Most web designers and developers can agree that Adobe Creative Cloud (primarily Illustrator and PhotoShop) has long been the Swiss army knife of the digital design toolbox. It does nearly everything, and does most of these things well. But for UI designers, in particular, larger platforms can sometimes be a “Jack of all trades, master of some,” giving them access to plenty of functionality, but with a cumbersome number of extras that can keep workflows from being streamlined.
Enter Sketch, a totally focused, niche design program intended just for UI/UX design. Whereas PhotoShop was created long before UI/UX design, and specifically for bitmap editing, Sketch is a newer platform designed to meet the needs of UI designers (and mobile designers) and their workflows.
What is Sketch?
Sketch is a professional digital UI/UX design platform for Mac users. If you’re a graphic designer working exclusively on a Mac, Sketch from Bohemian Coding, is a UI-focused program that’s excellent for creating mobile, web, and graphic design prototypes quickly. For UI designers, the tool is very focused on what they do, and on helping them do those things well. It cuts the clutter—and adds a few features that just make life easier for UI designers. There are a few things to consider, however, in a PhotoShop-heavy world where collaboration the sharing of files and assets can make it tricky to move away from a .psd-only way of working.
It carries its own unique strengths with those of PhotoShop, Illustrator, and InDesign. It’s been compared to Adobe’s now abandoned Fireworks for being lightweight and UI-focused. It’s affordable, user-friendly, and more closely links the processes of web design and web development.
Sketch is Mac-Exclusive
This is an important point to make upfront. While PhotoShop can be used for either Mac or Windows, Sketch is limited to Mac users. If you don’t have a Mac, you won’t be able to use it, but this exclusivity is also something to keep in mind when it comes to collaboration. For those dedicated Mac users, however, Sketch’s native Mac interface is something to love right off the bat.
It’s niche, and that gives it focus.
Sketch is completely focused on web and UI/UX. Whereas Photoshop and Illustrator are for all design needs, Sketch is purely for creating UIs. (To properly compare the two, it’d be more helpful to look at Illustrator, or PhotoShop’s UI/UX tools, alongside Sketch’s whole repertoire—it’s a more fair comparison.)
Sketch creates a more direct link between the web design phase and the web development phase, by design. By keeping its eye on the ball—that these designs will eventually need to be coded into a functional front-end—it designs more in line with front-end frameworks.
Lots of features, plugins, and shortcuts
Feature-wise, if it’s not going to directly benefit web and UI design, it’s eliminated from the Sketch repertoire, making this software more lightweight, fast, and focused. No 3D tools, no photo filters—just tools that can be tweaked using common web development skills like CSS3 and HTML.
If you’re a designer, it’s worth a deep dive into the features you’ll be using, but look for things like layers, Inspector, smart guides, vectorial mode, reusable elements, and dynamic modification of elements. A long list of keyboard shortcuts saves time and energy during hours of design in Sketch. And, like PhotoShop, Sketch also offers a built-in layout grid so you can adjust columns and gutters without an extra plugin, and it can be easily turned on and off.
Plugins expand its offerings beyond those core UI and web tools. Designers can download the Sketch Toolkit which helps to browse, install and manage plugins. One extremely helpful plugin is Sketch Mirror, one of the most essential features in the Sketch workflow. This allows web designers to preview their UI designs in real time on screens like iPad and iPhone. Working with a client and making tweaks based on feedback? You can easily do this with mirror and see how the changes would look in real time, rather than spending more time with rounds of revisions.
Speed and flexibility.
As for flexibility, if your day-to-day work is creating wireframes and interfaces with a lot of assets, its specificity for UI design gives it focus and the sorts of shortcuts UI designers want to get work done faster.
Organization is paramount.
House all of a UI’s design files in one Artboard. This is all about easy access and organization of objects. The different Pages of your UI can exist all in one place in a lightweight file, and you can navigate between them easily—similar to InDesign, but different in that these don’t have to exist as separate PSD files, or one huge file. No matter what elements you’re using—color gradients, fills, typographic elements, etc.—you can pop into your document file and grab any of them.
In an Artboard, you can create and control things like your site design’s color palette, and the helpful Color picker tool makes it easy to use the magnifying glass cursor to locate an RGB color from an existing design accurately.
Responsive design made easy.
Designers know that the key to good responsive design is creating vector graphics that are able to scale to different screen sizes and definitions. Sketch makes this even easier by providing UI templates for iOS. Also, you don’t have the headaches of exporting assets for a number of different devices that you’d have with a bitmap editor like PhotoShop.
If your end goal is to design for HTML, Sketch makes it easy to export CSS properties of individual shapes and text objects. Overall, Sketch has you thinking in a CSS logic as you design, which makes eventually converting designs to CSS a breeze because the core of the design is already set up CSS-friendly.