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History Lesson: Designers don’t like change

A blast from design history's past

Today’s history lesson takes its cue from the news. Most of you have probably heard about Adobe’s plans to acquire the interface design software Figma. How this will unfold and what the consequences will be—if any—are still to be determined. But it’s an excellent excuse to go back in time to 2005, when Adobe took over software application FreeHand.


Not too many of our readers will recognize the name, but back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, if you were a graphic designer - you were probably using FreeHand.

Released in 1987, it was the main vector design application on offer, gathering a crowd of avid users and enthusiastic followers. But when Adobe bought FreeHand in 2005, their own product— Adobe Illustrator—was already gaining momentum as the leading software for graphic designers. Therefore it came as no surprise that as soon as the acquisition was done - Adobe ceased development on FreeHand, which was then officially discontinued.

Little did Adobe know how this move would upset a very devoted gang of designers. In 2009 a group of passionate FreeHand users formed the Free FreeHand Organization, and attempted to talk to Adobe about the future of FreeHand. At the same time they did their best to attract media attention. Not having heard much from Adobe, in May 2011 they filed a civil antitrust complaint against Adobe Systems, claiming that Adobe monopolized the market of vector graphics editors; and that Adobe channelled customers to Illustrator while charging supracompetitive prices.


Unlike many boring lawsuits regarding copyrights and the such, the documents of the court proceedings in this case proved to be quite an enjoyable read, with quotes like: “Freehand is my medium as an artist, I will work around the restricting platforms until I retire which will be never in my lifetime”.


In May 2012 both parties entered final mediation, resulting in the dismissal of the case. Although no source code of Adobe FreeHand was released, it is known that members of the Free FreeHand Organization (over 6500 people) could request a discount for Adobe products.


Bottom line? Change can be hard to accept, but whether we like it or not - it is an inevitable part of life. Why not practice the way we respond to it, starting with the small things - such as the software we use.


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