The first user interface tool I used just like many other digital designers was Sketch. As a former Photoshop and Fireworks user for making products for the web, it was a big thing to have an application specifically designed for creating interfaces with features like easy assets exportation, pixel-perfect focus, cool mobile devices canvas, and much more.
However, in just a few years other similar products used for UI design have improved significantly and there are now strong competitors rapidly taking away the Sketch users. Recently, I moved all my libraries and files from Sketch to Adobe XD and I am also using Figma instead of Sketch for some other projects. I am not using Sketch anymore because the competitors definitely caught up and they now offer better easy-to-use features. Also, If I already have an Adobe CC license including Adobe XD, why should I pay extra money for another tool that doesn’t make a big difference? Let’s dive in!
A bit of context
Everything began with the release of the first iPhone back in 2007. A smart touchable all-in-one device (calls, photos, music, internet). It gave a new experience for users and it opened a new digital era for the world. From that point on, all digital products for mobile devices like apps and websites needed to have good and high quality standards of graphics and offer a seamless experience in a much smaller piece of technology than a computer. Therefore, Responsive Web Design (RWD) was born. This term was created by Ethan Marcote and it means how the web layout/grid adapts in a flexible way to any device regardless of its size/width. RWD became the new normal and then by the end of 2009 CSS3 Media Queries were out (piece of CSS code to make responsive design works) and the challenge of creating interfaces for the web and mobile applications started to grow exponentially.
There are nearly 9 million apps in total in 2020 according to Forbes, about 2 billion websites, and this number will not stop growing. What is really important today is to think about the experience of the user (UX) when interacting with any interface and having a proper process and the adequate tool to achieve this. We can definitely improve the usability on a website by considering the quality of the deliverables and meeting good standards.
What have these tools brought into the game?
- Sketch: In an early stage of the UI/UX boom it was the unique tool for designers doing interfaces. It is a native vector tool which makes things easy and focuses extremely well on the workflow for different devices. Over time though, the tool lost a bit of its simplicity and right now it’s just not that easy to get your head around it if you want to make an efficient design system without much previous knowledge. Also, the tool without any plugin installed is now behind XD and Figma in a few aspects like prototyping, assets handoff and collaborative work. It also only works on macOS.
- Figma: It’s a very intuitive tool built on the browser and runs in macOS and Windows. The collaborative features are just fantastic! It’s super easy to work with more people like copywriters or marketing teams (yes, not just designers!). But it’s not great for off-line work and it’s easy to get lost with your assets in large projects. However, big companies like Spotify work using Figma for a reason. The collaborative features for teams and great performance make it one of the best UI tools. One project in Figma I am working on at the moment.
- Adobe XD: The Adobe CC team was slow off the mark with this tool. In its early days, it was missing important features that Sketch had at that time. However, they were very receptive to user feedback on what they needed to work on. They improved fast and now the prototyping features and the assets handoff are the best in the market. The tool is not as strong as Figma or Sketch for vector editing and some simple image/layers capabilities. It also doesn’t have a multiple page feature in the same file option but they have recently released the multiple flows feature in one document.
In summary, Sketch’s collaboration features are not very good and the program relies too much on the plugins’ functionalities. If I have to pick a tool for collaborative work I would definitely go with Figma. However, for a freelance designer who is already paying for the Adobe CC like myself, It’s reasonable to go with Adobe XD.
Benefits for designers
- It’s really good for designers and the field to have competition in the UI design tools market.
- There are very often new updates and features released as programs try to offer a better product and make our work much easier.
- These new rules of the game push UI designers to be really up-to-date with the new technologies and latest features, particularly those who work closely with the production line.
The specific tool you use doesn’t really matter
- It will not improve your capabilities as a UI Designer.
- Most important is to know the basics of design, balance, typography, colour.