What’s next from the company that has allowed us to create magic with images for the past 35 years? They are looking ahead to redefine the ways we interact with Adobe artistic programs. What would the It’s an interesting thought. Yes, Adobe has already built AI capabilities into Creative Cloud with Adobe Sensei which has dramatically improved the user features of programs like Photoshop but Adobe is looking beyond the programs that are merely digital. They are turning their eyes towards maker programs that combine digital with 3D and electronic design making it possible for designers to become engineers.
Speaking recently with one of their senior research scientists, Mira Dontcheva, revealed one of the programs they are considering is called Ellustrate. It’s like Illustrator, for makers and enables people with no electronic experience to design with LED lights. The program is Mira’s passion project and while still under development, has been showcased at conferences like UIST and is already quite remarkable.
In a live demo, I was able to create a design, select LED lights as a tool and place them wherever I saw fit. I then chose another tool which helped me draw electrical wires and add switches. It all had the ease and feel of creating a graphic in Illustrator while designing something that could be put together in real life. All of the pieces are true to size, enabling the designer to go directly from digital to physical without having to adjust. As you design, the program allows you to double check your electrical connections and switches to test whether they work or need to be reconfigured. Perfect for someone with absolutely NO electronic knowledge and no real interest in learning circuitry, like myself.
The idea behind the program is really revolutionary when you think about the way it brings circuitry and visual design together in one place, whereas, previously, they’ve always been separate worlds and separate steps. As I watched Mira move through the program, I couldn’t help but think of the exciting teaching possibilities for STEAM education with a program that makes building and designing so accessible. It sits together with programs like Google’s Made With Code program that allows kids to design Zac Posen dresses with LED lights.
Ellustrate came out of Mira’s love of craft and excitement for making computer programs easy to use for all. A mother and avid knitter, she is always thinking about human and computer interaction and data visualization. She began thinking about Ellustrate around 7 years ago with the objective of creating a program for makers where “anyone” could construct projects using electrical circuits for their projects without an engineering background. During development, she collaborated with researchers from the Hybrid Ecologies Lab at UC Berkeley. Before beginning, there were many things to consider like how the interface should respond and what types of visuals people would need in order to make the tools feel intuitive.
Mira’s interest in the human interaction side of computing began at the University of Washington, where she studied a mix of graphics, animation and computational photography and did a thesis on improving how people interact with computers from how we search on the web to how we find information. This work led to creating interfaces that let programmers search for code examples on the web as they write code. Now that’s standard. All of this computer work might seem like a far cry from craft, but Mira has always had dual interests.
Perhaps it all started with her parents. Her father is a mathematician who wanted her to travel the world as a professor of math while her mom is an engineer who wanted her to make things. Or perhaps it is her dual culture and background, having grown up first in Eastern Europe, until her parents moved to the US when she was 11. So, what do you do when you have two loves? You do both! A scientist at Adobe and an avid knitter, she is part of a growing group of technologists who are leading a new era of tech to incorporate hand-craft with science in exciting and powerful ways. It’s a movement that gives all of us who are crafters, knitters and artists hope that the coming age will be a beautiful symbiosis of brainy science and working with our hands. A world where both are equally respected, ushering in a new type of industrial revolution. When we do, it looks like we will have Adobe, and Mira Dontcheva to thank.