Adobe didn’t invent the internet. But they did invent the PDF in the early ‘90s, though — a new file format that made file-sharing much easier, especially between Windows and Macs.
The idea for the PDF didn't take at first. In the era of dial-up internet, it took ages to download PDFs, and only Adobe Reader, a paid-for product, could read them.
Today, though, the internet would be unrecognizable without PDFs and Adobe’s many other digital communication and design tools. (So would our language — Photoshop, Adobe’s image editor, has even changed the meaning of “shop” in the dictionary!) In a way, Adobe did invent the internet. The company at least helped create the digital sphere as we know it.
That word, “create,” is an essential part of Adobe’s mission. Their vast ecosystem of products, which includes VR apps and animation tools, help users create in the digital sphere. Meanwhile, Adobe’s offices were designed to spark employee creativity.
But what does that mean, exactly? We toured Adobe’s San Francisco office to find out.
Adobe has two buildings, with about a half a million square feet combined, in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood. Employees like that it’s a little hipper and less congested than the downtown area, Adobe’s director of workplace experience, Eric Kline, told Built In.
The office actually spans two buildings, situated a quick walk apart. One, the Baker & Hamilton Building, was one of the few edifices that survived the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. It’s been Adobe’s San Francisco home base for more than a decade. The other building, Hooper, is a more sprawling, modern edifice that Adobe opened just a year ago.
Both are conveniently close to the San Francisco Caltrain station, and Adobe covers employee Caltrain fares. This not only makes commuting a breeze; it also means Adobe employees can easily jet off to the company’s headquarters in San Jose, located near Caltrain’s Diridon stop. The trip only takes about an hour each way by bullet train.
Adobe has a team of just over 2,000 employees in San Francisco, including a large team focused on Creative Cloud — a cluster of tools that includes Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. Overall, “it has a very headquarters-like profile,” Kline said. That means employees hail from many departments, including engineering, marketing, sales, talent and more.
Creativity isn’t a buzzword at Adobe — it’s a science. The company drew on research-based concepts like “cognitive load” and “casual collisions,” as well as color theory and the findings of a literal staff ethnographer, to design a space that fostered fresh ideas.
Specifically, Kline said Adobe wanted a workplace that minimized cognitive load— or as many of us call it, stress and distraction.
“We all have so much input from our phones and our work and everything else,” he explained.
Color theory suggests that certain hues — like the bright yellow and red of roadside warning signs — produce higher cognitive loads than others. Hence the office’s plentiful blues and greens.
“It’s all about shades, too,” Kline noted. “It’s never as simple as just one color.”
It’s never as simple as just one workspace design, either. There are eight distinct creative types, according to a delightful Adobe quiz, and Adobe employees are all over the map in terms of their strengths and ideal working environments. To suit the diversity of talent, Adobe has a diverse ecosystem of workspaces.
Some people prefer to enter deep focus in darkened spaces, so the office has plenty of those. However, it also has cafe-style spaces for people who prefer “buzz and collaboration,” Kline said.
Some people like to work on an outdoor patio with self-heating chairs — so Adobe has that, too.
The varied spaces connect via open, unstructured areas, designed to foster “casual collisions,” or spontaneous interactions between people in different roles and departments. Research has shown that these types of interactions lead to more innovation and happier employees.
There are plenty of other reasons for Adobe employees to be happy, too. Highlights of Adobe’s eclectic San Francisco workspace include:
The massive gym …
Adobe has stocked its roughly 8,000-square-foot gym with the latest workout equipment, including Peloton stationary bikes, weightlifting machines and a group workout studio where some Adobe teams do CrossFit-style workouts together to bond.
“They love it,” Kline said. “People really like emotional support.”
The gym also hosts futuristic pneumatic sleeves for post-workout cool downs. For those unfamiliar — you zip your entire body into them, like a sleeping bag, and then the walls inflate, ensconcing you in a kind of robo-hug. The technical term for this is compression therapy, and it boosts blood flow, which at least theoretically reduces muscles’ recovery time after an intense workout.
… and the autonomy to use it.
It wouldn’t be awkward to run into your boss in the gym during the workday, Kline reported.
“Our culture’s pretty unique in that we trust people to be able to do their job,” he said. “That’s why they’re here. We hire the best people.”
Exercising, in particular, isn’t seen as slacking at Adobe. Research suggests that regular physical activity boosts mental cognition — conclusively enough that the Harvard Business Review has recommended thinking of working out not as part of your personal life, but part of your job.
“You get better performance out of people who are fit,” Kline noted.
Adobe invests in employee’s mental health, too, with a wellness suite attached to the gym. Here, employees can get subsidized massages, take yoga classes or — most futuristically — kick back in the somadome.
This meditation pod encloses you, clamshell-style, so that only your feet stick out. On a tablet inside, you can select the mood you want to cultivate in the pod, which could be anywhere from calm to energetic. The interior then glows in a color that evokes that mood — color theory again! — while users listen to guided meditations or atmospheric music on noise-canceling headphones.
“The track sounded like a mixture between undulating and pulsing sound-waves, rushing water, and birds chirping,” one somadome reviewer reported. “You wouldn't think that's relaxing, but it blocks out all thoughts.”
The cafeterias serving fiddlehead ferns
Adobe has two major, gourmet cafeterias, one in the Baker & Hamilton building and the other in Hooper. Led by an executive chef who once ran Google’s cafeteria, both serve gourmet meals: think Indian street food, fresh pasta and a 40-item salad bar stocked with fiddlehead ferns and sunchokes. Every dish emphasizes fresh, seasonal and locally-grown ingredients.
Adobe subsidizes the meals, too, so that a typical lunch works out to about seven dollars. It’s a good deal — nearby restaurants charge about twice that for a lunch. Plus: “I would say that Adobe’s food is better,” Kline said.
The rooftop farm
Some of the cafeteria’s ingredients come straight from Hooper’s rooftop. It’s a thriving rooftop garden-slash-farm, verdant with various plants: strawberry, tarragon and more.
“It’s a bit of an oasis,” said Kline.
Adobe’s chefs direct what’s getting planted here and when, keeping upcoming menu items (and weather) in mind.
Beyond the planters whirs a sprawl of solar panels, whose power goes back into the city’s grid, reducing Adobe’s carbon footprint. In total, the panels produce more than half a million kilowatt-hours of energy annually — enough to power 49 single-family homes for a year.
Further confirmation Adobe cares about its carbon footprint: The distance between the company’s two San Francisco offices is so walkable, there’s no need for shuttles between the two. You can even see the Baker & Hamilton building’s distinctive sign from Hooper’s rooftop.