InDesign At 20

by Shawn Binder on 10/17/2019 | 5 Minute Read

Time flies when you’re innovating the design world, huh? 

At least, it’s hard for us to believe that it’s been 20 years since the launch of InDesign, the flagship design software for Adobe. Back on August 31, 1999, InDesign had high-hopes to revolutionize the print and digital publishing industry with its innovative approach to type and layout design, a desktop publishing and typesetting software application used primarily to create products that need printing.

Before InDesign, the industry standard for designing was Quark Express, which Adobe felt was somewhat limiting and less intuitive for designers to bring their projects to life. Will Eisley, Principle Product Manager at Adobe, has been with the product since the beginning. 

Hailing from a graphic design background, Eisley was brought onto a small team in Seattle to field how to develop a product that could be as flexible as the design industry itself. It was there that they crafted K2, the beta-name for the first iteration of InDesign, and they began to ask designers what their pitfalls were in their processes and workflow; common obstacles like being able to integrate your designs into a publishing-ready format or adding transparency to images, something that used to take a designer hours to do. 

Editorial photograph

“The hardest challenge for getting InDesign off the ground was just getting designers to talk to us," said Eisley. "We weren’t trying to sell them a product, or give them a sales pitch, we just genuinely wanted to have a conversation and the issues they were seeing, and offer a solution. It took a while before people started answering us." 

Listening, it turns out, ended up being Adobe’s secret weapon. Building InDesign, they knew it needed to be able to evolve with the digital landscape as the technology was beginning to develop amidst shifting design trends. As a way to receive feedback on Adobe products, the team would fly around to various customers to discuss them in-person, and as you can imagine, it was a costly and time-consuming process for the Adobe team. 

Editorial photograph
Editorial photograph

As social media began to rise, listening became much more effective. Eisley and his team didn’t need to jump on a plane to give a demo—they could interact with their customer base in real-time, all while adjusting the product accordingly. 

“One of the reasons I’m still here and working on new products is because of how customer-centric we are and always have been,” says Eisley. 

Customer service is the point that Wayne Hoang also drives home when it comes to how Adobe approaches its products. "Getting in touch with our users and understanding what their pain points are is really fundamental to us," he says. 

"We work tirelessly to reach out to all parts of the community," Hoang adds. "If you go onto our social channel, you’ll see a lot of our product managers are constantly talking to our user-base. It’s very start-up-y to us, because we're scrappy and we need to be in constant communication with our customers,” says Hoang. 

Of course, a lot of folks shuttered their doors to Adobe at first, because designers were only comfortable working in Quark Express.

Editorial photograph
Editorial photograph

However, the launch of InDesign v2 really began to turn the tides for the software company as it pushed the boundaries of designing by adding tables and allowing designers to play with transparency — a task that use to take painstaking hours in Photoshop. Integration had always been on Adobe’s mind, and people began to take notice of how InDesign seamlessly was fitting into the company’s other design software like Photoshop. 

Coupled with the rise of digital media, which demanded designers iterate and create faster content, the shift to InDesign became simple for designers who were looking to push boundaries on a time-crunch. Keyboard shortcuts were consistent across programs, people were creating more intricate work at breakneck speeds, and eventually, InDesign surpassed Quark Express to become the standard. 

Editorial photograph

“When InDesign was first built, it was made to always be changed," says Eisley. "We wanted it to be able to shift and pivot as we saw the industry change. Our developer ecosystem wanted the product to be adaptable to any group of people."

Now InDesign is a juggernaut in the industry, with over 91 million PDFs generated each year by the program. And they continue to innovate.

“There is a lot of R&D with InDesign, and we want to know how can we incorporate the latest in machine learning; how can they create better, faster, easier? Another example is how we’ve expanded our properties channel. So when you select a tool, we’ll surface up the options for you. There is a lot of work going on behind the screen to make it more intuitive from the Designer’s point of view. On the creative cloud, there is so much additional value for designers where you can connect InDesign with the 17,000 fonts we have available,” says Hoang.

Editorial photograph
Editorial photograph

As for what's next, they coyly teased Fresco, a new drawing app to the Adobe family that will fit seamlessly with InDesign. But above all, there's more listening in Adobe’s future, as they continue to speak to their avid customer base and adapt to the issues they’re facing. 

“It’s amazing to look back at the alumni of InDesign as we talk and share stories from the team," says Hoang. "It’s incredible how far everything has come. From Will reaching out to people, flying around the globe to talk to customers in-person, to our product team taking the time to speak to designers on Instagram every day just to understand the space we’re catering to more."

"It’s incredible to see the blood, sweat, and tears that went into this product,” he adds.

InDesign has become synonymous with design innovation, changing how we experience printed materials. Although Quark-favoring designers shunned it out of the gate, InDesign has become an indispensable tool for creators, as critical as Photoshop and Illustrator. While design trends come and go, Adobe is sure that this one is likely to stick around for a good, long while.

You may also like