Emily Sermons

Project Ignite


Inspiration Gathering

Project Ignite


Project Ignite empowers creatives to take action from inspiration — it syncs their inspiration assets in a central location to help kickstart projects within Creative Cloud apps.

01. Problem & Background

Inspiration Fueling Creation

As the forerunner in building tools for the creative community, Adobe’s Creative Cloud (CC) is great at helping its users create amazing digital artifacts and experiences. Yet in spite of its magic wands and pen tools, Adobe still struggles at solving one of the toughest parts of the creative process: a blank canvas.

While Creative Cloud tools are perfect for diving into once you’ve got a fully-baked idea in mind, Adobe doesn’t do much to help inspire or guide ideas at the beginning of a project. Before ever jumping into Photoshop, artists and designers will spend hours curating inspiration and points of reference for their creative work on sites likes Pinterest, Dribbble, and Behance. As a designer who was focused on save and organization flows at Adobe, I wondered: was there anything Adobe could be doing to streamline that process and help creatives go from inspiration to creation? 

When a small team of two colleagues approached the design team with a demo using Pinterest, my ears immediately perked up. Their prototype itself was relatively simple: downloading Pinterest pins in real-time to autogenerate a neat mood board that was ready to be opened up in Photoshop.

But the technology itself had applications that extended much further: if we could download Pinterest pins in real-time, why couldn’t we download assets from other sources on the web to create a searchable repository of all of a user’s inspiration? With a mood board or library full of your favorite ideas to reference during the start of your project, the blank canvas gets way less intimidating.


02. Research & Brainstorming

Collect, Create, & Continute

I kicked off this project with a two week Design Sprint. My goal was to end the sprint with rough design deliverables that could be incorporated into the engineering prototype to use in testing with potential users.

I began by traveling to our New York office and spent one week honing in on the core problem, conducting light research, talking to additional stakeholders around the company, and throwing some early pixels on paper. I met back up with the core team (one Product Manager and one Developer) the next week to socialize the research and iterate on the concepts.

I first reached out to 32 Creative Cloud users via UserTesting.com. The individuals I talked to spanned a wide variety of creative professions: photography, graphic design, interior design, and marketing. I was hoping to understand the tools and workflows they used in their inspiration gathering process.

Throughout the research, I found that while 67% of our users used the CC tools to create mood boards, they didn’t use the CC ecosystem at all when it came to actually finding inspiration. Rather, they often turned to other web products to help them find and collect their inspiration before using it in any project.


I also asked them more general questions about their workflow to get a sense for how they kickoff a creative project. Of the 37 participants, 87% referenced creating a mood board at least once a month before they started the in-app work for a creative project.

From this research, I began to categorize their responses into three key workflow segments that we could address: Collect inspiration, Create a mood board, and Continue their creative work.


One of the biggest takeaways from my research was that this project wasn’t necessarily solving a problem for most users — creative users already had workflows that they liked for collecting, creating, and continuing their work. Rather, my goal was to introduce a solution that would improve existing workflows. In order to do this effectively, I knew I had to plug into the actions they were already taking rather than making them learn a new paradigm for collecting and using inspiration.

Based on my research and my understanding of the technology I’d be working with, the brainstorm resulted in three features of Project Ignite that correlated with the three workflow segments that I identified.


Create a repository for capturing all of the inspiration you save from anywhere on the web, be it Instagram, Pinterest, Dribbble, etc. The assets will auto-sync to the repository the minute that you save it on one of these sites and will be searchable via the metadata that is available on those sites.


Easily organize your inspiration into mood boards — unlike Pinterest boards, these mood boards will have a user-defined layout and hierarchy that can be easily adjusted on-the-fly rather than needing to be created in Photoshop.


Add additional assets to your mood board like fonts and color palettes. Easily share your mood board with stakeholders and collaborators to get feedback. Find similar assets on Adobe Stock for purchase. Finally, export your mood board in several different formats to bring your inspiration directly into your CC apps.


03. Design & Iteration

The Feedback Loop

After returning to San Francisco, the next half of my design sprint and the subsequent weeks that followed were focused on turning concepts into designs, receiving feedback, implementing them into the prototype, and getting in front of as many internal users as possible.

Both the visual and interaction design for Project Ignite changed drastically over the course of a few weeks — this is largely based on the fact that I had regular low-stakes critique sessions with other designers throughout the company. The feedback I received here was not only helpful in getting me to iterate on my designs quickly, but also helped me connect with others in the company who were also thinking about the inspiration space.

