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8/9/2007
08:49 PM
Ivan Schneider
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Adobe CS3: Rise of the Multimedia Machines

The awe-inspiring features of Adobe's CS3 Master Collection could herald a shift in the multimedia design industry

Who among us is ready for the challenge of learning how to work with every digital media type (images, vector graphics, video, sound, 3-D images, and text), across every delivery channel (print, personal computer, handheld device, and DVD) and using full interactivity and behaviors?

It's a tall order, and that's exactly why small businesses hire design professionals. For many, the tools of choice have come from the 25-year-old Adobe Systems.

Today, a team from Adobe paid a visit to Vancouver to present a full-day demo of its Creative Suite 3 Design, Web and Production editions, plus the "Master Collection."

At the high end, the CS3 Master Collection includes a dizzying collection of software, including page layout (InDesign), image editing (Photoshop Extended), vector graphics (Illustrator), Web design (Flash, Dreamweaver, Fireworks), video editing (Premiere Pro, After Effects), and much more.

During the presentations, several new features elicited gasps from the audience, and each collective gasp represented a technical solution for a task that once took careful, painstaking effort.

Here are a few examples of what Adobe CS3 users can do:

  • Stitch together the perfect composite photo. If you take a set of company photos for your "About Us" page in which a different employee's eyes are closed in each one, stitch them together to make a clean, eyelid-free composite. Photoshop CS3 will auto-align the identical pixels from multiple photos, making it simple to pick which elements you'd like to use from each. No awkward cutting and pasting -- just "scratch away" one layer to reveal the next.
  • Clean up a sound file. If you want to put a recording of your speech to the Chamber of Commerce on your website, but without the background clanging of forks and the ringing of cell phones, use the "spectral view" interface in Adobe Soundbooth CS3 to edit waveforms using an intuitive interface. With simple actions, you can select and erase any offending frequencies without having to be a sound engineer. Sophisticated sampling techniques, once the province of experts, have become accessible to the mass market.
  • Isolate a single element in a complex image. Let's say you've taken photos of each inventory item for your website, but you want to remove the background of your warehouse wall from the photos. Even for an experienced Photoshop hand, selecting the usable part of a photo usually required a bit of work. Now, with CS3, the process has been transformed into a few brushstrokes. You can use a paintbrush-style tool to indicate which elements in the photo belong (or don't belong) to your desired selection. The program analyzes all of the selected pixels and automatically extends the selection to match.
  • Create CSS layouts. Use pre-built page templates and behaviors to standards-compliant layouts with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) that would otherwise require detailed knowledge of arcane techniques. You can build layouts that scale to the size of the user's monitor, which run on any of the major browsers, and which contain accessibility features for disabled people using screen-reader software.
  • Implement website enhancements. Without knowing anything about the underlying technologies such as JavaScript and AJAX, you can add effects such as image sliders, accordion selectors, and sortable tables. Just like applying Photoshop filters to punch up a photo, you can use "AJAX Spry" components to add eye-candy to your site. Dreamweaver checks the Adobe website for new components so that you can keep up with the design industry's flavor-of-the-week.
  • After describing these timesavers and milking the applause, the Adobe presenters quipped: "Do the job in a few seconds, and then bill your clients for the half-day it used to take." Yeah, right. And industrialization was supposed make us all part of the leisure class. The history of technology is rife with supposed "timesavers" that did nothing of the sort. Instead, the market quickly learns to expect "Faster-Better-Cheaper," and soon the pressure's on for the next level of service and innovation.

    Here's what the shift towards multimedia design means for your small business:

  • Automation of labor-intensive skills will make it easier for low-cost providers to enter the market, which should translate into lower prices.
  • Don't pay custom-development rates for something that can be done with a drag-and-drop widget or a few quick brushstrokes.
  • Challenge your web designer to provide integrated media, working with sound, video and 3-D effects that once were the province of specialists. It's a win-win: You'll get exciting results, and your designer will become more valuable by learning new skills.
  • As always, matching the capabilities of the technology to the needs of your business remains the most important consideration. Don't skimp on insight, experience or talent.
  • The increased complexity does pose a challenge for the design community. Even though the Adobe CS3 Master Collection may appear at first glance overwhelming, containing no less than 20 separate applications, it may well emerge as a competitive necessity for designers to the SMB market to build a broader set of capabilities. Fortunately, the application interfaces have enough in common that any one application should seem familiar enough to an experienced user of another. Furthermore, Adobe has greatly improved the import capability from one program to another, as well as the ability to make changes in one application and have it automatically updated in another.

    The emerging shift to the multimedia designer is here to stay, and it's closely aligned with Adobe's interests. By promoting the idea of the "master" designer as an attainable long-term goal for a design professional, Adobe can achieve greater mindshare among its influential audience while selling more USD $2,499 licenses for the CS3 Master Collection. Accordingly, Adobe will continue to encourage designers to bridge the worlds of print, web and video, bringing multimedia capabilities to their customers at the enterprise level and to small- and medium-sized businesses alike.

    If you're in the design business yourself, or if you're just the DIY type, check out the Adobe CS3 Product Selector to figure out whether you're ready to be a master of multimedia.

    — Ivan Schneider recently set out to start his own business, ivantohelpyou, helping others with theirs. You can write to him here.

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