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Classic mystery meat: the new Adobe icon set

I stopped by Dave Shea’s blog and read his post about the (possible) new set of application icons for the Adobe CS3 product suite. What’s interesting for me is the challenges the designers must have faced and the result they’ve arrived at.

Firstly, have a look at the whole lot placed on a colour wheel (from the icons announcement on an Adobe blog). Dave’s blog has in situ shots of them too. The reaction out there has been mostly “What the…?”. There’s good reasons against these designs, like accessibility issues and cognitive issues, which I won’t replicate here.

But what’s the first thing you notice about them?

There are A LOT.

Anyone who’s designed icons knows that the more there are in a collection, the harder it is to maintain design unity and keep them all distinguishable. That’s issue one.

Issue two, I think, is that since Adobe bought Macromedia, you can imagine the talkfests and meetings about how to rationalise the two product stables into one. How to blend two different design ethoses (ethi?) and brands into one? Designer nightmare.

Issue three is that because there would have been so many stakeholders involved, design-by-committee has resulted in an icon set leached of any flair or individuality. A lot of people never liked the feathers, shells and such of the Adobe Creative Suite CS2, but they had flair and panache.

So the new icon set looks like squares from the periodic table of elements. And when it comes to international standardisation, there’s a design project that would have been design-by-committee, and rightly so. Should we be surprised then, that these new icons are so similar?