.

Ville V. says:
December 26, 16h

I think my blood is running low on caffeine but I just can’t figure out the logic behind these new icons.

“PS” is for Photoshop, right? That’s easy. It can’t be PaintShop since they don’t have these new fancy icons.

“Ai” has to be Adobe Illustrator. Or wait, is it Adobe InDesign? No it can’t be since “ID” is Adobe InDesign. But shouldn’t it be in fact “AID” or why is the letter A only in Adobe Illustrator. Following the same logic the PhotoShop icon should read “APS”. But then again it would be silly to have the letter A in every icon as it takes up some precious space. So the solution could be to change Adobe Illustator’s icon to read just “I”.

At this point I’m getting so confused that I’ll just click on all of the icons and hope that the program I want to use opens as well. Then I can close all the programs that I don’t need. That’s BU as in Brilliant Usability.

Jake says:
December 27, 17h

Even my wife, who by the way doesn’t know the paintbrush from the hand tool, said this, and I quote verbatim

“I thought that was beta, man. That’s pretty bad…”

We rest our case.

C. Michael Cooper says:
December 29, 12h

I think they just need to upgrade them with more bevels and drop shadows. That should fix ‘em…

December 30, 15h

If Adobe should be flamed for any decisions made here, it should be on the ridiculous amount of resources it wasted deciding how these icons should look. I think I agree with Dave, icons are simply not important enough for all this hubbub. It’s time for Adobe CS3 to put its foot down and make all it’s icons be black squares. This consumes no designer hours and get the issue settled that much quicker. Other vendors should follow suit. And then, quite frankly sirs, my dock bar will stop being such a garish mash of colors.

Andor Admiraal says:
December 30, 17h

It strikes me as odd that people take out some of their precious time only to comment on how insignificant they find this debate. Of course icons are important! Maybe not ‘who will be the next president of the USA’-important, but more like ‘what shall I buy for my boyfriends birthday’-important, or ‘where to go to on my next holiday’. Small things matter, too.

There are a great many people who will be using these icons every day. I believe that making every day things more aesthetically appealing is an actual contribution to making the world a better place. A bit like smiling to the person behind the counter, keeping your front yard neat, or washing your clothes every now and then. Things that may not be necessary, but together they make life infinitely more pleasant.

You would expect Adobe of all companies to understand that good design has merit. But if these icons convey any meaning at all, it would be that appearance is frivolous and that beauty is of no value. It’s not about looks; it’s about the workings of the tool – that’s what these icons try to say. The good old paradigm of ‘substance versus form’.

But substance and form are no enemies; both have their roles to play. I, for one, am not ashamed to admit that I’d pick pleasingly designed icons over a set of icons that may be slightly more effective, but also soulless and downright hideous. Beautiful things tend to make life a little more pleasant while ugly ones, well, less so.

But these icons aren’t even more effective than feathers or flowers or what-have-you. Isn’t the idea behind an icon that it gives a visual clue as to what the application is about? An icon that needs reading has failed in its very existence. Much like a joke that needs explaining. It just doesn’t work that way.

Speaking of jokes: I hope April’s Fools was late this year. And that soon the good people of Adobe will bewilderedly look at us and say they never expected so many people to believe that a company like Adobe would actually use these placeholders for real.

January 01, 09h

Well, it’s very web 2.0 minimal. Clean box, sans serif font, add a gradient. Viola! It’s even a beta. The only way to get more web 2.0 would be to lose a vowel from the program names. ;)

I agree that Adobe should be held to a higher standard of design since they make the tools that most digital designers work with on a daily basis. But I’d rather they focus on the tool itself. I’ve gone to using the beta for production because CS2 is unbearably slow on my MacBook. And I do like the easy access to the pallettes on the right hand side.

Something similar happened (without any large ruckus tho) when Autodesk bought Alias. Maya (one of the main 3d apps in the film industry) always had a red circle icon for many versions. Now it’s a rectangle with an iconographic dragon (more in line with Autodesk’s other product offerings). It’s more black than red. But many people using maya launch it once at the end of the day and never leave it. The interface is what matters. Hell, a lot of them open it from the command line.

But change is inevitable. And really, at the end of the day, I think no matter who Adobe hired or how much time the spent on designing the icons, someone would say “dear god what is that thing?!?!”

My dock is clear of all adobe icons. So it doesn’t bug me, but I’m not thrilled.

January 02, 13h

I just don’t like the new icons, it definitely is web 2.0, but this isn’t a web app, these are graphic apps. I truly hope they do not go with this set of icons.

