Interview with Andrew Shorten – Product Management Lead at Adobe XD
Hi Andrew, first of all, thanks a lot for taking the time to do this interview. To get started, can you please give us a little intro about yourself and about what you do at Adobe?
Hey there, it’s my pleasure to take part in this interview.
My name is Andrew Shorten and I’ve been leading product management on Adobe XD for about four years (since we started the project), but have been at Adobe for 10+ years, joining through the acquisition of Macromedia. I’m based in the San Francisco Bay Area, but originally from the UK.
What are the main day-to-day challenges of your job?
I’m fortunate to have oversight and involvement in pretty much every part of XD. On a daily basis, I get to work with our team of product managers, designers and engineers, who come together to deliver the product. Our collective focus is not only building the right features, but delivering a delightful user experience, with a high level of quality and performance, in a fast-moving market where expectations are high. It’s definitely a challenging role, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
How did users welcome your decision to launch a free plan of Adobe XD? Did you see a noticeable increase in terms of new users?
We’ve seen an amazing reaction to the launch of the Starter Plan for XD – there has been lots of interest from students who are looking to enter the design market, as well as graphic designers who want to expand their skills to include user experience design. Seasoned UX designers are also showing interest in what else is out there – everyone wants a more efficient way to do their job. While we don’t release specific usage numbers for individual products, we’ve seen our monthly active users more than double since the launch of the Starter Plan, so we’re excited to welcome all these new folks into XD.
How do you think the workflows of UI/UX designers will evolve over the next 4-5 years, and which role do you think XD will play in this future context?
I think we’ll continue to see an increase in the size and complexity of projects that design teams undertake, as designers look to take advantage of ever-increasing device capabilities, while also incorporating new technologies such as voice interaction and augmented reality.
We’re building XD to support current and future needs, so I expect that we’ll continue to help designers to design, prototype and share user experiences – making it possible for them to ideate and prototype, without requiring coding skills or specialized knowledge, even when targeting the latest platforms and technologies.
One of the biggest advantages of XD over the competition is its amazing speed. Will it be possible to keep the same impressive level of performance a few years from now, when lots of new features will be available within the tool?
From the start, performance has been our #1 prioritized feature, and I don’t see that changing.
While we continue to add new capabilities based on requests and feedback from the design community, we do so with the absolute goal of preserving the amazing performance we see in XD today. In fact, if we can’t implement a feature without negatively impacting performance, then we’ll hold it back and iterate further until such time that we can find a solution that meets the high performance and quality bar we’ve set.
We are fortunate to have some very smart engineers who obsess about performance, and so I’m confident in our ability to maintain XD’s position as the fastest UX design tool on the market.
XD has been making some great progress recently, but is there an area where you think you guys could do better? What’s XD biggest weakness in your opinion at the moment?
Ever since the first public beta release of XD, we’ve focused on adding depth to the design, prototyping and sharing tools – following our 1.0 release last year and putting a solid foundation in place, we’ve accelerated feature development and continue to look for ways to deliver more.
The one area that we’ve not yet shown visible progress is related to extensibility, so as to open up XD to be a platform upon which you can build plugins to add new tools or support customized workflows. The good news here is that we designed XD to support this from the outset, and we’re now making progress on exposing APIs and enabling plugin support – expect to see more on this later in the year.
In May, we launched the $10 million Adobe Fund for Design to support teams building products and services that will help shape the future of creativity and design.
Even if XD has been available for some time now, according to a few surveys I have seen there are still a lot of UI/UX designers using good old Photoshop. Are you guys planning to actively push these users to drop PS and finally embrace XD, or will you let the transition happen organically? Did the recent “.psd import” feature help migrating some of these users?
We should be clear that as a company, we are pouring all of our efforts for user interface and user experience design into XD. Now is absolutely the time for Photoshop users to get started with XD – either by bringing Photoshop design work into XD to make prototypes, or by switching entirely to XD for design and prototyping. Not only have we enabled PSD import, but we are also delivering tutorials, learning content and other resources to help with this.
