DOUGLAS OLSON interview
General Manager at Microsoft
Ric Welcome Douglas to Wacom’s The Art of Making Marks. Please tell us a little of your previous life at Adobe Systems before joining Microsoft.
Doug Well I’ll tell you about my time there and just so you know was involved in the first support of Wacom technology at Adobe, primarily the pressure sensitive tablets. Those things happened in my teams. I ran the Illustrator team and the Photoshop team from 9 to… well actually I was at Adobe from that point, also incorporating that into ImageStyle and ImageReady through 98. So those were my times and most of the beginnings of those products. I’ll say, there were really serious sales ramps happened during that time. So that was me.
Now of course the funky thing here is I’m a Microsoft guy now and we’re still in love with all the other products and all that but I don’t know if you want to talk to me about anything to do with Expression because I don’t know if there’s a whole lot to say right now.
Ric I covered most of that with Leon. I am really interested to find out from you about what is going on in Microsoft with Tablet PC technology, Multi-touch and Surface technology. Things like that are really quite exciting. I think Wacom probably plays a good partner role there for the future so if there’s anything in that area that you’d like to comment on from your inside knowledge and experience that would be great.
Doug Yes those are two good points. Those teams are connected to some degree, in the group that I’m working with and the Surface product line for a couple of reasons. One, our product Blend, which I don’t know if you know much about but you can compare it to any of a number of interactive authoring environments. It happens to compare closest to the Flash authoring tool. I think it’s now called Flash Professional. Surface actually uses WPF, it’s basically our client technology, for doing rich user interfaces. And Expression Blend uses this, or should I say creates many of the applications that are being put onto Surface. So Surface is inherent WPF driven device. WPF used to be code named ‘Avalon’ and you may or may not have ever heard of that before…
Ric Yes I have.
Doug Good. So basically you have a general idea of what I’m talking about, which is good. So yes that’s somewhat interesting. The other thing that’s interesting is that both the Surface group and my group in general, the Expression studio team are working with some top designers in creating basically new innovative user experiences that haven’t been seen before. Both teams are working hard along with a guy name Bill Buxton, you may or may not have heard of that guy. He’s really the father of multi touch surface technology. He’s been at Xerox PARC, he’s spent a bunch of time at Alias Wavefront, he just wrote a book called Sketching User Experiences that published under Morgan Kaufmann publishers, it’s subtitled ‘Getting the Design Right and the Right Design’. He’s an amazing guy, he’s been around forever! He happens to work today as a personal researcher at Microsoft but he’s a Canadian and he’s on the faculty of a bunch of different universities and things. He’s been working with us as well with the Surface team incorporating some of his ideas as well as just a champion of great design. I’m pretty new to Microsoft, having come from the world of… I was a founder of AuthorWare, one of the two companies that merged together to become Macromedia. I’ve been doing this stuff for a long, long time, way back when in 1982.
Ric AuthorWare was a product I used so many years ago. My background is in digital media production and design from the early, early days of interactive media just to let you know..
Doug Yeah exactly from the early days. So I was one of the primary contributors to that product and also to the merger.
Ric It was a great product used a lot for educational CD authoring.
Doug Yes well actually and more so than education, the corporate training plays. I have mixed feelings about that though being a major contributor to the product it definitely taught me some lessons about how important it is for the run-time to perform well. It helped me learn quite a bit about the true nature of user experience, meaning no matter how good you make it for the users of your product, it’s actually the end user that really counts. The things that you create from the authoring tool have to perform or it doesn’t matter how nice you’ve made it for the users of your product. It’s taught me a lot about why things like Flash are just intrinsically better even if it’s somewhat harder to get your arms around.
Ric Well now you’ve painted a little bit of a picture about yourself I’m actually intrigued now to find somebody like you working at Microsoft. Were you there during the Macromedia the Adobe merger.
Doug I actually left Adobe in late December 98 to run a new start up which a year later was acquired by Macromedia again. I was on the other side of Adobe in Macromedia and I stayed at Macromedia until, again, just before the merger with Adobe so it’s a crazy world.
Ric I would have a lot more questions for you if I had had a glimpse on the inside of Microsoft to see what you guys are up to so I’ll keep this interview fairly focused around our tablets. Of course this is still user experience but more from a hardware device point of view.
Doug Oh I totally understand believe me. Not being an artist per say, although I care a lot about aesthetics, obviously my interest in user experiences is a testimony to that but I’m not an artist myself. I have a couple of Wacom devices actually that I use from time to time however it’s not my primary input surface. But you know, I care about these things and I care about it for a lot of reasons. One reason of course is that ultimately our users care about those things. And the reason that Leon can’t say a whole heck of a lot about the future of design is the same reason that I can’t say a whole heck of a lot. Let me take a quick step back.
You might wonder why I’m here at Microsoft. I’m here at Microsoft because I believe two things. I think that for much of Microsoft’s history they’ve kind of grow up from the inside to do just about anything in this world and yet here they were thinking about how do they break into the market for creative professionals. Microsoft didn’t have a great name in products for creative professionals and I was actually impressed by their interest and conviction that they needed to have leadership that really understood this market space if they were to be successful in creating a whole suite of design focused products. So I was brought in from the outside, not quite two years ago, to basically build the Expression Studio team and now is almost completely staffed with former Adobe, Macromedia, Softimage and Pinnacle folks. So we have very deep domain knowledge now.
Of course the other reason I’m at Microsoft is that in as much as I loved my time at Adobe I hate to see just Adobe to be the ‘only game in town.’ There’s only one company in my mind that has a chance at competing with Adobe. Not in wiping them out in the classic Microsoft style of stomping which just shouldn’t happen. Frankly competition in this space is important and right now with Adobe being the only player in the space in kind of sustained engineering mode, no longer even pushing the products from an engineering an innovation stand point. I’m actually very intrigued about the future of a product that would incorporate, and I don’t want to say too much here, but just to say we are working hard working on a new graphics product, and I’ll just leave it at that for now. We believe it’s going to be quite innovative and new for this space. It will of course incorporate fundamentally the whole Wacom API for both pressure sensitive pen and inking, so it’s a super important thing.
Ric So that’s a ‘watch this space’ and hopefully a reality by the time of this book’s publication.
Doug Most definitely ‘watch this space’. And for a lot of reasons. I don’t want to say too much about it because obviously it’s all about how we’re going to innovate in this space and really have a product that is fully competitive with Photoshop and Illustrator.
Ric Are you aware that Wacom has been developing multi-touch and point devices for some time now?
Doug Oh yeah, smart stuff!
Ric So where I see, obviously any traction in this area for innovation is going to be through strong partnerships with innovative developers. It’s all very well to have these capabilities but unless they actually do something meaningful for the user, it’s really not much point at all.
Doug I would very much enjoy being the Expression team touch point for Wacom and I would also encourage you to connect with my good friend Bill Buxton.
Ric Yes I hope to do my PhD on ‘Expressive Digital Interactions’ with Wacom and Bill certainly sounds like someone I should get to know. Thanks Doug your interview has been most enlightening and we will be very interested to see what comes next in the Expression line.