The idea behind the series is to pick the brains of incredibly talented and experienced individuals in design and other creative industries on their creative process. In this interview, we chatted with Khoi Vinh, Director of Product Design for Mobile at Adobe, where he is working on a new generation of creativity software. Khoi is a designer, writer, and serial entrepreneur. Previously, he was the co-founder and CEO of Mixel, a groundbreaking mobile startup, and digital design director for The New York Times. He writes a widely-read blog on design and technology at Subtraction.com, and lives in Brooklyn, NY with his family.
Read on for his thoughts on why minimal works, upcoming design trends, and much more!
How do you approach design in your current role at Adobe? What is unique about your approach?
We try to make all of our software good citizens on every platform we run on, and we also try to make them work together smoothly, with as little fuss as possible. Everything flows from that, and it leads us to be minimalists in our thinking and execution.
For me, I always think about two things: First, achieving a maximum of elegance with a minimum of ornamentation. And second, I think about making the right decisions for the product or challenge I’m trying to solve, regardless of what any aesthetic manifesto.
Design touches a lot of aspects of the business. How do you work effectively with other teams?
We’re very fortunate at Adobe because just about everything we do involves design in some form or another, and so there’s enormous respect for design throughout the organization. We’re vigilant about not abusing that trust; empathy and a nuanced understanding of our colleagues’ priorities are very important to us; that’s what keeps designers from getting carried away with the kinds of things that designers tend to get carried away with!
Please tell us about a project you were a part of at Adobe that you are proud of.
I’m sort of the spiritual father of Adobe Comp CC, our layout and design app for mobile. It started out as a slide deck where I made an argument for why the unique properties of multitouch devices, especially tablets, demanded a different approach to combining and composing images, graphics and text. Today it’s one of the center pieces of our strategy to make professional workflows truly viable on mobile devices. Our vision is that in a few years’ time, if you have a design problem to solve, you’ll reach for your phone or tablet just as quickly as you’d reach for your laptop or desktop.
What trends do you see happening in the design industry that you’re passionate about?
The one I just mentioned—turning phones and tablets into professional design tools—is the one that I think about every day, the one that I’m most passionate about. As much as I carry around an iPad and an external keyboard now with me instead of my laptop, and about eighty percent of the time, it’s more than enough for me. It’s incredibly liberating, actually, to be able to leave behind my laptop, which now more than ever strikes me as heavy, inefficient, awkward, fragile and poorly suited to how I work. It’s not quite yet possible to do design entirely on my iPad, but we’re getting there—it will happen sooner than people think.
What role does photography play in your work?
I’m a visual person so I’m very comfortable with photography, and with how important the right imagery can be to designing good solutions. Good interfaces or layouts or products should work regardless of what the imagery is, but the right photograph or illustration can be a multiplying force for the designer’s intentions.
I don’t think truly good designers can be ignorant of what makes for a good photo; once you understand the fundamentals of composing images through a lens, you’re halfway to understanding what makes for powerful design and typography.
We want to give a big thanks to Khoi for sharing some of his design insight with us. Keep an eye out for more “Take 5 with 500px” in the future!
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Photo by Dina Belenko.