-Best Regards
Eric Casequin

Erick says:
January 03, 12h

Seems as though someone took the idea that ‘less is more’ to the extreme. Ack.

I for one use a variety Adobe applications on a daily basis, and these new icons are sure to just get lost in my already large spectrum of colors on my dock.

I couldn’t agree more that if Adobe chose to go this direction, they could have at least taken a hint from their new friends at Macromedia.

Eric says:
January 06, 22h

I like the colors, the typography, and the lighting.

But these aren’t icons.

Icons should be easily differentiated shapes at the very least.

Ideally, an icon I design alludes somehow to its function. Here’s a game: For the next 60 seconds, think just a little bit about a task – take painting for example. What are the traditional tools used for that task? Who are the human professionals who perform that task? What do they wear? What are the artifacts of that task? I bet you can list a dozen visual candidates quite easily.

Some of these will be recognizable on shape alone. A few might be recognizable across cultures.

The _secondary_ problem is rendering an icon family in a way that brands the group.

How many color-blind designers are there? Not nearly enough, apparently. Since Adobe tools have been the leading ones for the design of navigational elements and other symbols – in print, on screen, and on scales from billboards to handhelds – one would hope that they, themselves demonstrated the value of design in a way that reflected their leadership.

These “icons” say that none of this visual differentiation, internationalization, accessibility, or semantic design stuff is really important.

Perhaps they were created in MS Word.

Anush says:
January 08, 14h

I don’t want my desktop to look like a periodic table! These icons are seriously eroding the big crush I have on Adobe products.

Jonas Flint says:
January 11, 07h

Well, at least icons can be replaced! Anyways, here are better looking versions for new icons:

Rylaan says:
January 15, 12h

Heres what will happen…You’ve got two options.

1. Adobe redesigns before shipment. OR

2. CS3 Comes with these icons. 300 people come up with new icon sets for them.

If Adobe fails on the icons, user-created content will come through. I don’t see a problem. Sure, Adobe should have thought about maybe making GOOD icons, but if they don’t, a user will.

TooLate says:
January 21, 10h

Seems adobe are going to use these icons afterall “Adobe Robohelp 6 Now Available” BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! icons look cheap , quickly done , rushed and very boring for a multi-billion company like adobe.

January 24, 08h

As “Rylaan” said, they will probably just end up sending the program out and then new user-created icons will come out to everyones personal likings. At least they wont be hard to find when we want to change them.

January 24, 23h

1) MetaDesign did not design these icons or color scheme. However, we did recommend the mnemonic concept as a way of dealing with a new and vast catalog of products arising out of the merged companies.

2) To the poster that commented on the ‘virtually unchanged’ Coca-Cola logo… Coke goes no longer than 5 years without redrawing it’s logo. As a fashion brand, it does so to stay somewhat in step with the zeitgeist. If you lay your hands on any History of Coke book, and you look at the logos end to end over 100+ years, you will see a pretty remarkable difference between the beginning and the end.

Brett Wickens
VP Creative Director

Mag says:
January 25, 04h

Am I the only one who thinks that, since merging with Macromedia, Adobe is behaving strangely?

-z- says:
January 28, 01h

The first thing I noticed here is a lack of candy-ness in the design, might this be because they are starting a new trend in icon design for Mac, or are they in the loop of what the next generation os will look like?

Maybe the dock will get replaced with something very periodic table looking.

Andy James says:
January 28, 02h

I think that what it really matters with icons is the success to explain itself, or showing a clear message of what it implies, without needing text clues. Picking the tool that leads to this may be a confusing task. Regardless of the nice looking, I don’t think that adobe CS3 suite is the ideal solution.

emil says:
January 29, 12h

since when does adobe make their icons in ms paint?

aj says:
February 03, 20h

I might agree with the concept that icon shapes matter – but right now I’m looking at a Dock overrun with _overrealistic_ icons that all blend together.

Since the launch of OS X, the official line of “photorealistic” icons has now led us into a world of tiny Fabergé eggs, which as an earlier poster mentioned, tend to all blend together when seen at 32px or smaller – as often happens when you have multiple apps open and windows minimized.

If you have Firefox and NetNewsWire and Safari all next to each other, in aggregate they’re much harder to pick out separately, than differently coloured squares.

I love the detail that OS X allows us with icons (having had to design Windows icons for an application suite once - ugh), but at a certain point they stopped being _icons_ and turned into _objects._

I think the Mac faithful object to seeing a text-based icon because it seems… windowsish … like minimized Taskbar items or the endless text list that is the Start menu… but compared to the plethora of meaningless Aqua-tinted bubblery in my dock right now, these icons stand out.

