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More dragging, less drawing.

I have had a couple of conversations this past few weeks about the state of design tooling that helped me to crystallise a thought I wanted to share.

The primary tools we are using to design interfaces focus on what I think is quickly becoming a small part of the work of a designer, and neglect what I think is becoming a much more central one.

Figma & Sketch are both fantastic tools for creating novel concepts for user interfaces. Their layout, typography, drawing and colour tools are excellent in helping a designer translate a new idea into a graphical representation of that idea quickly. And this is how I remember designing long ago — empty canvas, draw some stuff, play with some layouts, try a few different concepts, and eventually settle on something.

In 2020 though, that process of starting from a blank canvas feels rare. And the idea that the palette of tools a designer wants to call upon are primarily intended for the creation of something new feels anachronistic.

If design tooling is going to better serve the way designers design software in 2020 and beyond, it needs to do one thing better.

Component Libraries and the assembly of UI need to be central to the creation flow, not tangential to it.

Both Sketch & Figma have support for using component libraries, but the experience of using them feels far less central to the design process than they need to be. Finding and using a component in a library is how I think 90% of design work should begin. Right now, the discoverability of components, and the lack of support for including rich documentation which explains how and when to use a component place a barrier between a designer, and the systems created to make them efficient. This is a problem I observed 3 years ago in my role at Booking.com and which would ultimately lead to the creation of an internal tool to serve this problem - It’s disappointing that this need still isn’t well served.

Design - at least the bit of it that I see and speak to my peers about - has evolved beyond its tools, and I am reminded of the last time this happened - when we collectively let out a huge sigh of relief as we left Photoshop beyond for pastures new. It feels like we’re approaching that kind of shift again, and that the tools that persist over the coming five years will be those that treat design systems and the process of assembly as a first-class citizen and a primary use case.

Published on 2 December 2020 – DesignDesign SystemsWork

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Previously: SAD lamp

Stuart Frisby, 2015-top