The greatest compliment I can pay to Adobe XD is that it feels like an iPad app, even though it’s made for desktop.
While Adobe has been known for its desktop suite of software rooted in steep learning curves, the company's latest product released this week—Adobe XD (which stands for Experience Design)—has all of the instantaneous wireframing prowess of the impressive iPad app Adobe Comp, plus options to create interactive prototypes of websites and apps. The result is an app that can take you from a blank canvas to a custom app simulation in, literally, just a few minutes.
And its toolbar has just seven buttons.
Originally dubbed Project Comet, Adobe graduated its beta test to the new product Adobe XD version 0.5 earlier this week. That v0.5 name, coupled with the fact that Adobe XD is free to download and use at the moment, seems like a tacit admission that Adobe’s new product is far from finished. But even now, it has loads of features that make it tempting to try.
The software is organized into two tabs. One is Design. The other is Prototype.
In Design, you build your layouts. Just click and drag to make any shapes, and as you add more to the page, Adobe will show you cues of which corners line up and when you reach equal spacing. This is pretty standard stuff. But there are a lot of tricks inside: A tool called "repeat grid" allows you to perfectly duplicate your wireframes across pages. Want to round off the corners of any box? Just click on a special anchor point and pull. To add a photo, drag and drop it from your desktop, and it will resize within whatever bounding box you’ve built. And if you find that you need a custom button—such as a map marker—that you’d forgotten to design, you could hop over to Illustrator and build it, or you could just use Adobe XD’s shape design tools to quickly create one (you can even add a drop shadow—ooohhhhhhhhh—don’t judge).
In Prototype, you actually give your images interactivity, and build the button-linked workflow of your whole app or website. This user interface is particularly well-executed. All you do is click an object (that’s any image on the screen, such as a shopping cart icon), and a little arrow appears beside it. You drag this arrow over to the screen of your choice. It’s now linked. You can also set and time some basic animated transitions in this sequence, so you can get a feel for how the UI will really look and feel in motion. Once all of this work is done, you can hit the record button to tap through your app and export the results to share the demo.
You can create a pretty good-looking, basic app design with these tools, and you can do it fast. But when you compare the depth of XD to Illustrator or Photoshop or After Effects, it’s obvious why Adobe only called it a v0.5 release. In fact, the company has already teased more features to come—and warning, once you read them, you’ll be less impressed with XD as it stands today. Adobe plans to add layer support, options for gradients and text blending, scrollable content, real-time design and preview on actual iOS and Android devices, API support, and Windows 10 availability (right now, this release is Mac exclusive).
Still, if you’re creating UI workflows on a regular basis, Adobe XD is worth keeping an eye on. UX prototyping is a bloated but nascent space, and Adobe XD has already been downloaded 75,000 times within two days of release. Especially given this early interest, it's hard to believe that Adobe won’t be investing everything it's got into dominating UX as much as it has all of the other arms of our multimedia world.