How Technology Enables Creation: the Adobe Illustrator Story

The Adobe Illustrator Story from Terry Hemphill on Vimeo.

When Adobe Illustrator first shipped in 1987, it was the first software application for a young company that had, until then, focused solely on Adobe PostScript. The new product not only altered Adobe’s course, it changed drawing and graphic design forever.

How did it do that?

In this fascinating look at the history of Illustrator (development started in 1985) as narrated by the tool's creator, John Warnock, co-founder and Chairman of the Board, Adobe, we can draw some lessons about the role of technology in business. My own definition of business is the creation of value for individuals and groups and the opportunity that stems from it.

What was groundbreaking at the time has created a path for how subsequent tools have been conceived, created, and rolled out.

Some of the themes emerging from the interviews also resonate with the current conversation on digital transformation:

  • it can be scary to adopt a new tool, it looks a lot like jumping from a plane
  • the excitement of seeing the future, when you first see the possibilities may turn into
  • skepticism around quality given the tools for graphic engines did not exist
  • the necessary partnership and collaboration between scientists and engineers as graphic designers/professionals in the trenches
  • a necessary component of making tools useful is being part of the community they are designed to help
  • it takes time and dedication to go from vision to execution
  • the point is to develop tools that people can use to DO things, that is what drives adoption
  • tools (and products/services) need to solve real world problems for adoption to take place; it is worth reinstating it
  • influencing the influencers means partnering with the community of experts to design applications to help the greater user community
  • and much more…

Watch the Illustrator story unfold, from its beginning as Adobe’s first software product, to its role in the digital publishing revolution, to becoming an essential tool for designers worldwide. Interviews include cofounder John Warnock, his wife Marva, artists and designers Ron Chan, Bert Monroy, Dylan Roscover and Jessica Hische.

This 19-minute video will educate, inspire, and (hopefully) instigate you in your work.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.