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Adobe: The growing issue with “Free” trials UX

STORY Duration: 5 min

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I recently watched this video about AI, which showed a photo of a guy and his dog at his cottage... But—

—the cottage doesn't exist...

...the original photo was much smaller...

...and he doesn't even own a dog.

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Turns out this was all done using Photoshop's new generative AI...


I haven't used Adobe for a while, but their AI feature looks fantastic...

...Let's give it a shot!{click}

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{  }


Plus, this upsell is confusing.

Starting with...



The middle plan has less cloud storage and 'generative credits', so it's cheaper... But—


—how am I supposed to know how much I need?


And on top of this... the "best" bundle is the most expensive one?

Cognitive Load

The total amount of effort that is required to complete (and understand) a task. The less, the better.

Here, instead of easing your way into their ecosystem, they slap you with a complicated upsell pricing page that takes time to process at such an early stage. 1

1Cognitive Load, Growth.Design 

Also, why Lightroom?

Do I need it for generative AI?


Rough transition!

Big upsell screen right from the start...


 And how is Photoshop+Lightroom cheaper than just Photoshop?


...Where's the promise of the great generative AI features shown on the home page?

Scanning screen...

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I've almost lost all my excitement already...


What if... Instead of upselling me RIGHT AWAY, they gave me a taste of their new AI feature

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—like this!


POW, look at that!

Now I'm just super excited to jump into the real thing.


Just think of an exotic animal... Let's say—


—a tiny elephant!

And just let the AI do its magic... {click}

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...Let's choose the cheapest plan! {click}

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Hmm... Pick a susbscription?

Didn't I just pick one?


I guess I have more options... What's the difference??


Hmm... Monthly vs. Yearly? Ok, but—


—they're both the same price (no annual discount) and— 


—they're both annual contracts!?

£9.98 x 12mo = £119.76


 So the ONLY difference is in the cancellation fee?!...

"Some fees" vs. "No refund"

Pricing Complexity

Complex pricing plans that create the illusion of choice while hiding the real financial implications should be considered unethical. Especially if their canceling process is strenuous.1

Many people fall into the "monthly but annual payments" trap, and it doesn't serve anyone2: Confusing offer → frustrated clients → extra support needed → bad business reputation.

1Adobe: The Psychology of User Offboarding, Growth.Design (2023)
2Saas free trial benchmarks, Lincoln Murphy
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All I want is to try it out... {click}

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More upselling?!


And how is offering Acrobat Pro "curated just for me" ??! 

Step 1 of 3??

Fabricated personalization

While curating an offer helps signal the effort and care a company is willing to provide, fake personalization can have the opposite effect.

Rather than making people feel excited to explore new options, unrelated deals run the risk of leaving people feeling exploited.1

1Fake Personalisation, Clear Sales Message 

What about all the steps I just did?!


"No thanks"... {click}

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Almost there... {click}

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Hmm... They're asking for my credit card... So I should probably try to understand this cancellation fee...


...Let's see what the fine print says... {click}

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{ ... }


Ouch... So if I cancel late, it'll cost me half a year's subscription!!

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To recap...

To get this "free trial," you need to:

1. 🤡 Go through distracting upsells
2. 🔍 Decode hidden cancellation fees
3. 🔏 Sign an annual contract
4. 💳 Give your credit card info


The "Free" Trial Paradox

More and more products are trying to get you to commit long-term and share sensitive information1 before you even glimpse at their product.

It's "free," but... They can target, upsell, and charge you without friction (and often without reminders)—transferring the load and responsibility of canceling to the customers.

So, people (~25-40%)2 cancel their trial on day one to avoid this trap. 

1Cancelling SaaS Subscriptions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Quolum (2021)
2How to improve free trial experience, LogRocket

Technically, it's a "free" trial, but—

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Imagine, instead, if they let you use the product first before everything...


...That's exactly what the company Rows (spreadsheet app) is doing—dropping people into a new file. And it—


increased their sign-up conversion rate by 72%!

Value First business Impact

Since turning their product into a homepage1, Rows conversion rate to sign-up rose 72%2 and the activation rate of people who converted from a "sandbox account" is 30% higher than those who signed up via other channels.

1Your guide to PLG benchmarks, Growth Unhinged
2Building a Loginless Experience for 1B people, Rows

Adobe’s fame lets them pull this off, but—


—if a small startup did this…

Would you really crawl through those steps?

Psych Level

Customer Journey

Here's a quick summary...

Trial Score

Before you go...



I was excited to try out the new Generative AI on Photoshop when...


...I was hit by a wall of confusing upsells…


Instead, they could simply let you try a fun AI demo...


After pushing through, I realized I’d have to commit to an annual contract, and—


—got hit with another upselling wall… Even less relevant this time…


To finally realize cancellation fees are extremely severe!!

Free Trial Cheat Sheet

Get this free bonus that contains:

  • Free Trial Cheat Sheet: 5 tips to craft free trials people love
  • Exclusive redesign: to increase people's psych-level before the trial
  • Summary: 4 psychological and ethical principles covered in this case study

Get the bonus cheat sheet

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