Photoshop Interview: John Nack


John Nack

To kick off our new series of Photoshop Interviews, where better to start than Adobe? Today we welcome Principal Project Manager for Adobe Photoshop & Bridge, and Photoshop Hall of Famer, John Nack.

Jason D. Moore Photography: First off, welcome John! It’s an honor to have you with us. Why don’t you start off by telling us a little bit about your background both Educationally and Professionally?

John Nack: I graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in history–which has nothing whatsoever to do with Web design or product management, the two things I’ve done professionally.

I’ve loved drawing since I was little, and when I saw the first Macintosh at my friend’s birthday party in 1984, it completely blew my mind.  I finally talked my parents into getting an Apple IIgs in the late 80’s, and in college I taught myself Web technologies while helping professors put their coursework online.  My job at AGENCY.COM New York (’98-2000) gave me intensive hands-on design and production experience, and it introduced me to folks from Adobe, Macromedia, and other tech companies.  My desire to improve Flash production led me to Adobe in 2000 to work on LiveMotion.

JDMP: What is your current job? And could you describe for us a little bit of what that entails?

JN: You know, I’m never really clear on what it is I do, except that it seems to involve an awful lot of email. 🙂

In a nutshell I try to figure out what people need (and hence will pay for), and then I work with the team to get that built.  That means talking to customers via a variety of means (blogs, forums, face-to-face meetings, etc.) and working with the team to keep making feature decisions and refining priorities.  There’s also an enormous amount of semi-random work (answering press inquiries, supporting tradeshows and user groups, and so forth).

JDMP: Photoshop has come a long way since version 1, with many milestones along the way (layers, adjustment layers, smart objects, HDR, etc). For you, what have been some of the most significant advances over the life of the software? Any missteps?

JN: I think the greatest hits are pretty obvious: Layers, the History palette, re-editable type, the Healing Brush, and Camera Raw jump to mind.  Save for Web and ImageReady were pretty huge for me in my past life.

As for missteps, I’ve certainly championed things that it *seems* people should love, but which go largely unused (e.g. Layer Comps, the How To content under the Help menu).  I sometimes say that there are problems people have & problems people will let you solve.  The latter set is much smaller than the former.

A certain set of things like Smart Objects and customizability are underused, but I think that’s because we haven’t yet finished what we started.  Sometimes you have to build a house brick by brick, and the whole thing looks a little silly until it’s complete.

JDMP:  There have been a lot of new arenas in which Photoshop has delved, especially starting with CS3 Extended. What was the motivation for developing areas of Photoshop with the medical and scientific fields in mind?

JN: Well, from very early on Photoshop has been used by people outside the traditional core markets (photography, graphic design, etc.).  I remember reading about an early version where Mark Hamburg bumped up the maximum document dimensions to 30,000×30,000 pixels at the request of government users (the CIA, if I remember right) who were processing satellite imagery.

He figured “That ought to hold them for a while”–and it did.  Of course, years later we raised the limits again by 100x, and I’m sure that’ll happen again someday.

In any case, even though we were aware of these specialized uses of Photoshop, each market was too small to justify a lot of direct investment. That is, we couldn’t justify making their needs a priority at the expense of more broadly applicable features.  Photoshop Extended gives us a chance to say, “Here’s a version that adds just the kind of things you’ve requested.”

We don’t market it as “Photoshop Pro” or “Photoshop Premium,” i.e. as the version that everyone would buy if money were no object.  Instead we try to present it as a version that extends beyond Photoshop in some targeted ways.

JDMP:  In a related question, what is the process for including new features? How do you determine what’s in and what has to wait for the next version?

JN: I’d love to tell you that the process is simple or straightforward, but it’s more complex than that.  At the front of our minds, of course, is the feedback we’re getting from customers.  The thing is, we get so many more good requests than we’d ever have time to address that we have to consider other factors.

Various engineers have specific skill sets, so it’s not always possible to mix and match.  Some people are great at user interface code, others at math (HDR, warping, etc.), others at deep software architecture, and so on.  We also need to make time to keep improving the Photoshop architecture and requests/requirements established by the Suite.  And, of course, sometimes feature work goes faster than expected, sometimes slower, so we’re constantly adjusting plans.

At the end of the day we have to deliver a release that’s a good mix of power for a wide range of customers.  Otherwise it just won’t entice customers to upgrade.

Thanks again to John for being our first guest as part of the Photoshop Interviews Series here at Jason D. Moore Photography! We’ll have “Part II” of the conversation in the coming days.

For more information about John Nack and his work at Adobe you can visit his blog, John Nack on Adobe, at

And be sure to come back on Monday, February 9th when I sit down with NAPP Executive Director Larry Becker!

Towner Jones Photography, LLCAlso, we welcome a new sponsor for the Photoshop Interviews series, Towner Jones Photography! If you would like to become a sponsor of this, or any other series here at Jason D. Moore Photography, please visit our “Become a Sponsor” page to find out how!

  • Cool interview here Jason – and thanks to John for kicking things off. It was especially interesting to learn it was the CIA that “discovered” the 30k pixel limitation. It makes sense of course with how he explained it, but cool nonetheless!

    January 12, 2009 at 10:03 am
  • Don’t give up on Layer Comps –“ *seems* people should love, but which go largely unused (e.g. Layer Comps, the How To content under the Help menu).” I just sent out two separate web sit proofs to two clients. I used the Layer Comps to Jpeg script, and then used Acrobat Portfolio to send the clients a pdf. It would have been even easier if you could do it in one step in Photoshop.

    PS the Portfolio in Acrobat needs some more options (formatting in the description section, adjusting the size of the image in the carousal Layout for and example.

    January 12, 2009 at 10:13 pm
  • Carl

    Very nice interview. I’m a big fan of John Nack and his blog so this was great to read. I do however, have a comment about something John said. He mentioned that:

    “Sometimes you have to build a house brick by brick, and the whole thing looks a little silly until it’s complete.”

    I think John hit the nail on the head by realizing that people aren’t using these features and they do indeed feel incomplete. The problem with John’s “brick-by-brick” thought process is that we’re not being charged to live in the house while it’s being built. Sure it looks silly when there’s just a few bricks up and the plumbing is sticking up through the ground, but I’m ok with that because they’re not promoting this to me as the final product and charging me for it.

    Compare that with Photoshop. They are charging us for it and there’s a big marketing campaign out there to promote it as a complete product (not one with incomplete features in it).

    Again, I have a tremendous amount of respect for John after following his blog and I appreciate the work he does. I hope Photoshop does indeed get better and better and they complete some of these features that he’s talking about. Thanks for listening.

    January 15, 2009 at 9:37 am

Leave a Comment: