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Why does Adobe Lightroom look so different than its content-creation cousins?

n a recent video interview, Adobe's Lightroom UI designer talks about what it takes to make a user interface and the evolution of the digital photo editing product.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor on

In a recent video interview, Adobe Lightroom UI designer Phil Clevenger talks about what it takes to make a user interface and the evolution of the digital photo editing product.

The interview was posted on the blog of Lightroom marketing manager Frederick Johnson of San Francisco.

Clevenger worked on MetaCreations' KTP Bryce and Photo Soap. (For those that are too young to remember them, the Kai Krause inspired products had a different UI sensibility. They were unlike the usual bread-and-butter programs of the day, or even today. An acquired taste for some.)

So, what are the qualities of a good UI engineer? His work on KTP Bryce provided the checklist.

Clevenger said that the first version of KTP Bryce was designed by an engineer for other engineers. While the results that could be had from the sofware were compelling, it wasn't a program that "lay people," including Clevenger himself, could use. The software needed to be taken apart, he said.

"I thought that it took men in white lab coats with very thick glasses and slide rules. [Instead] it takes an ear [to hear] what people need and the willingness to stand up and say 'this needs to be different." You know, it takes a thick skin. And some follow-through. ... I really love the process."

Clevenger said that the Lightroom interface was devised out of thin air. The team waqs "determined not to use any legacy Adobe frameworks or UI conventions, so it was a completely open book."

Later on in the interview, Clevenger defends Lightroom on the charges that it's too modal when compared with Apple's Aperture 2. He said it's "far less modal than it may seem."

"You do have to go to certain, specific modal places to establish certain goals. ... The intent is not to force people down a particular road, it's to essentially define a garden path that will guide people toward best results as efficiently as possible. You should be able to loop through and do whatever you want whenever you want, at the same time, you shouldn't be saddled the burden of having to look at interface and tools and visual cues that aren't necessary for a give task or set of tasks."

"Our goal do our best to hide the complexity, emphasize the things that need to available and at hand at any one time but not prevent uses from accessing whatever they need whenever they need it," Clevenger continued.

He talked more about future directions to Lightrooms' interface and how its local correction UI was developed. All interesting topics.

(Thanks to Adobe blogger John Nack for pointing me to this interview.)

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