Too much tuna: The current state of design tools

Last week I gave a short talk at Design Club about what my team is currently doing with pattern libraries in Sketch.

It was great to hear that people had lots of questions. Its obvious that were all thinking about patterns, and particularly how Sketch symbols have enabled a new workflow.

Later, we moved on to a workshop session where we mapped out our design process and made a (long) list of all the tools we were currently using day-to-day.

Listing the tuna, members of the Design Club taking part in the workshop
Listing the tuna, members of the Design Club taking part in the workshop

What was clear is that there are a lot of design tools out there. Sketch is ubiquitous, having quickly proved its value against creaky Adobe tools. However, there’s a whole ecosystem of other tools that are designed to fill gaps in the designers workflow.

Having both a design and front-end development background I feel like I’ve seen this all before. There have been several “revolutions” in web — CSS, Responsiveness, HTMLinJS, etc — that all gave rise to any number of tools that promised “more time doing what you love.”

Some of these tools were flash in the pan: When they didn’t find traction amongst enough developers, they died. However, they each added their voices to the shared knowledge amongst developers on how to develop for the web.

As it is now with design tools. Sure, some of them don’t really know what they’re trying to be, but can we blame them? We don’t know what we need right now. Ultimately what matters is the thinking behind patterns not how we build them.

Ultimately, if you’re designing sites for the web or apps for devices, then eventually someone with a bit of coding nounce has to translate your designs into the real deal. Regardless of whether the ultimate destination of your design is HTML, Swift or whatever, I’d argue that designing with patterns in mind — no matter of the size of project — helps you think more like a developer. You’ll have better conversations with your developer friends and this will lead to a better experience for your users.

Patterns is a way of thinking about design, rather than a set of tools. You could just as easily apply this thinking to MS Paint. But what the tools give us is a way to explore, as a community, what works best.

I personally welcome the slew of tools even if they are pretty immature right now. There’s a really smart community of designers out there that’ll direct tool makers leading us all to a brighter future. Huzzah!