Sarah Kong’s work on Photoshop has spanned the integration with ImageReady® software in version 5.5 to the development of Puppet Warp in version CS5. Ask her, though, and she’ll tell you that her greatest contribution has always been bringing the voice of the customer into the product. (The following was excerpted from oral histories taped with Sarah Kong and other Photoshop team members in the summer of 2010.)
Q: What were your earliest Photoshop projects?
A: When I first joined the Photoshop team, we decided to create version 5.5 because we wanted to add more features for web designers. So we decided to bundle Photoshop with ImageReady. It was the shortest product cycle I can remember. I worked on the Jump To feature, which allowed the user to switch from Photoshop to ImageReady and from ImageReady to Photoshop. When you do that, you can be editing the same image and it will maintain layer effects and history states and things like that. You have a seamless workflow. That’s a feature I worked on, and I also worked on three automation plugins: picture package, contact sheet, and web photo gallery. Web photo gallery was for web designers to share their images online.
Q: Tell us how you integrate customer feedback into the product.
A: We get a lot of good user feedback. As we were developing Photoshop CS5, I remember going through some of the Puppet Warp feedback and several users said, “We have to be able to select multiple pins to move.” It wasn’t even part of our plan, it wasn’t on our to‐do list, but I just jotted it down on my list because it was important for users.
Q: Is it difficult to decide which features to develop?
A: It is really challenging. Photoshop has many users, and not all of them want the same thing. We want to make things easy, but making things easier for users is really hard. Especially when you’re trying to solve a complex problem like Refine Edge.
It all comes down to feedback from users, engineers, and UI designers. And don’t forget the QE engineers. They are an excellent resource. They use the product day in and day out and they have a good understanding of customers. They help us figure out the best way to design the product.
I think the most important thing is to be able to understand customers—to create features that make their lives easier so they can achieve their goals, or they can bring their artistic ideas and creativity into reality. This is my passion, to create something cool and innovative, and solve customers’ problems.
Q: What did you like most about helping develop Photoshop CS5?
A: I loved working on Refine Edge because it is the bread and butter of Photoshop. A lot of people are struggling with how to extract image areas. Solving the problem is rewarding—it feels good.
Q: What is it like to be a part of the Photoshop team?
A: There’s a reason I’ve been at Adobe for 14 years and there’s a reason I’m still on the Photoshop team. The team works very well together. We have the great product. I can’t imagine going to another company and working on another product. I don’t think any product can live up to Photoshop.
Q: What does the Photoshop team do for fun?
A: We sometimes go out for photo shoots. The last time, we went to UC Santa Cruz, a whole bunch of us, and took cameras and lenses to shoot pictures.
Q: What does the future of Photoshop hold?
A: We have 20 years of success, and we are still strong. I don’t think it’s going to slow down anytime soon. The way I see it is that we are not going to be an island anymore. We’re going to have more community contributions. For example, with the lens correction feature, we have lens profile creators for users to contribute. I think we will see more features that will do more crowdsourcing, and we will have a lot of users contributing to the product and sharing their techniques or presets online. We will be integrating a lot with Photoshop.com. Cloud computing and using more image intelligence in a lot of the image processing we do, will play a huge part in the future of Photoshop as well.
Q: Obviously you love your job. What does the future hold for you?
A: I’d like to travel more and shoot more pictures, and really use Photoshop rather than just testing features!