I recently hosted a dribbble meetup at the e3creative head offices in Manchester, and throughout the discussion there were numerous opinions and debates over what the best software was.
We all as digital designers started off in Adobe Photoshop and learned our trade using (what was) ground-breaking technology back in the day, but over time the software has become bulky, dated, and problematic – that’s simply because it was originally only designed for just photo editing, not pushed to the extent in which websites and mobile apps can now be designed within it. Over time Adobe have just added more and more features to keep up with technology and the industry, but unfortunately not well enough. More and more users in the industry are moving away from Photoshop by the day, but where do they go? What software is best suited for a digital designer?
Adobe recently launched a new piece of software, Adobe XD (beta) that we trialed as a strong design team of 7 for 6 months at e3creative. This software is designed and built for digital design. Stripping back all of the unnecessary features, and focusing on what’s important for digital design, which is essentially vector format shapes/graphics, typography and layout. We as a design team love it — a massive upgrade from Photoshop and a move we should have made a long time ago. Adobe are slowly adding new features to this software monthly, which is great because there’s some fantastic little features in there such as repeating a layout grid, the ability to simply drag an image from Finder straight into a shape in Adobe XD to create a mask…etc all great things that improve work efficiency and remove the repetitive design processes that we had previously in Photoshop.
However, that being said, despite Adobe XD now being handed out for FREE it’s still quite far behind software such as Sketch and Figma. For example, this months ‘update’ for Adobe XD was the ability to use ‘dashed lines’, which any designer would know that you’ve always been able to do from the get-go in Sketch, Figma and Photoshop. It just doesn’t excite me as a designer and make me think that this is ground-breaking software that will eventually take over all competitor software and be the ruler of digital design.
Despite being reluctant to move away from Adobe after being integrated within the Adobe Creative Cloud package for so long, we finally took the leap to Sketch as a trial version, and within the first day we were blown away.
The layout for Sketch doesn’t differ too much from Adobe XD, so learning this software was pretty easy and not as time consuming as expected, despite the main tools being across the top or hidden within the top status bar (on Mac) everything else is very familiar. The right column where you adjust elements, shapes, features, dimensions, rotations, colours…etc is responsive to the layer you select and tailors the content to the element you’re editing on your artboard. Overall the basics to Sketch are exactly what you need as a digital designer, the no-bullsh*t core functionality to create great digital designs. Sketch also has hundreds of free plugins for designers to make work more efficient and less repetitive. Plugins like ‘Craft by Invision’ where you simply click a button to upload your artwork to InVision instead of having to export JPGs of the artboards and upload individually, a plugin called ‘content-generator’ so you can quickly apply dates, names, profile photos and more to your artwork, reducing the time massively for a designer to populate all of this content manually. It’s the little things like these that make design fun again and less repetitive.
Alongside Sketch is a fantastic piece of software that we’ve heard of before but never really looked into it’s capabilities, it was brought up in the dribbble meetup. ‘Zeplin’ avoids the hassle of having to send through raw design files to developers, and helps avoid time consuming tasks that we used to have in Photoshop where we would have to crop our assets for developers and they would have to measure things themselves. Now, a designer simply drags their Sketch file onto Zeplin, and can generate a link for developers so that they can access all designs, assets, measurements, and even export CSS and HTML code, right from Zeplin’s interface. Not only does this make us more efficient and is less time consuming, but it also raises our standards as an integrated team to ensure that front-end development build quality is just as good as the design.