We also plan to support importing AI documents in future, and expect to help those using Illustrator move some of their work into XD too.
Given the huge volume of feedback you guys get across several channels (Uservoice, Twitter, Facebook, DesignerNews, ..) how do you prioritize all this information and decide which features will come next in the roadmap?
We love getting feedback! More specifically, we love to get constructive feedback that helps us build a better product. Our team engages across a wide range of social channels, as well in-person at conferences and customer meetings across the world, to get ongoing insights into how XD is being used and the challenges that design teams face.
We typically organize ourselves to make progress on a number of themes simultaneously – for example, design, prototyping, sharing, extensibility – and then combine customer insights with our product vision, business strategy and market trends to define roadmaps for new features. In addition to working on new features, we use ongoing feedback to prioritize feature enhancements and bug fixes that roll out in our monthly updates.
Are there many XD plugins being worked on by 3rd party developers and companies? Without making any names, when will we start seeing the first ones coming out and which are the areas of XD that will be improved thanks to them?
We recently opened up registration for developers to participate in our extensibility pre-release program – with over 1000 developers joining in just the first few weeks. We’re excited by the level of interest and the range of plugins being proposed for XD – you’ll start to see availability of third-party party plugins later this year.
For more information and to sign up for our pre-release, check out this page: https://www.adobe.io/apis/creativecloud/xd.html
Is there any big surprise you guys are planning to unveil at the next Adobe Max?
Despite rolling out major new features on a monthly basis, we have lots of new capabilities, including several surprises, lined up to announce at MAX… this year’s event is in Los Angeles, from Oct 15-18th and there is discounted registration until July 31st. More details on MAX can be found here: https://max.adobe.com/
Can you tell us what’s the ratio between MacOS and Windows users currently using XD?
The ratio of XD users on macOS and Windows 10 is approximately 50/50.
Sketch, Figma, Invision Studio – which of these 3 competitors do you admire the most and why?
One thing I’ve learnt over the years is that building really great products is hard – I respect and admire anyone that undertakes this task and strives to deliver a compelling product for their target customers.
It’s great that designers have a range of different tools to pick from, based on their specific needs. Here on the XD team, we’re focused on building a tool that offers industrial grade performance, is available on both Mac and Windows, is part of Creative Cloud, but that integrates with the broader ecosystem of third-party tools and services. We hope that designers love what we create and will want to incorporate XD into their toolset.
Within Adobe, how many people are working on XD and what it’s like to be part of the team?
XD represents one of the largest projects at Adobe right now – with engineers in our offices around the world contributing to our efforts. That said, we have three main teams located in San Francisco, Bucharest (Romania) and Bangalore (India), each of which focus on a particular part of the product – including the desktop apps on macOS and Windows 10, the mobile apps on Android and iOS, the web apps for viewing prototypes and Design Specs, as well as the underlying Creative Cloud services that connect everything together.
It’s sometimes daunting to work with such smart and experienced people, but everyone is super friendly, and we all come together to focus on building a great product.
The team of product managers that I lead enjoy flexing their GIF skills, and so you’ll find them replying with amusing animated GIFs wherever possible across both Slack (internally) and Twitter 😉
What kind of stuff do you guys do together, aside from working? Any funny story you can tell us?
Our teams certainly enjoy coming together at our regular offsites so as to connect in-person, make progress on our product planning, as well as tackle team building events together. Over the last couple of years, we’ve done kayaking, zip lining, sailing, and wine tasting in and around the Bay Area. There are plenty of funny stories, but you’ll have to find me with an Old Fashioned (my favorite drink) for me to share those 😉
I think we’re done here, thanks again for your time Andrew! Is there anything else you’d like to say to XDGuru’s readers and the whole XD community?
Thanks again for the opportunity, and for helping build the XD community with us.
I’ll just close by thanking everyone who has chosen to join us on the journey as we build XD and who are putting their trust in us to deliver the best platform for UX design. We love to get your feedback and suggestions – you can reach out to the team on User Voice (https://adobexd.uservoice.com) or on Twitter (@AdobeXD), in addition to me directly – I’m @ashorten on Twitter.