I think you shed light on an interesting dilemma for designers because it certainly is difficult to keep up with the innovation. But I am not finding the connection between that and your ultimate suggestion that the best result is a consolidation in tools. Upstarts keep dominant players innovative.

Partly the reason there are so many tools is that there are many ways of doing things. We are talking about tools after all, not jams and ice cream flavors. A woodworker doesn’t crave fewer tools, but instead masters the tools specific to the job at hand. A chef has dozens of utensils they must master — a dozen types of knives alone. Instead of consolidation, I think it’s interesting to see how the tools differentiate themselves.

A perfect example of how consolidation can go wrong is what just occurred in the mid-aughts with Adobe and Macromedia — it’s partly why we’re here today. When they bought Macromedia, innovation was stunted and the design field suffered. They imparted their own goals onto the Macromedia products which effectively killed Fireworks and led to poor management of Flash and Dreamweaver. I hope we don’t see that again and these different products instead carve their niches out and stay focused on what they do best rather than try to become swiss-army knives.

That said, I agree completely that it’s hard to keep up as a designer. But that responsibility falls on the designer, not the market. If we argue for consolidation we are effectively arguing for ceasing innovation in the design space. I think another way to look at this problem is to simply hope that tools play nicely with each other and maintain some shared interaction models where appropriate. That way the overhead in trying new tools is minimal. The products that aren’t great will fade over time, some will be acquired. But overall, a constant influx of newbies is good for the design community.

By day, executive designer at Innovatemap where I help tech companies design marketable products. By night, co-founder of UX Power Tools.

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