Knoll Software

Design Friday. Adobe Photoshop is 20 Years Old!

It’s Design Friday, and I thought I would take a moment to reflect on Photoshop, since this month marks the official 20th anniversary under the Adobe brand. If you are interested in a full and extensive history of the application, Computer Arts magazine has an in-depth write-up for you. I on the other hand want to reflect on an application that single-handedly changed the face of graphic design for forever.

On February 19, 1990, Adobe sent out its initial batch of 200 copies of Photoshop 1.0. In two decades since, it has transformed the imaging and graphics world and sits on the desktop of than 90% of creative professionals. Photoshop is so pervasive that designers (and consumers) take it for granted as it has become ubiquitous with the act of manipulating digital images. It is so pervasive that Webster’s dictionary now includes the word “Photoshopped”. There are 2,500 English language books with Photoshop in the title, more than 50,000 blogs with Photoshop in the name and almost every computer training facility in the world teaches courses on the subject.

Now, I want to look back 20 years, because yes, I am one of those people that have been using this application since before version 1.0. My first encounter with it was when it was still Knoll Photoshop, version .8, about two years before Adobe bought it and took it to the next level. I got a copy of the Knoll version when I purchased Illustrator 88, for my Mac IIci. Talk about dinosaur days, I can’t even imagine working on that gear now. Photoshop had no layers, no live text, one level of undo, hardly any filters, maybe 6 things you could change in your preferences, and it had one thing that I really, really miss. It had “time”.

When I say Photoshop had “time”, I mean that. It made you slow down and think before you executed. With only one level of undo, and no layers, you really had to think about what it was you wanted to create before committing to it. It kept the design process at a real pace and required you to think about visual design principles before taking the next step. In today’s Photoshop, you take it for granted. You can make change after change, hammering through 90 iterations of something before locking your design down. And with that, your Creative Director, or Art Director, can have you do the same thing, making incremental changes that have little or no thought behind them. Changes, just for the sake of being able to say “I touched that, or that input was mine.” whether it improved the end result or not. Now don’t get me wrong here. I wouldn’t want to go back to using Photoshop 1.0 for anything. The latest version, and the impending CS5 version are hands down amazing pieces of software that have made my job so much better. At this point in my career I doubt I could live with out this single application. That is just how important it is. Happy Birthday Photoshop.