Creativity for All: 5 Days at Adobe MAX

Last month, I was very lucky to represent Online Optimism at Adobe’s annual creativity conference, Adobe MAX. The theme of this year’s MAX was “Creativity for All”—a statement emblazoned on black hoodies of over 10,000 attendees roaming around the LA Convention Center.

So what does “Creativity for All” mean and why does it matter for the years to come? In this blog post, I’ll recount my journey at the conference, share my favorite takeaways, and delve into the meaning of this theme.

A Celebration of Design and Color

My journey began a few days before the official start of the conference. I had signed up for the Russel Brown @ MAX pre-conference—a small, hands-on workshop led by Adobe’s Principal Creative Director, Russel Brown.

Me and Adobe’s Principal Creative Director, Russel Brown

Russel has contributed to the direction of every version of Photoshop released in his three decades at the company. This year’s Dia De Los Muertos–themed course gave attendees early access to the newest versions of Adobe Creative Cloud and the all-new Photoshop for iPad in order to create a laser-cut lantern and a print on reclaimed wood. Our projects were then put up at a special display at the conference’s Community Pavilion.

The pre-conference was also jam-packed with creative speakers like renowned typography expert Ina Saltz, Photoshop master Jesús Ramirez, Illustrator Dan Mumford, and movie-magic poster designer Lisa Carney, among many others.

After three intensive days of creativity, I was exhausted. But it wasn’t over just yet.

The keynotes gave us a look into the future of Creative Cloud and the huge impact that mobile applications will bring into designers’ workflows. 

The pre-conference ended with an exhibition of our artwork at the Community Pavilion. Pictured on the right is the artwork I created, printed on reclaimed wood.

What’s New this Year?

Photoshop for iPad is here.

The big announcement was that the painstaking wait for Photoshop for iPad was finally over—but it didn’t exactly play out as I thought it would. The implementation of this 30-year-old application on a mobile device is tricky and is not even close to replacing the desktop version. While it’s an exciting first version, it lacks obvious features like Liquify, Smart Objects, and retouching and masking options—some of which were already well implemented on applications like Photoshop Fix and Photoshop Mix. But you know, there’s always version 2.0.

Illustrator for iPad is coming.

This one took me by surprise. After using other vector graphic apps like Vectornator on my iPad, I did not think vector illustration would be a thing I’d be doing much of on the road. But Illustrator for iPad is a completely different story. Take this little flame icon I made at the demo station in under 5 seconds. It’s wonderful.

The application, unlike its desktop counterpart, does not rely on keystrokes to fine-tune lines, but responds to the Apple Pencil, as you’d expect it to. And with the addition of a touch modifier button and a path smoothing tool, the app does not disappoint. Other features, such as the all-new Live trace, pattern options, and text tools, make this application a robust standalone application, rather than just a companion.

Fresco is here to blow your mind.


As an iPad + Apple Pencil user, I’ve spent a lot of time finding the right applications and workflows to speed up and improve my work. Although saying the word “Procreate” at the conference bordered on heresy, I believe that should be the North Star of any illustration application. Fresco brings many of the things I love about Procreate—with a twist.

Fresco was announced in 2018 and arrived just a few months before MAX 2019. This drawing and painting app uses Adobe Sensei to replicate organic interactions of traditional art media, like watercolor or oils, in a stunning and lifelike way. Using these Live Brushes, you can mix colors and see how the paint responds to different interactions. With watercolors, you can even control the water flow and dry your canvas to gain further control over your piece.

What made me add this application to my regular toolkit, in addition to Procreate, was the ability to use Live, Raster, and Vector brushes within a single workspace. That level of control over your artwork is unrivaled by any other tool.

Sneaks

From the day I got to MAX, all I could hear was Adobe Sneaks. This nighttime keynote, hosted by comedian John Mullaney, allows members of Adobe’s product teams to preview experimental features they are developing that may or may not make it into the applications.

Here are a few of my favorites:

Project All In

Image courtesy of Michael Steeber, 9to5Mac

The example used to showcase this feature was a couple on a hiking trip who want to take a picture together. Using Adobe Sensei, the subjects can take individual photos, and All In will identify and select the missing subject and blend them into a photograph.

Project Sound Seek

Image courtesy of Michael Steeber, 9to5Mac

Sound Seek identifies repetitive sounds from a sample and removes them. Imagine you’re recording a voiceover or podcast, and you’d like to remove all the times you said “um.” Sound Seek can do that with less than 3 clicks.

Project About Face

Image courtesy of Michael Steeber, 9to5Mac

About Face analyzes an image and looks through each individual pixel to identify whether or not the photo has been retouched, displaying a probability and heat map of the pixels in question.

Creativity For All

So what does this mean? Pushing the frontiers of creativity toward mobile applications like Photoshop and Illustrator for iPad is the clear answer. But it could mean more than that.

Adobe is continuously lowering the barrier of entry for new designers and design enthusiasts. By adding more AI-based features to their products, they want to leave more of the creative thinking to the designer and more of the doing to the product. What this means for the future of designers is up to us to decide. 

Adobe MAX opened my eyes to a world of possibilities and a glimpse of what is to come soon. I could not be happier to be part of this community. I spent the rest of my time at MAX meeting other creatives, listening to some of my design heroes like Paula Scher, and attending some amazing labs on topics like Creating and Managing a Design System on Adobe XD, and creating photo-realistic 3D compositions on Adobe Dimension.

At Online Optimism, we strive to push the envelope and bring the most innovative software and creativity to our campaigns. In the weeks after the conference, I’ve enjoyed putting what I’ve learned into practice for our agency. I’m eager to return to Adobe Max in the coming years.

Need some creative inspiration? Check out some of our other design blog posts below!

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