Analyzing the UX/UI of Adobe Software

tl;dr The Adobe Systems software, Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, have discrepancies across platforms. Their UX/UI were analyzed in order to see if this had a significant impact on user experience. It was discovered that while Illustrator had the highest failure rate, InDesign caused the most amount of stress. Tools in Photoshop should be standardized across platforms for user experience improvement.

The Adobe Systems software has the most amount of users within the creative and design industry. Photoshop is used for image manipulation, Illustrator is used for designing vector graphics, and InDesign is used for page layout. The interfaces of these platforms is similar from software to software, but the usability varies in subtle ways. For example, to turn a working document into a Portable Document Format (PDF) in InDesign the user must press, “Export.” When performing the same task in Illustrator or Photoshop, the user must press, “Save As.” Usability studies were performed in order to see if these discrepancies made switching between different software frustrating for users. Each participant was asked to complete the same task in InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator. The quantitative data gleaned from the Tobii Eye Tracker and the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) monitors were compared with the subjective results of the post-test questionnaire. This allowed the researchers to view if these discrepancies made a negative effect in the user’s experience. A 38-page report was written and can be read here, but an abridged version is shown below. This paper will appear in the Technical Association of the Graphic Arts Journal in 2018. 


The participants were asked to draw a sun in the top left corner of the image of the field. They were also asked to use the precise RGB values, 237, 254, 62, when drawing the image of the sun. They were then asked to write, “Hello world!” in the bottom right corner of the image. They needed to make the typeface white and size 500 point. They were able to leave the typeface as the software default. They were then required to save the image on the desktop of the computer as “LastName_AdobeSoftware.pdf.” 5 The participant was given 5 minutes to complete the experiment. The researcher warned them when they hit the four minute mark. If the participant was unable to complete the entire experiment, the researcher stopped them, and asked them to save what they had completed as a PDF file. They were given 2 minutes to save the file. If they were unable to save the file, the researcher saved it for them as, “LastName_Software_Incomplete.” The tasks remained the same throughout the software, but different steps were required to reach the same destination. In Photoshop, a new typography layer is created which makes manipulating the typeface difficult if the user were to click off of the type. The user would also discover that they would need to go to, “Save As” → “Photoshop PDF” in order to save the document. Manipulating the typefaces is similarly done in InDesign and Illustrator. However, to save the image in InDesign requires the user to go to, “Export” → “PDF.” In Illustrator the user will need to go to, “Save As” → “PDF.”



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The software with the highest task completion rate was Adobe Photoshop. All of the participants were able to write, “Hello world” and make the words large. 90.9% of participants were able to then make the words white. 72.72% were able to draw the circle and rays of the sun, and 81.82% were able to make what they had completed on the sun the proper shade of RGB yellow. There was also the highest completion rate of being able to save the file as a PDF, with 81.82% of participants being able to properly save the file.


The software with the lowest task completion rate was Adobe Illustrator. Only 40% of participants were able to determine how to save the file as a PDF, less than half of those who were able to save the file in Adobe Photoshop. While 70% were able to figure out how to draw the circle of the sun, only 50% of participants were able to draw the rays, make it yellow, or complete any of the “Hello world” related tasks.


InDesign had a sporadic mix of people being able to complete the tasks. While there was a high completion rate of 90.90% for drawing the circle of the sun and writing, “Hello world”, only 36.36% of people were able to draw the sun rays, and only 45.45% were able to make, “Hello world” white. The amount of people that were able to save the document as a PDF was average compared to Photoshop and Illustrator, with 63.6% of people being able to save the file.

Completion Time Being Affected by Tool Functions

Significant amounts of time was dedicated to the user focusing on each element on the menu bar in order to try and discern the meaning of each tool. Users found InDesign especially difficult, since they were unable to make the stroke of the sun’s rays in the same way that they could in the other software. The tools functioned differently, and this increased time to try and figure out which tool would complete the required tasks. Users also reported that finding any tools in InDesign was more difficult than expected, and that it was more obvious to discern the meaning of the elements in Illustrator and Photoshop. The users also struggled to fill a shape in InDesign, and write words since the text field functioned differently than it did in other software.

 InDesign Gaze Plot

InDesign Gaze Plot

Skin Conductivity

Participants had, on average, a slightly higher level of stress in Illustrator than they did in InDesign or Photoshop, in this case 6.519144496 μS per second. Skin conductivity over time can be seen below. This average higher conductivity of the skin suggests that Illustrator was the most stressful of the three software for the participants to use. InDesign, which was perceived as not being particularly stressful at the beginning of the experiment, grew increasingly more frustrating for participants to use as the experiment proceeded.



While Illustrator was the most stressful to use, InDesign was found to be the most difficult to use. Participants had trouble with the location of the tools. Participants also expressed interest in a standardization of tool location and function across platforms. For example, Photoshop had the highest completion rate of saving a file as a PDF. Saving files could be standardized across interfaces to be most similar to Photoshop.

Part of the reason functions differ is because each software has a different goal. Photoshop is intended to be used for photo manipulation, InDesign is for page layout, and Illustrator is intended to be used to create vector graphics. However, being that all of these products are Adobe’s, it would make sense if some of the features were consistent throughout. This would make it easier for users to get a feel for a new product and rather than simply completing a task where they feel most comfortable.


This experiment gave the researchers a greater insight into the usability and interface of Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator. The results can be used to help Adobe improve their program interface when it comes to performing basic tasks within the three programs. Although these programs were specifically made for individuals who specialize in design and imaging, improving the usability of the programs to allow any individual (ranging from no experience to expert) can potentially create a larger market for Adobe and have a greater attraction to each of the softwares. For example, the results showed that Illustrator had the lowest completion rate for this simple task of drawing a sun and writing the phrase “Hello world!”, while Photoshop had the highest completion rate. This result could indicate that the layout and tools in Photoshop are easier to find/use. Changing the tools and layout of Illustrator to be more similar to Photoshop could potentially benefit new users as well as current users. Participants also stated that InDesign was the most difficult software to locate the tools needed to complete the task. By taking a second look at the tools in Photoshop and Illustrator, Adobe could compare the three softwares and reevaluate which tools and layouts would be the most beneficial across the software, while maintaining the specialization that each software holds. Although the major of the participants had no prior knowledge to any of these softwares, the participants were still able to complete the task using common sense and prior knowledge of similar softwares.