Adobe’s Strategy Behind Making XD Free for All
In a somewhat surprising move, Adobe has made its popular UX design tool XD CC (Experience Design) free for everyone. The announcement came on May 15th; the newly unveiled Starter plan will give users full access to the desktop and mobile app of Experience Design, along with 2GB cloud storage.
The free version won’t let users share multiple prototypes simultaneously, but that shouldn’t be a big issue for individual designers or freelancers who usually work on one project at a time.
Since its founding in 1982, Adobe has released many market-leading products, but we’ve never seen them embrace the freemium business model before. They have always operated conservatively and stayed clear of freebies.
In 2013, Adobe moved on to a cloud-based subscription system (known as Creative Cloud) and notoriously cracked down on illegal copies of their products. By 2016, they have even shortened their product trial period form 30 days to 7 days.
So what made Adobe change direction in 2018 and give away one of their most popular products, Experience Design, for free?
XD will be the gateway to Creative Cloud
For more than two decades, Photoshop has been the leading product of Adobe. But as the market gets competitive, Adobe needs a new flagship to maintain its industry dominance.
In 2017 Adobe conducted a survey of UX design managers and department heads. They found that hiring UX designers was the top priority for 87% of the organizations. The demand of UX designers was higher than graphic designers and Adobe rightly realized that UX / UI design is the fastest growing field of the industry.
So, in that same year, Adobe XD completed Beta testing and began its journey to become the next behemoth in Adobe’s product line. Since its Beta period, XD has enjoyed a buzz of excitement. Designers today are required to integrate user experience principles in their workflow and hence they have shown an overwhelmingly positive response to Experience Design.
By making XD free, Adobe is aiming to quickly follow up on that popularity boost, hoping ultimately to increase the user base of their Creative Cloud products. In other words, Adobe hopes many of the free XD users will jump onto the paid version of Creative Cloud once they get used to this exceptional flagship product.
Adobe is following the model of its competitors
XD competitors Figma and InVision both have free starter versions. Adobe is mirroring their price structure to attract new users. XD-rival Sketch doesn’t have a free version, but it offers a special discount for students and teachers. Adobe is adopting this strategy as well; in addition to making XD free, from 15th May, they have dropped all Creative Cloud product license prices to $4.99 (USD) per year for K-12 school students. As XD supports both Windows and Mac, it will become difficult for the Mac-only Sketch to compete with Adobe now.
More than free
Adobe is bidding high on the success of XD. To outdo competitors, they have announced a $10 million (USD) fund encouraging developers to create new plug-ins for the XD ecosystem. It’s clear that Adobe is looking for more than just profit here.
If a user believes XD is missing any important feature, and develops a plug-in which addresses this gap, Adobe is willing to pay. This will certainly lure away many plug-in developers from the Adobe competitor Sketch and make XD an extremely strong design ecosystem in future.
Adobe is aiming for the future
It seems Adobe’s decision to give away XD for free is a raw tactic to gain a quick market share and attract new designers. But according to the Chief Product Officer of Creative Cloud, Scott Belsky, there’s a different philosophical reasoning behind the decision.
Adobe believes that the future workspace is going to be dominated by machines and robots. Creativity is the only uniquely human trait that will keep us relevant in the production system. Adobe’s aim is to make design tools more accessible so that designers can find new ways to apply their creativity.
More practically speaking, the UX/UI design industry is just getting underway. Its future is going to involve a lot more than just screen-centric prototyping. VR, AR and voice will soon become more mainstream. Adobe XD wants to bring them all together under a single platform. And for that Adobe needs to quickly expand the user base of Experience Design and build a community around it.
Figuring out how to create an all-encompassing UX tool for the future is no easy task, but by making XD free for all and announcing a $10 million (USD) fund to attract talented developers, Adobe has taken their first step in the right direction.