When we felt like the designs and workflows were in a testable place, we began to implement them into the pre-existing prototype that we wanted to test with users. Throughout this time, our team met weekly to check in on the status of implementation, discuss roadblocks, and plan for user interviews and usability testing.

A few iterations of Project Ignite designs:


04. User Interviews & Testing

Validation & Discovery

Over the course of two weeks, our team recruited five internal Adobe users for hour-long user interviews and usability tests of the latest Ignite prototype. The users we tested with were all involved in creative work as part of their profession at Adobe: we talked to three designers, one marketer, and one art school student (an intern).

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We had three primary objectives in talking to the users, and therefore our interviews were divided into three sections:

  • Workflow: Analyzing the user’s current inspiration curation workflow for patterns, pain points, and must-haves to ensure that we’re staying consistent with the way users actually want to work.

  • Value Prop Messaging: Understanding which aspect of Ignite’s platform (collecting inspiration, easy creation of mood boards, or integration into the CC apps) users found the most valuable.

  • Ignite Prototype Usability Test: Allowing our users to sync their actual Pinterest accounts and pins to Ignite to play around with the functionality for up to a week.

View samples of our interview test plan here:

After talking to all five users, a few resounding points surfaced to the top and left us with some action items to bring back into the final iteration of design.

As we anticipated, user’s inspiration-saving workflows were messy, as were their opinions on what their ideal workflow would be. Not one person had the exact same workflow as another, and they saved from all different kinds of sources on the web: Pinterest, Instagram, Behance, Dribbble, LinkedIn, Awwwards, Product Hunt, Youtube, and even their in-person peers.

The way they organized this inspiration was even more varied, with one user meticulously organizing each inspiration in labeled folders and another user dumping everything they found inspirational into a screenshots folder on her local machine. The other users fell somewhere in between.

There seemed to be an odd sort of rhyme and reason to the things they chose to save as inspiration: in certain cases, they specifically hunted for things that would help them complete a particular project that they were working on. In others, anything that caught their eye or looked particularly inspiring was saved away to a “junk drawer” folder — one that didn’t get referenced much after the asset was saved.

However, users think that might change their behaviors if they had a feature like the auto-sync in Ignite.

“I don’t really go back to the things that I save randomly,” said one user of her Pinterest boards and Instagram collections. “But I think if everything was all in one place and I could search it really easily, I’d be more likely to put in the effort to reference back to that stuff.”

After synthesizing the full five interviews, we had four key takeaways that helped us alter our overall product strategy:


05. Final Designs & Afterthoughts

What's Up Next?

We incorporated as much of the user feedback into our final designs and prototype as we could before it was time to pitch Project Ignite to the VP of Creative Cloud Services. The core Project Ignite team (myself, a Product Manager, and a Developer) had been working on the project for only 20% of our work time while continuing to work on our “real jobs” at the company. In order to make the project fully succeed, we needed to bump up our commitment to 100% with additional monetary funding and headcount.

Unfortunately, the project did not get funded and we have had to table our work on Project Ignite for the foreseeable future. In the end, our leadership decided that the projects that each of us were working on during on our individual teams was too valuable to allow us to devote 100% of our work time to this project (see the other project I worked on at the time, Visual Search Controls). Looking back on the course of the project, I am immensely proud of the work we were able to do in such a short amount of time and with so many restrictions; however, we definitely faced problems and challenges that I would have wanted to spend more time addressing if we continued the work:

  • It was hard to understand whether Project Ignite would be a separate product or a service that extended across all Creative Cloud surfaces. It was an issue that the core team disagreed on, and I think not having this baked into our strategy made the pitch weaker and less concrete.

  • Adobe is working on inspiration-collection initiatives (see Adobe Stock Libraries) in several different products, and all of them are currently handling the process very differently. We didn’t have enough time to truly connect the dots between all of these different teams and find out how we could use Project Ignite to unify these workflows across the Creative Cloud.

  • While we knew that we could auto-sync Pinterest pins into Ignite, we were running into roadblocks on auto-syncing from other sources of inspiration like Instagram or Dribbble. This technology uncertainty in such a key aspect of our experience most certainly hurt our changes in getting the project off of the ground.

You can view the final prototype of all the designs and workflow here, and see a sample of screens below: