Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium - Mac

Adobe has launched a new version of its Creative Suite software, version 4, but does the Design Premium package offer enough to the designers of this world to upgrade? We get drawing and coding to find out.

Design Premium comes with 11 applications to give you a complete concept to page to web offering. The Premium edition gives you web support over the Design Standard version, as well as providing Photoshop CS4 Extended.

In the box you get Adobe InDesign CS4, Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended, Adobe Illustrator CS4, Adobe Acrobat 9 Pro, Adobe Dreamweaver CS4, Adobe Flash CS4 Professional, Adobe Fireworks CS4, Adobe Bridge CS4, Adobe Device Central CS4, Adobe Media Player and Adobe Version Cue CS4.

Of course, as there is a great deal of overlap between the Web Premium and Design Premium packages, you’ll find that some of what you read here will be the same as the other package also reviewed, but with some differences in the details.

So what's new?

While there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of new tweaks, fixes and features, here are the ones that most caught our eye.

Across the entire platform everything has had a graphical overhaul in the interface. Like other applications announced recently by Adobe, all the applications in Creative Suite 4 have got a new look. That new look is all about simplifying workflows, so you get one window with a tab based design rather than multiple windows lurking about your desktop and everything is contained so it is easier to find.

Likewise Adobe has, in some of the packages, created multiple views or even highlights so you can see what's new via an easy drop down menu that then instantly changes the look and feel of the application (to some degree) based on what you choose.

Overall the interface is much cleaner, and although we still aren't sure about the single window interface have, found it easy to use. It's like when we moved from having tens of Firefox windows to just the one with tabs: all the applications attain their goal of making the workflow simpler.

Another feature to come to multiple applications within the suite is the Kuler colour web app, that is now available as a panel inside InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. As long as you've got internet access you can see what colours work with other colours based on data from the Kuler community. It's a really helpful little tool and no doubt will pave the way for other third party apps as web plug-ins or widgets in the future.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Extended
The crown jewels in the suite, Adobe seems to have worked hard tweaking the software in virtually every way, not only to give you new features, but also make better use of the features the software has but you weren't aware of.

Realising that large images slow the system to a halt, Photoshop now gives that job to the computer’s processor rather than the software memory, the move means things now happen a lot faster, and while your computer will still struggle if you've got loads of massive images open at the same time, it's a vast improvement on performance from before.

Other improvements, probably related to this switch of resources, are that you can preview brushes directly on the canvas with the Dodge tool allowing you to touch up the mid-tones or shadows, without blanket covering everything in a carpet bombing approach. Elsewhere adjustment levels have been made easier to use - basically opening them to the masses and likewise Curves get an easier to use interface with the ability to pinpoint areas in the image.

Then there is the Auto blend layers feature that allows you to create an image with a far greater depth of field from multiple images without having to mess around with multiple images for hours. Press the button and the software does the rest.

Overall the application is just as comprehensive as before and while there isn't that much new in terms of standout features what is there has been made easier to use.

Adobe Illustrator CS4
When it comes to drawing, it's hard to fault Illustrator and this version adds little to the mix. What it does do though is give you a new feature that we've personally wanted for some time.

Illustrator CS4 adds multiple artboards to the application that allow you to have multiple files within the same file to save you having multiple single files. It's a small addition, but one that is likely to make a big difference to your workflow.

Elsewhere there is an improved gradient tool so it's live rather than creating it blind as is in CS3 - again a lot easier and you can also now adjust opacity of the gradient, something that is a lot easier than having to mess around with layers and the such like.

Adobe InDesign CS4
Having crushed Quark with the previous version, InDesign CS4 continues to move onwards and upwards trying to make designing your magazine, newspaper, or village pamphlet as easy as possible.

The big tech added here is the ability to turn your designs interactive at the touch of a button. With a host of new options expect websites to become more magazine-y (a la Monkey from Dennis) within the next couple of months as small publishing houses realise the potential of having an interactive magazine.

As for tools that you might actually want or use, when it comes to designing something for paper, InDesign gives you real-time image feedback based on other images in the series (it tries to guess stuff for you) and error finding in the final page proof mode so you can see when copy doesn't fit before it’s too late.

Adobe Dreamweaver CS4
Moving on to the web side of things and Dreamweaver gets updates too and again, you guessed it, more improvements to the workflow.

Realising the way webmasters work you now get a related files bar that allows you to see what documents are linked to the document you are working on. Handy if you are programming in PHP with multiple include files.

Working in a similar way to the Firebug plug-in on Firefox you can now also access CSS tags and edit them on the fly in something Adobe is calling the Code Navigator. You see the changes without having to save the file. It's a nice feature but one that Firebug users will be used to. But the selling point here is that you don't have to come out of Dreamweaver to see your changes working.

Adobe has also licensed the Web Kit web engine (used in Apple's Safari) and this allows you to see the page source in "pseudo" browsers so you can see the code and how it will interact with the user all locally. You can then freeze/pause the code to change it again useful if you are trying to see what's happening in a sequence.

The main new features aren't groundbreaking, but they will make life easier, and if you're still at a stage in your programming skills that you use an editor rather than hard coding, this still remains one of the best out there.

Adobe Fireworks CS4
While there are improvements to Fireworks, it's probably the least exciting of the suite. That's not to say it’s not a good application, I personally use Fireworks for basic image management here at Pocket-lint, however having two image applications has clearly proved problematic. Rather than ditch the application, Adobe is trying hard to reposition it as a prototyping tool rather than an image tool.

Like the other applications in CS4, Fireworks gets the interface overhaul and workflows simplified. Like Photoshop there is the Kuler community tool, while you're now able to export to PDF (exciting).

Adobe Bridge CS4
While photographers have Lightroom, the rest of us have Bridge. Now back under the control of the Photoshop team, plenty of new stuff has been added.

Breadcrumbs, RAW file support, workspace switcher, tabs for quickly going to things like metadata, output, keywords, preview and essentials are all new and improved. Again none of it is groundbreaking, all of it, however, makes life easier.

Verdict

The best way to sum up the Adobe Creative Suite 4 Design Premium package is comprehensive. It will give you control of every facet of your design production from concept to print to screen.

From a CS3 to CS4 upgrade point of view, while there isn’t a massive number of new features that will set you twitching with excitement, the new interface and thousands of enhancements on the workflow front should mean this is worth getting if you are using the current versions day-in day-out.

At a briefing we had with Adobe some time ago, a spokesman for the company started talking about measuring the distance the mouse travels around the page to improve the workflow and it’s clear that has been the main objective.

If you're a light user of CS3, then the move to CS4 isn't a necessity, however it is still an improvement for the better.