Of course the big question for me really is – when does Photoshop get a Glyphs palette like InDesign and Illustrator?

February 16, 17h

Let’s not forget that in such a giga-scale merger as Adobe and Macromedia, there would have been days and days of meetings on how to roll out a new suite of applications as a common product stable. And you can imagine the legions of stakeholders. I think what we’re seeing is a classic design-by-committee result. Do the icons work? Basically yes. Do they inspire like previous Adobe incarnations? No. Like a couple of comments above, I think we can expect more of this bland behaviour now from Adobe.

February 20, 04h

That damn feather was what intrigued me about Adobe’s CS line of products. I can look back and say that Adobe Photoshop 7 was fun and it did a lot… but I can’t go back and say Photoshop 7 redefined how I worked with and used Adobe products on a day-to-day basis - nor can I say that Photoshop 7 was *so cool* that it made me want to learn how to use more Adobe products to get my work done… I can, however, say that about CS and CS2.

Photoshop 7:

I knew Photoshop 7.

After seeing Photoshop CS & Photoshop CS2:

I know ImageReady, GoLive, Illustrator, InDesign, InCopy, and Flex. And I depend on Kuler to create Swatches, and Lightroom to clean up photos of myself and my family, I even use more of Macromedia Studio 8 - Dreamweaver, Flash 8 Pro, Fireworks, Contribute, and FlashPaper - for projects.

I’m sorry, I love Adobe, but keep the damn feather or I’ll probably be seeing Corel, GIMP, or Inkscape in the future.

J Bird says:
February 21, 11h

I have been a user and fan of Photoshop since version 4. Lots of different icons have been used to represent the proggie over the years, but the most recent (CS3) is a total disappointment. I understand that there are issues when too many icons are bunch next to each other (for example I have 18 icons in my XP quicklaunch bar) The icons that stand out most are the dreamweaver and flash 8 icons. Seriously, think how many media creation tools Adobe owns now? I don’t know the exact count but I am positive its over a dozen. So how do they differentiate between them? Well the new icons are not the answer…Ok, so photoshop, Illustrator, Flash, After Effects, Dreamweaver, Acrobat all get there own primary color…ok wait, Houston we have a problem. RGB, now we are going to have the Adobe gay parade rainbow icons and still have trouble distinguishing what is what. Then how do you choose what color represents what proggie? It’s all silly I think…go back to the classic PS7 eye logo. It may not have been the boldest logo, but it was better than a feather and a starfish.

William McGrath says:
March 04, 04h

Non-iconic icons, not creative? They’re right up there with dry water and cold heat.
Now, whether they’re practical is another matter. I think it helps to get as many visual clues as possible. That’s the whole point of GUIs, ¿remember? Otherwise, we could’ve stayed with MS-DOS.

John says:
March 08, 08h

This might be a peculiar perspective, but think about how rediculously lazy the person who made these was… Think of how upon one day in the office he had come to the revelation that he was late on his assignment to make icons for the new Adobe Suites, what was his solution?

Icons that took literally less than a minute to make. Gradient coming in from the upper left, snap two letters to the center, maybe spend a second or two styling the text, color balance the others and change the text, voila. Hey boss, how’s this look? “Well, gee, George… you’ve certainly out done yourself! Yeah, I bet if we put these on a color chart we’d be done before beta is even released! Awesome work.” Thus, the sins against design have been commenced.

On the bright side, we’ll see a dramatic increase in Photoshop icons on dA and other art sites.

Ian says:
March 15, 16h

I have been using Photoshop for a long time now and as far as I have seen CS3 is a complete failure. The new icons are just icing on the cake. I am really disappointed by their design. They are so plain, ordinary and non-creative that it really makes me wonder if their hired a designer to make them or they just decided to put letters in small boxes.

Jared says:
April 06, 15h

Well, I don’t seem to understand why so many “designers” are hating these icons so much. I read comments in a few different forums for a while just to make sure I knew what people were debating about. I honestly like the new icons. I think it is a reasonably effective, but simple solution to yet another complex design problem. You definitely know it is a CS3 generation program when you click on the icon. I think they really wanted to emphasize that this is a new age for their tools. I’ve been using PS CS3 for a couple months now and the speed improvements alone, not to mention the new tools I haven’t even been able to try yet. One comment about color differentiation between icons seems irelevant as colors have not unified families of apps, but have been carefully selected to be different within each design discipline’s collection. If you want to accuse them of taking the easy way out with the “paint chip” idea, so be it, but they pulled it off well, creating a large system of unified, and once accustomed to, useful icons.