From Acquisition to Vice President of Design: How Eric Snowden is Shaping the Future of Adobe Through Design Leadership

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From Acquisition to Vice President of Design: How Eric Snowden is Shaping the Future of Adobe Through Design Leadership

Raising your hand can be a powerful career move–just ask Adobe’s Eric Snowden. When Snowden first joined Adobe, it was as an acquisition: he was leading mobile design at the portfolio-hosting startup Behance when it was acquired by Adobe in 2012, coming aboard in a full-time role.   

Not long after, Adobe’s Creative Cloud team began expanding their mobile product efforts. Behance co-founder Scott Belsky, Snowden’s then-boss, took a leadership role in the initiative, and Snowden’s interest was piqued. 

“I remember pulling Scott aside and saying, ‘I’m in. I want to be your design partner on this,’” Snowden recalls. That conversation paid off: He was offered the role of Director of Design for Creative Cloud Mobile. Over a decade later, Snowden has risen through the ranks to become VP of Design for Adobe.

That instinct to volunteer for new opportunities has served him throughout his career and tenure at Adobe. “I raise my hand and say, ‘I'll do it’ to things before other people do. I volunteered myself as tribute over and over again, and now, I'm running the whole design team,” he says.

Leaving a legacy of design leadership

Snowden finds that the breadth of challenges and perspectives at Adobe always keep him engaged and eager to learn new things. Products are built through the collaborative efforts of teams all over the world, and every team brings a different point of view to the table.

“I think there's beauty in every team having some sense of who they are and what they stand for. Obviously, there are Adobe-level values that we rally behind, but it's not a monoculture. Each team you collaborate with might have slightly different beliefs, a slightly different take on design, a slightly different way that they're able to ship great products,” he explains.

Snowden’s approach to leading design at Adobe is focused on defining the culture and the unique qualities that become markers for the team’s impact. Under his leadership, Design’s potential impact isn’t just product-shaping, it’s industry-shaping, and he’s focused on making sure the entire Design organization is excited about the possibilities: “I look at how to change the industry from a very broad leadership level, but I also have to make sure that I’m meeting the expectations of my team. That altitude-switching keeps me interested, but is also not always easy to do,” he says. 

Capitalizing on curiosity 

Only a decade ago, there were far fewer design executives than there are today. “In a lot of ways, that means there are a lot of lonely leaders figuring out how to do this themselves,” Snowden says. “They’ve probably grown up in some of these companies, and through trial and error are trying to figure out how to be great design leaders.”

That’s why he sees the value in DXC: Its members gather and knowledge-share so they don't feel like they're on their own as they navigate their careers and industries: “Between the increased number of design executives, changes to design organizations, and the rise of generative AI (which I think we all need to understand better than we do today), I believe the role of design is going to change pretty fundamentally in the next few years, and we all need to be ready for it.” 

Snowden has seen design executives criticized for a lack of business acumen. While he doesn’t think that every design leader necessarily needs an MBA, they should be fluent enough in business to keep their seat at the table and drive real impact. 

He learned this early in his career, before joining Behance, as Atlantic Records’ VP of Product. “I really had to think about numbers and revenue and budgets in a fundamentally different way than some designers. Constant new challenges have given me a foundation for curiosity.” Snowden believes that design leaders should never lose their curiosity. But, he says, it can't just be curiosity around their craft: “It has to be about the business. It has to be about how we work together and treat each other. It has to be about customers. It has to be about new technologies.” 

The important question, he says, is how to capitalize on that curiosity in a time of rapid change. “Jumping in and riding the waves of change,” he added.

Balancing business acumen and craft

It’s not only design leaders who need business acumen, says Snowden: everybody who works in a business should understand its functions. Understanding the business doesn’t displace care for visual beauty, craft, experience, or details. Early- and mid-career designers considering leadership roles “think they have to change from being a designer into something else in order to be respected. I think that's the wrong way to look at it,” he says. “It's not changing what you care about or who you are at your core. And we should never have to apologize for caring about details or craft. But we can't have those conversations if we can't also participate in business conversations,” he says.

Part of that, which is perhaps the most important consideration for Snowden as a design leader, is building a healthy, sustainable team. He constantly tells his team that it’s his job to make sure they all have what they need to create their best work. And that starts with him ensuring that he’s hiring and retaining the best people. Everything else as a leader is secondary to that. “But again, I love the details. I love being involved in the work.”

“I don't want to be the kind of leader who doesn’t know how things work, who's doing what, or what's actually going on. I think that would be a place of scale that I wouldn't ever want to get to. So far, so good.” 

About

Eric Snowden

Eric Snowden is the VP of Design, Head of Adobe Design leading a centralized design organization of 600 employees globally that oversees Creative Cloud, Experience Cloud, and Document Cloud businesses. An award-winning design leader with a career that spans more than two decades, Eric has held leadership roles at Atlantic Records, Behance, and Warner Music Group. He has also served as an adjunct faculty member at Parsons School of Design.

Eric has been keynote speaker at myriad industry events and served as a judge for the Webby Awards. His work has been recognized by Apple and AdWeek, and he has received numerous awards for his work. Eric is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and a Founding Member of the Design Executive Council. 

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