A design student hunched over his laptop on a stained couch in the student lounge. It was 3 AM. He and the lights were the only ones awake in that industrial corner of San Francisco. He was absorbed in the final export of his senior thesis video. Four years of design education built up to that moment. He was static. Premiere Pro’s UI crammed itself into every inch of the screen. With each button press and beachball loading spinner, the prospect of a crash kept him awake. He knew if that happened, his computer wouldn’t be the only thing crashing that night. Nothing halts a creative’s productivity more than a moment like that.
That student was me. When joining Adobe’s new audio team, I channeled the student of my past. I flipped that frustration into fuel. As I did, a thought came into view. Many tool-makers assumed that for a creator to be highly capable, they need unconstrained tools. After all, Adobe built a super successful business out of highly capable and unconstrained software. But with that came complexity. A question itched at me: is it possible to build a highly capable, yet simple, creative tool?
Just before the pandemic, our team experimented with a messy cloud of audio tooling ideas. Everything snapped into focus when the world went remote. We talked to podcasters struggling to keep their workflows afloat in an age of “Can you hear me?” and “You’re muted!” Recording audio through Zoom required a mess of many tools, only to get mediocre sound quality and a burden of work. We talked with educators whose students wanted to produce content like their favorite podcasters. But to do that, they first had to decypher the tools. It left them with no time to think about their story’s content. Storytellers deserve better. We pitched our ideas to Adobe leadership, not with a stale slide deck, but with a podcast mini-series. How could we pitch the promise of audio without using audio? They said yes!
We designed Project Shasta for people that know nothing about podcasting. We avoided associating our product with pro workflows. We thought pros wanted control, and we wanted simplicity. When we announced Project Shasta, we saw excitement from those aspirational storytellers. But surprisingly, we also saw interest from audio professionals. That’s when I realized it – the answer to my question. Pros will tell you they want control. Turns out, all that control is stemming from bigger burdens in their workflow. Solve the bigger burden and the need for control disappears. So yes, a creative tool can be both highly capable and simple.
Project Shasta’s story is in its exposition. We’ll inevitably change course as beta testers roll in with feedback. But one thing is sure: for the next generations of students finding themselves up late working on something that means a lot to them, we aspire that their tools are the last thing they need to worry about.