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Design Tools Roundup Sep 2018

Preface: Designers are a terrible audience. We have no real loyalty to anything. A new tool comes along and we abandon our old tools in a moments notice. Right now, Sketch + Invision is pretty popular, but I think these new tools are far superior and people are already swapping them out. Let’s dive in…

Framer X (New Beta!)
A brand new entry into the design tool space entered beta yesterday. The tool has drawing and prototyping like Figma, plus some really cool new features.

The most exciting is Stacks. I think Figma will likely copy this feature. I certainly hope they do, it’s awesome. It allows you to space items like buttons, icons, table rows, etc in a detailed way and reorder them without having to refactor your design.

I think FramerX is targeted a bit towards the designer/developer. You can write real React code with super realistic capabilities. In some ways, it’s kinda complicated. In other ways, it’s uniquely powerful. Like you can code a signature box that actually works.

The competitor I think should be most worried is Axure. For advanced developer-friendly prototypes, FramerX seems like a good fit. Even though its literally only a day into its beta, it has dozens of components in a “Store”. They work pretty well. I’d say its an A+ launch so far.

On the downside, there is no multiplayer mode. You check your files in and out of a repository. I truly believe in Pair Designing, so this is one drawback for FramerX. If it had multi-player mode, I would consider switching.

Figma
This is my current and projected 2018-2019 design tool. The best benefit to me is “multi-player”. You can literally be working on the same screen at the same time with multiple designers. I’ve been working on projects with two designers on my team. The designs are much better because we increased communication bandwidth. I love seeing their mouses move across my screen.

Additionally, I think Figma has done an excellent job with components, constraints, and Team Library. We have a scalable, centrally managed design system. Figma has been getting better at a steady rate. If they introduce stacks, I would be so happy.

By the way, the comments system have been popular here. We use them on prototypes for communicating and answering questions. It’s going great. The UI is a bit limited, so some usability improvements would be appreciated.

Adobe XD September Release (Notes)
Ahh, Adobe. I feel so conflicted. On the one hand, you are Adobe. You are Photoshop and Illustrator! You are the king!  On the other hand, XD is just not very useable. You demo’d multiuser capabilities 2 years ago and haven’t made them work. You just now are getting constraints.  I appreciate the overlays function and the repeat grid function, both very innovative. But overall, it’s just always a step behind.  I don’t understand why, but development is just too slow.

Adobe is the company you hate to love (or love to hate). I wish XD was better, but it’s just not there. I feel like they are missing the boat. They should have acquired Sketch. They should have acquired Invision. They should have acquired Figma. What are they doing over there?

Invision Studio
Invision has done an excellent job pairing with Sketch to be the default design duo. Unfortunately, dominance has created complacency. They let companies like Figma get a head start. Invision Studio is a “too little, too late” product that just doesn’t have any innovative features. They are not going to displace Figma or Adobe by coming late to the game. Plus they are threatening their golden goose (Sketch).

I think Invision is strategically in a pickle. If they are not careful, they will become irrelevant.

There are some other tools starting up, but none are as far along as these four. Figma has won me over purely with multi-player. Competition is bringing out the best in them, but consolidation is bound to happen. I love all of the new innovations and am eager for the next steps.

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One Comment

  1. Steve Steve

    What makes Sketch so awesome are all of the 3rd party plugins that have been created over the years. Adobe XD will never catch up because I can’t see a world where Adobe would create some sort of open source market for XD users to create their own mods to make XD into something bespoke. I’ve read a lot of hype around Framer X, and my frontend devs are giddy at the thought of the design team “owning” interface elements (though this is another discussion entirely). I haven’t tried Figma yet, but multiplayer sounds pretty cool with the right team to utilize it. My design team right now is scattered between Pacific, Atlantic, and Portugal right now, so I’m not sure how useful it would be to us. I’ll have to check it out.

    All in all though, the bigger issue of the abundance of tools in the interface design world right now is both great and crappy. It’s great that all these players are trying to make “The One Tool to Rule Them All”, because competition creates innovation. On the other hand, managing the design tool stack within a design org is starting to become a headache. Let’s hope the magic tool comes out in the next few years.

    Will it be Framer X???

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