Interview with Adobe Design Director, Lance Shields
Before we jump into Presentation plugin for Adobe XD, could you tell us about yourself and your team?
I’m the director and lead for the International Design Team within Adobe Design. We’re a group of international designers, strategists, and technologists who are passionate about creating culturally appropriate products that meet the needs of Adobe’s international customers. If there's one message we'd like to share with everyone, it's that researching and designing for different markets can help us uncover insights and innovations that are not only useful for people in specific geos but can be valuable to people well beyond those borders. Presentation is an awesome by-product of the research we did with designers and teams in Japan. And we’re now excited to take those learnings and share them with designers everywhere.
Tell us about Presentation, what is the elevator pitch?
The inspiration to build this tool came from years of experience as designers spending countless hours building decks to explain design decisions. Presentation is a powerful new plugin for Adobe XD that makes presenting design work easy and beautiful, all within a design tool. You can pick from professionally designed themes, slides and elements right within XD to speed up and enhance presentation making. Teams (designers and non-designers alike) can also work on decks together, adding design, product vision, roadmaps, and other project updates. Finally, there’s a presentation tool for designers.
What’s different about building a tool within a tool?
I think the key difference is building a frictionless presentation tool for design teams. Adobe XD is already an awesome, high-performance UX design tool with prototyping and coediting built right in. And designers are already using it to create their decks. As any designer knows, presentation tools have never made life easy for them. The inefficiency of exporting design artifacts, designing attractive decks and slides that meet their needs, searching for graphics and photos, and the endless back and forth to add the latest design iterations — these are just a few of the challenges that Presentation was created to solve. By building Presentation into XD as a “super plugin” designers of all kinds can take advantage of the vector-based graphics, layout productivity, and customizable assets native to Adobe XD, while accessing beautiful and easy-to-use presentation functionality to pitch their design work effortlessly.
Outside of being convenient — having a presentation tool directly in your design tool — what benefits does Presentation bring to designers?
For starters, this tool was made by designers for designers. It’s not hyperbole to say there are tons of great features to make product and creative designers concepts easy to communicate.
First, my team has lovingly designed a large collection of different themes to give designers a variety of styles to choose from. As an Adobe product, these themes must meet the high expectations of creators so we’ve really taken the time for researching and crafting the look and feel of each. You’ll see everything from super minimal and clean ones to more stylized and graphic design-inspired ones. You can also easily customize a theme to make it fit your brand.
Next, we’ve curated a large number of designer-focused slides to make it easy for people to jump right into creating their decks. A powerful feature of slides is that each slide comes with a number of layout options to give users more creative control. There is quite a range from the basics like text, bullet, and image/paragraph slides to more designer-centric use case slides like device stencil, user persona and roadmap slides just to name a few.
The last main feature set is Elements, which at first glance seem like what you’d get in a typical presentation app but are in fact busting at the seams with vector-based graphics like icons, shapes, charts, diagrams, and illustrations which you can easily adjust colors within XD. To add to this, choose any photo on your slides and you’re given the option to search for free stock images. In other words, Elements are the building blocks for your custom slides that reduce the hassle of hunting for resources online.
I’m so glad we’re able to talk with you right at launch. What are your fast-follow features that we’ll see in the next few months?
While the V1 of the plugin offers basic customization to allow users to customize fonts and color palette of one of our themes to create on-brand decks, we plan to roll out more robust customization to enable organizations to create their own themes and slides to share it with their team and collaborate on presentations together. We’re still working through the details but we’re thinking these fully custom presentations will leverage CC Libraries. Another quick follow will be getting the plugin UI, themes, and slides localized into Japanese where there’s a big XD user base. Within the first week, there has already been a ton of buzz on Twitter by Japanese designers interested in using the plugin and we’re excited to get it in their language. We’re considering other languages, too. The team has lots of other longer-term plans for Presentation but we’d first like to hear feedback from new users to make decisions on what’s next.
How do you think presentations have changed since the pandemic started?
This is a really good question. I have thoughts on how the pandemic has affected my team and from talking to other designers. I feel there has been a lot more presentation making going on as we all work remotely and as a way to augment communication in absence of in-person meetings and workshops. Of course, collaboration in creation of decks both in real time and asynchronously is going on. Adobe XD’s Coediting feature is excellent for this and our plugin can take advantage of it. Now, with the pandemic hopefully drawing to a close in many places, I think there’s a lot of new energy for product experiences, new businesses and new creative campaigns. I believe this should lead to a lot more new ideas and presentation making. So I’m definitely hoping the Presentation plugin will come in handy as things reboot at companies and the need to pitch new innovations is going on!
If you could share one piece of design advice, what would it be?
It may be obvious but spend a lot of time talking to people that you think need your product at every step of the process. We started off interviewing designers in Japan and we chatted with lots of designers both in Adobe Design and in agencies worldwide. And it’s important to run loads of tests to validate your ideas, design choices and even naming of your tool. And you can do it cheaply, too. We used social media quite a lot to do polls, recruit beta testers, and drum up interest in Presentation as we got close to launch.
What is the biggest challenge Presentation faces?
Well, the big one is behavior change and switching from existing presentation apps. Designers in some ways have been forced to use Powerpoint, Keynote, and Google Slides since the rest of their non-designer teammates are using them. We’re not trying to compete with those established software but we do want to provide another option for designers to have less friction when creating their design presentations. Creating and presenting from within a design tool like XD could offer new ways for designers to express themselves and have a stronger voice. But the need to continue working with old knowledge-worker-focused apps could continue preventing this. We’ll have to wait and see how it goes. It depends on the person’s willingness to be an early adopter and evangelist for a new approach. It also depends on the team and company.
What, if anything, can you share about the future of Presentation for Adobe XD?
Nothing is really known about the future, Grasshopper…but I can say what we “hope” to do if things go well. We definitely hope that the tool gets a lot of adoption in the U.S. and other markets. China and Japan are already showing good numbers so we’re localizing the plugin right now for those languages. Developing out customization so teams and agencies can create and share their own themes and templates is definitely on our road map. That will really be key to the growth of the plugin inside bigger companies I believe. And then there’s the web. We have our eye on the possibilities for a design-focused presentation web app.
What's one unique thing about your team at Adobe?
We’re small and fast. We chose to build plugins because they don’t require a huge amount of staffing to get there and test new product ideas. And we’re lucky that XD has good extensibility to allow us to be creative and create app-like plugins. As International Design within Adobe Design, we’re unique in that we go outside of the U.S. to look for new insights that can lead to innovation for the company. We’re already seeing great results in bringing back new solutions, which people like all over the world. Our team runs like a lean startup with an eye on the “other” in different cultures, which I think Silicon Valley companies could learn to do better. My team also has a lot of spunk and somehow has become a great family with people spread throughout the world.