Questioning Incandescent particles

Dear Abby,
I am at my wit’s end. I have been in a long-term relationship for more than twenty years and I think my partner is cheating on me. We have had our ups and downs. We have seen other people during breaks, but we always end up back together. I guess it is hard to beat familiarity, plus they are smart and popular. Lately the past five years or so they have been super needy, but don’t seem attentive to my needs. The big issue is that recently they have been spending a lot of time with my friends. They say they are just being polite, but it feels like more. Am I the a@@hole for asking them to stop?
Heartbroken over Adobe



Adobe Spark by is one among dozens (hundreds?) of DIY design software options. The novice-friendly design software market started years ago with basic logo makers. It has evolved to include all kinds of design products on multiple platforms. These developers are responding to a need. Spark is well-designed software. You modify one of the dozens of pre-made templates to create flyers, brochures or social media content, It is intuitive, slick and powerful. Dozens of other software options do similar things, Canva, for example, is very popular and very similar. Spark may or may not do it better. It is iterative, not revolutionary. The compelling thing to me is who made it. I have questions. I am going to ask and answer as many as I can.

Does this category of software serve an audience that was and will always be underserved by professional design?

Professional design services have not always been used by everyone. Some businesses and individuals that could benefit from professional graphic design have not had access. Some people couldn’t afford them, some didn’t care to, some are unaware of the value. The gap has been filled with DIY, cheap solutions or nothing at all. As a whole, the design field has not to responded to this need and now software developers are. Some creative business models exist that provide services for underserved clients (that are not crowdsourcing), including, pay-what-you-can, pay-what-you-want, web-based freelancing platforms, and volunteer services among others. But, yes. The answer is yes.

Does this software only appeal to that underserved audience?

No, and this the rub is. If not today, then tomorrow, a version of this software will be competent enough to fill the needs for people who would have paid for professional design services. The interesting bit is Adobe playing both sides of the fence. It is understandable at a strategic level but feels hinky as a graphic designer paying Adobe to support what feels like an atempt to subvert your livelihood.

How is DIY design with these advanced tools different from vernacular design?

The answer is in the question. It is more mainstream, more polished more controlled, less vernacular. There has always been an obvious visual distinction between “professional” design and “hand-made” design. This software offers boilerplate solutions with little room for handmade charm or user agency. The results are intended to look professional and innately share a sameness. The ambitious can “hack” the tools, but by design the workfow itself stifles creativity.

How is DIY design different from what a customer might get from crowdsourcing or amateur designers?

The outcomes are similar. These solutions share the same weaknesses. Design outcomes that are generic. Designs that do not respond to the client’s specific context. Designs that are not adaptable or part of a larger system. This feels like it’s going to be a lot of questions, some of these answers are going to be short.

How do you create tools that support basic design standards and principles?

Should the software have built-in guard rails? Tool-tips or pop-ups that warn you of design sins? “Oops it looks your using too many different typefaces!” Whose principles and standards should be applied? I don’t know. It opens the question should creating tools also be teaching tools? YouTube and its ilk solve this issue to some extent as a third party, but it is still an interesting topic. The next question helps inform this answer:

Should you create such tools?

How are they useful? Do these kinds of interventions help the user better understand good design principles or are they just an obstacle? Should creating better design while informing users be a goal of DIY software? The answer will probably evolve from profit. What value is added by training user to recognize and create “better” designs and become “better” designers?



Do these tools change what people understand to be good design and how it is practiced?

I can’t see how using this software would not influence the users understanding of design practice and appropriate solutions. Especially given its source. Adobe makes professional software. Even if users understand that this isn’t exactly how design is practiced it must be an issue of degrees not magnitude.
The templates model provides a finite framework for what good design is. When combined with the user experience of creating a better design than one would have made without the software, how can your taste not be changed?

Is it significant that Adobe is providing these kinds of tools, especially if the tools in some way subvert designers and/or the public perception of what good design is?

Generally speaking, these tools are not going to be used by professional designers, but might be used by potential clients of professional designers. It seems that some designers, if not today then tomorrow, will lose business to this kind of activity. To be fair most of the users would have never opted for professional design services, but the remainder might have. Simultaneously, this software if not defines at least describes the parameters of what good design is. It seems to me that Adobe is simultaneously reducing the pool of potential clients while changing tastes.

It could be argued that these kinds of tools mean fewer ugly/poorly designed things in the world. Is that a good thing? Do you need a bad design to have good design?

This relates directly to question an earlier question. Does everything need to be professionally designed? My first thought is no of course not, but maybe that answer is outdated. You can’t hand paint your website. The sheer volume of digital design results in more people participating in activities they would consider design. There will always be a spectrum of good to bad, appropriate to inappropriate solutions. Perhaps we are just recalibrating the lowend, redefining what ugly is.


Tools like this seem to comport with the trajectory in printing and design where technology replaces craftsman and specialists. What do we lose when those transitions happen? Is this such a transition? What specialist are we downsizing?

If anything is getting downsized it is the graphic design profession in general (as constituted in the late 20th Century). Adobe spark, specifically, is not the cause of any transition. It is a death by a thousand cuts, of which this and similar software can claim its share. On-demand printing, crowdsourcing sites, robust DIY software, video tutorials, et al. are contributing to the downsizing. The sole proprietorships, two-person studios and mom and pop print shops are the category of businesses getting pushed out. You can’t make a living reselling Vistaprint indefinitely.

How is this software related to something like Photoshop Elements? Is there the perception that it is design software “light”?

Photosop elements was a similar encroachement, but in a more subtle way. How does a non-designer understand what Photoshop Elements is? Do they believe they are using professional level software? How does the public understand the relationship between software and the design profession? Generally, how does the accessibility of professional tools affect the perception of the profession? For an analog how has Home Depot affected the perception of professional contractors? I have more questions about this one than answers.

Adobe Spark uses the term “remix” to describe the action of using a template. Is that what graphic design really is at its most fundamental, “remixing”?

Sure at its most fundamental graphic design is remixing. Theoretically, the pool of elements is infinite, but practically we are limited. How many typefaces do we really use? How many different grids? We all start with the same elements. Is there a delineation in the process where it stops being design practice. How small does the pool need to be before it stops being design? If you change the typeface or its size in a template, does that mean you “designing?” How many of those elements do you need to change or be able to control before you are “designing.” Does using a template alone preclude professional design practice. What exactly counts as a template?

Final Thoughts

Distilled to its most basic, what is the purview of the graphic designer? It is communication with type and image. When given the appropriate tools and materials most people wouldn’t know how to frame a wall, but most people are familiar with words and pictures. They have a lifetime of exposure, but the secret sauce is taste. They know what they like. When given the tools and materials to make a poster they have a foundation of experience and opinion. They can make a thing. This notion, that design belongs to all of us, is what makes the evolution of tools so fascinating. Can we “crack” design for users, provide tools that are “good enough?” Perhaps were are moving to the point where many people will solve their own communication problems. As a graphic designer, It is an equally scary and fun extrapolation, and I’ll always have questions.