It’s quite a time to be a designer — we’re right on the brink of a revolution. The current state of design still revolves around print media, with everything based on pixels and fixed artboards. Now though, we are finally coming to an era of tools meant for true digital experiences.
So it’s time we digital designers finally leave print design software in the past.
There are thousands of different devices on the market — each with different screen sizes, resolutions, and even shapes. We use them each in different ways. Some are wearable, some sit on our desks, and some are held in the palm of your hand.
It’s time wehave a tool ready for them all.
So… with the print and digital design having come to an obvious disconnect, how did the tools we’re currently using evolve? What are some of the negatives and positives of what’s out there today?
Design revolution in the 80s — bringing visual design to the masses
It all started with an introduction of the Macintosh in 1984. Apple not only brought a personal computer to the masses, they brought design tools as well. MacPaint was a simple app that allowed anyone do graphic design on their personal computers, rather than the huge and expensive enterprise machines which required training, and typically some coding skills. With MacPaint, all you had to do was to open it up and start creating.
Such a visual tool was unique at that time, until just a year later Microsoft released their answer to MacPaint, simply called Paint.
Around the same time a new player also joined the game. Namely, two guys from Xerox started a little company called Adobe. Their first product was a tool called PostScript. The goal was to make printing better, faster and more accessible. It performed the task so well, that Steve Jobs wanted to buy the whole company — yet he was refused.
A few years later, Adobe had created two new tools that would change the design world forever. The first was Illustrator, a vector-based app that introduced a Pen tool that let users draw any shape they wanted. It was truly remarkable at the time. Adobe’s next app became so popular we now use it as a verb – Photoshop, which let anyone manipulate existing images.
Of course, all these apps were created with a print design in mind. There wasn’t really a way to share designs online at the time, let alone websites and apps, so they were focused on making it easier to print on paper and other physical objects.
Digital era — how design tools and workflows continued to change
In today’s world, digital design has evolved far beyond what these early innovators had ever imagined their print design tools would handle.
It all changed with the growth of the Web in the 90s, and it continued with successive major changes to the web through the 2000’s (think responsiveness, components, interactions, etc.). The introduction of smartphones and social media in the last decade then took a changing digital landscape, and kicked it into overdrive. By now, this digital content was worlds away from the print design concepts of its past.
Along with these changes, print design tools which had been originally released in the 80s and 90s, and the ecosystems built around them, tried their best to adapt to an entirely new set of needs.
Most did this by adding new piecemeal digital design features on top of old print design features, which led to some pretty messy and much harder to learn tools. Of course, that was always only a partial solution, so we designers were still often forced to work directly in code for that which print design software couldn’t handle.
Instead of being an awesome way to release someone’s ideas, like they had been in print’s past, these apps — their hacks to try and look like digital design software — became obstacles to digital designers.
So moving the clock forward, these apps’ over-complication then lead to the rise of alternative apps focused on being good in specific niches. Slimmed down app versions of print design software, or niche apps build on top of print design imports to solve new problems posed by digital design.
Need to design screens for your app? Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD, and InVision Studio have slimmed-out the unnecessary complicated bits from print design software. Prototyping? GrabPrinciple, or Flinto, or Framer if you’re comfortable in code. Collaboration and handoffs? Try InVision, Zeplin, Abstract, or a host of others. They’ll plug in and sit on top of your print design software just fine.
This list goes on depending on your workflow, where you work, and who you work with. But these niche tools sitting on top of print design software, and their workflows, of course generated a lot of new problems while still leaving many of digital design’s most important problems still unsolved.
So many of us had to turn to code, and wear both hats as we design. Print design software on the one hand, and translating this into real digital design directly in code on the other.
Code works, but it’s incredibly cumbersome and time consuming to build digital design directly in code. It stifles the Creative Process. And besides, the argument that we have to work in code just really doesn’t make sense. The real answer in digital design,is not code but intuitive and accessible visual tools, like it is and always has been in every Creative Software category.
Future of design tools — where are we headed?
So if everything’s so broken, what’s out there that could possibly change it? Where do we need to go?
Some believe that the answer is to put the features of all existing design apps (those built on top of print software), into just one products. In recent updates, numerous editors have added the Cloud and Prototyping features of their niche competitors.
Don’t get me wrong — these apps are a big step forward from what we used just a few years ago, but I believe we really should do something to ditch the ideas that were born more than 30 years ago. It’s time to leave all of this behind and build something that’s truly meant for the needs of digital design, leaving print design software from the 80’s in the past. No more fixed artboards or layouts, no more stateless elements, no more struggling with responsiveness or components systems that actually scale – we need a tool for creating responsive and adaptive designs.
In the last 30 years, the design tools have gone through quite a change, but not as much as they should have. Last decade should have been all about designing real digital interfaces with responsiveness, interactions, and all. Instead, we’ve been given nothing but hack upon hack layered on top of our parents’ print design software.
It’s well-past time for change. There’s no more time for waiting, let’s start working with tools for the digital design generation.
The good news is that it’s almost here.