As I enjoy the 2022 Adobe MAX Conference, it strikes me how much it’s changed over the years. Here’s a brief history of what it has been, and what it has become, since it was first called “Adobe MAX,” with some highlights of the more remarkable MAX moments.

Macromedia MAX

Of course, it wasn’t always “Adobe MAX.” Macromedia started having “MAX” conferences in 2003, to bring together creatives and developers using their products. Yes, developers, as the Flash technology of the time was fast becoming ubiquitous in web browsers, and thus required developers to fully leverage its capabilities. There were three Macromedia MAX conferences (2003, 2004, 2005), and all three included designers and developers, with equal attention or perhaps leaning towards the development side of Macromedia technology.

The first Adobe MAX conference, 2006

Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2006, and with the acquisition assumed responsibility for the MAX conference, which took place In Las Vegas in 2006. It was an impressive conference, as it featured the combined technologies of both companies, which had very recently been staunch competitors with heavily overlapping offerings. Most products from both companies had a presence, and individual product teams were successful in conveying the momentum of their specific project.

Yet it was confusing, as nobody could predict how the acquisition would go. GoLive could present their roadmap, and Dreamweaver could present theirs, but there was no messaging about how Adobe would assimilate the two highly similar products. This was unavoidable, as the acquisition/merger was so brand new.

The Developer-centric years, 2007 to 2010

In 2007, Flash was one of the hottest Adobe technologies, used by designers and developers alike, while Flex, a toolset for building “Rich Internet Applications” was a developer-centric (developer-only?) technology that was perhaps even hotter. David Blatner has reflected that some MAX attendees at this time were wondering “what are all these creative types doing here?” But creatives always had a strong presence. Flash just seemed to be taking over the world at that time, so developers were giving creatives a run for their money. Adobe emphasized the “designer/developer workflow” and in fact Flex technology advanced such collaboration by innovating methodologies such as “Spark components” that later found their way into HTML5.

One magical event at the 2009 conference was an early reveal of the movie Avatar; MAX attendees were treated to previews of this not-yet-released movie, with behind-the-scenes explanation of both the creative and technical dimensions of production. The MAX conference had moved from city to city, previously, but this sort of Hollywood connection proved Los Angeles to be a very natural location for MAX conferences, as movie production is a logical showcase for Adobe technologies.

The death of Flash, 2011 and following

While Flash and Flex have their place in web history, neither technology was to survive. As Steve Jobs adamantly refused to allow Flash on his devices, penning “Thoughts on Flash” in 2010, Flash quickly declined in usage, and as it did, Adobe focused less on developers and more on designers. It has not changed since. After the death of Flash, MAX has certainly been designer-centric. The developers who attend MAX these days are those who extend Adobe design tools, such as plug-in developers and scripters of Adobe products. Certainly designers still collaborate with developers, but the MAX conference is squarely on the design side; MAX is no longer a place where “the very latest web frameworks” are discussed intensely. Adobe did not move into the HTML5 world with developer-centric tools, but instead supported the designer side of designer-developer collaboration.

The 2011 MAX conference opened with a violinist and live music behind a “designer-developer” dance. This form of collaboration didn’t go away, but Adobe’s offerings are decidedly on the design side since the death of Flash.

Amazing giveaways: 2014 and 2015

Microsoft’s newly-hired CEO Satya Nadella spoke at MAX 2014, and a stunned audience was informed that every MAX attendee was to receive a brand new Surface Pro 3, which was worth more than what they had paid to attend. This sort of giveaway was almost unheard of at MAX conferences, or any sort of conference for that matter. Yet Adobe continued in this vein; in 2015 attendees were given a Fuji DSLR camera.

MAX attendance shot up in 2016, and it is likely that many attendees expected some sort of amazing gift. But they were to be disappointed, as in that year Adobe went back to more typical giveaways, offering up… a hoodie. Back to reality.

Incredible Sneak Peaks

Many attendees’ favorite part of MAX, and certainly my favorite, are the “Sneak Peaks” in which Adobe reveals their skunkworks projects, showing off their technical prowess with innovations which may or may not see the light of day in products, but consistently demonstrate the Adobe commitment to innovation. Here are some of the sneak peaks that MAX legend Chris Converse cited as his favorites:

2016: Loop Welder
2017: Project Lincoln
2018: Fontphoria

What will 2022 bring?

Sadly, COVID-19 forced Adobe to turn MAX into a virtual conference in 2020, and while it regains an in-person dimension, the 2022 conference is hybrid: Adobe has throttled the physical attendees to 7,000 this year, with an expected 250,000 online attendees. Adobe MAX 2022 is happening right on the heels of the $20 billion FIGMA acquisition, so it’s a bit like 2006 when nobody knew what would happen with Macromedia, and nor did Adobe, yet. These things work themselves out over months or years.

I have learned to simply wait for the MAX announcements and enjoy the stunning technology that is consistently revealed in these conferences, along with the chance to see old friends and meet others with a passion for creative technology. Looking forward to the next few days. If you are among the lucky 7,000 attending in person, come see us at booth 510.

Thanks to Chris Converse and David Blatner for sharing some of their favorite MAX experiences over the years.

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