Spectrum 2: Adobe Launches a Creative Recalibration

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Makers, creators, designers, photographers, educators, and enterprises — drumroll, please! Today, Adobe has announced a significant update to its design system across more than 100 applications. A decade in the making, this expansive evolution isn’t just an upgrade; it’s a recalibration of how users engage with the Adobe ecosystem.

As Adobe’s audience diversifies, from newcomers to professionals, the company aims to enhance intuitiveness and inclusivity in its tools for creative exploration. Adobe Firefly and Spectrum 2 are part of this update. They represent a monumental shift to make Adobe tools more intuitive, inclusive, and joyful, catering to various user needs while staying true to their mission of enabling Creativity for All.

Three major improvements define Spectrum 2: inclusivity and accessibility enhancements, a more approachable and expressive design, and adaptability across platforms. To achieve greater accessibility, Spectrum 2 adheres to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and focuses on adaptive palettes, accessible colors, and attention hierarchy.

But the design evolution doesn’t stop at accessibility. Inspired by the success of the more welcoming Adobe Express, Spectrum 2 reimagines icons, typography, and UI themes to cater to a broader audience. Additionally, Spectrum 2 adapts its appearance across different platforms, providing a familiar yet tailored experience on each.

Comprehensive shifts in icons, colors, illustrations, and shapes underpin everything. The update transforms icons from classic to trendy, adjusts color systems for better integration with Adobe’s brand colors, and introduces a more versatile illustration toolkit.

I was thrilled to speak with Eric Snowden, Adobe’s VP of Design, to ask about the strategies, challenges, and transformative elements behind Spectrum 2’s evolution, offering insights into its sure-to-be monumental impact and future-ready design ethos.

(This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.)

It’s been a decade since the introduction of Spectrum 1. What were the primary factors or challenges that contributed to this extended timeline between the two releases? What influenced the evolution and scope of this latest design system?

It was a bunch of small to medium changes, adding up to a much bigger shift for us. With generative AI coming to many of our tools, there’s a real canvas to think about things differently. Once we started adding all these things up, it made sense to take a bigger step back rather than an incremental approach to look at the system for the next few years. We looked back at some of the original designs from 2013 and where our products are now. We’ve been iterating it since then on a yearly basis, but for us, it felt like time to do a more revolutionary versus incremental change. It was driven by many new products that Adobe is making and new markets we’re talking to. People are using more of our products even across the multiple Adobe Clouds in a way they weren’t ten years ago. There’s an intermixing of our tooling in a way that is happening more and more over time. The devices and the platforms people use have changed.

With the rapid evolution of technology and design trends, how does Spectrum 2 anticipate staying adaptable and future-proof while catering to the diverse needs of designers and users across Adobe’s extensive ecosystem?

The components we’re using to design are generated from the tokens, and the tokens generate the code people use in the software. We’ve got this really interesting connection all the way through to keep things up to date. If we change the underlying token, this cascades through the system in a much easier way to update than historically it has been. Having the token from design to code will make it easier for us to revise this as we move forward. We also want to ensure that while it is easier for us to update, there is a sense of stability for people. Our software is changing a lot. GenAI is a big catalyst and will continue to change. We want to make sure we have a system that allows us to move quickly and be flexible as these changes happen.

What feature are you most proud of and excited for with this new system update?

I get excited about the little things like the new icon set or tweaks we’re making to the typography. It’s not always the big features. As someone who lives and loves design, I think those little changes we’re making are really exciting. I get excited about it because bringing all our tools, especially our creative tools, to a much broader audience will allow more people to communicate and express themselves. That’s why I have been at Adobe for as long as I have been. Seeing what people are going to be able to make with our software in the future is the thing that drives me.

Are there any other aha moments you’ve had working on this project?

We’re building fairly fully functional software versions as we iterate a design, use it, and test the updates. It allows us to play with things like density on the desktop to see how it works, different contrast ratios, and what controls we want to give our users. A real superpower for us is having a strong engineering team within design that can help us abstractly think about design and make it real, use it, learn, and iterate. That feedback loop between design, research, prototyping, and our customers has been a real superpower for the team.

More and more people are using Adobe products than ever before. More people want to be creative. If you look at what we’re doing with things like Adobe Express and Adobe Firefly, we have all these new people making beautiful things for the first time, which is super exciting. We think Spectrum 2 can be a piece of modernizing and making those tools more approachable to a whole new audience of people.

Eric Snowden, VP of Design for Adobe

For a closer look at Spectrum 2 and its future, visit the Spectrum 2 site.

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