What can you do with Adobe Express (formerly Spark)?

spark-post-2 I don’t usually pay attention to DIY design software or apps for the amateur market. As a professional graphic designer (I have Adobe CC and am not afraid to use it), I find DIY apps limiting. Restrictive templates, limited fonts and images and the inability to customize layouts make it hard to actually create the design in my head.

That said, Adobe Express (formerly Adobe Spark) caught my attention a few weeks ago—probably because I’m the “what works to teach design” mode due to working on WSINYE 3rd edition.

Adobe Spark is a free, cloud-based suite of programs for creating social media-shareable graphics using your desktop computer or mobile device app. Visit the website and you’ll be knee-deep in marketing claims of “high-quality,” “professional” and “fast and easy.” But what can you really do with Spark?

What’s in the (virtual) box?

There are three apps in the suite: Spark Post, Spark Page and Spark Video. Let’s start with Spark Post.

Product: Spark Post

What does it do: Post allows the user to create single graphics suitable for social media. Potential uses include social media banners, web ads, invitations and any other single graphic consisting of image and words.

How it works: (Note—this sequence is how the app works on mobile devices, a.k.a. my iPad. The steps are a bit different using a desktop computer, and some additional editing options are available as well) Start with an image from one of several sources, including a search of Creative Commons images. Then choose a format from pre-sets (header or post for Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and others, original size or basic square). Next, apply a template with a pre-set layout, fonts and colors. Apply color filters and animations (again from pre-sets) and you’re done. Your work is saved on the Adobe cloud. Share by posting immediately to Facebook or Twitter, email it, create a link to share or download the file for other uses.

Strengths: It’s easy. You really can make something in minutes. The ability to access Creative Commons images is a nice touch. Anything that prevents stealing the work of others on the Internet is a good thing. And the preset sizes for common social media headers and posts are very handy.

Spark-post-1 Weaknesses: Layouts are minimally negotiable, and are non-negotiable if using the mobile app. If you can’t find a template that includes your preferred combination of colors, fonts and layouts, you’re out of luck. You can edit your text and that’s about it. If the template includes varied font sizes (see my example here), the system chooses which words to emphasize. If left up to me, I’d have chosen different words to highlight to communicate my message. Accessing the program via a desktop computer gives you a bit more control over the text boxes. You can resize, reshape and move boxes, as well as create additional boxes. You also get a bit of minimal typesetting control.

Inability to choose specific fonts and colors limits the ability to create brand-consistent graphics. While you can upload your own graphics (desktop version of the program only), if you have the capability to add your own custom colors and fonts to your images, you don’t need this app.

Verdict: This app is fine for non-professional uses. It’s easy, and a selection of limited-editability templates keeps those who lack design sense from adding more awful design to the world.

For those teaching graphic design, I struggle to think of a use for this particular app. The designs are too canned and edibility too limited to let student creativity shine. If anyone else can think of a use for this in a design classroom, please share!

If you are a designer like me, don’t throw out your Creative Suite subscription just yet. Designers need more control over visuals, this app allows little in the way of customization. Trying to create a graphic within the bounds of a client’s brand would be very difficult. Adobe Express doesn’t have enough design options for your normal design output. Not a surprise, though, given this is a product for non-designers.

If you are a non-designer, Adobe Spark is worth a look.

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