The Tools Designers Are Using Today
September 10, 2015 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Subtraction surveyed 4000 designers from 198 countries to identify the tools they liked and used for brainstorming, wireframing, interface design, prototyping, project management and version control.
posted by jenkinsEar (70 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
drop box ? really ? drop box ?

(ok, ok, it helps share files across lots of places, but I'd hardly call it version control .. )
posted by k5.user at 11:32 AM on September 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


Dropbox, like Google Drive, has a limited form of version control where you can restore from an older version of a file, and it will preserve n number of old versions where n + 1 = saves since the version that you want to restore to.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:35 AM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Jesus Christ my eyes. Apparently visual design's been weaponized while I wasn't looking.
posted by mikurski at 11:36 AM on September 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


Sketch allows you to export CSS properties for your wireframes. For developers, how useful is that?
posted by munchingzombie at 11:37 AM on September 10, 2015


and how much do you want to bet the folks using drop box are doing something like
  • Corpmodel.doc
  • Corpmodel_v2.doc
  • Corpmodel_latest.doc
  • Corpmodel_changes_from_mtg.doc
  • Corpmodel_bob_edit.doc

    etc.

  • posted by k5.user at 11:39 AM on September 10, 2015 [25 favorites]


    I've been doing "front end" for almost 20 years and I'm still amazed at the "coders" I meet that riff off a list of tools/frameworks that they claim to know and yet they get confused by simple javascript.

    yeah, get off my lawn.
    posted by monospace at 11:44 AM on September 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


    • Corpmodel_final.doc
    • Corpmodel_final2.doc
    • Corpmodel_realfinal.doc
    • Corpmodel_finalfinal.doc
    • Corpmodel_finalv2.doc
    posted by primethyme at 11:45 AM on September 10, 2015 [27 favorites]


    corpmodel.doc
    corpmodel-bak.doc
    corpmodel_bak.doc
    corpmodel.bak.doc
    corpmodel.doc.bak
    posted by ardgedee at 11:52 AM on September 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


    I'm surprised that Axure was only at 5% and didn't even show up for interface design at all. I couldn't do what I do at all without being able to quickly visualize and play around with complex interactions and logic.
    posted by bleep at 11:54 AM on September 10, 2015


    Sketch allows you to export CSS properties for your wireframes. For developers, how useful is that?

    FEAR AND TERROR.
    posted by Artw at 11:57 AM on September 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


    Comparing against the in-house design team I'm on...
    • Brainstorming: Whiteboarding as a group, maybe a piece of paper with some hastily drawn sharpie
    • Wireframing: Illustrator, because you'll get hung for using Photoshop
    • Interface design: A few failed attempts at describing the interactions, a bunch of links as examples which still fails to convey the idea, followed by some frustrated handmade gifs (made in Photoshop lol)
    • Prototyping: Invision, or Pixate, or a slightly altered Bootstrap template
    • Project management: Hipchat and JIRA (the sweet release of death beckons)
    • Version control & file management: Dropbox, and an inscrutable naming convention unique to each individual
    posted by Snacks at 11:57 AM on September 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


    Tools for project management include Slack and GitHub.
    posted by Artw at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2015


    Dropbox actually has Extended Version History, which can act like version control. It safes files for up to a year or more if you pay for it. According to this tutorial it was (might still be) quite potent two years ago, when EVH was called Packrat and offered unlimited version history. Note that the focus is actually on designers not developers, where GitHub would be the front runner.

    The site is actually best viewed on smaller screens (stupid mobile-first approach), so I suggest to shrink your browser a bit (try Windows key + arrow left or right if you are on Windows 7 or higher) or take some steps away from your screen.
    posted by KMB at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2015


    and how much do you want to bet the folks using drop box are doing something like

    Flames on the side of my face.

    Once upon a time someone named the new version of a clients logo as, "logo name-new.pdf". Which of course became a problem when the logo name was updated again so we got, "logo name-refresh.pdf" and "logo name-refresh-new.pdf" when that logo received a minor revision. I tried to break the circle of madness when they did a redesign, naming the new new new logo "logo name_v1.pdf" and sent out an email stating that the next version of the logo should be named, "logo name_v2.pdf"

    Did it work? Nope. Next time the logo was revised the file was named, "logo name_v1-updated.pdf"

    STOP. HITTING. YOURSELVES.
    posted by nathan_teske at 12:05 PM on September 10, 2015 [17 favorites]


    > Sketch allows you to export CSS properties for your wireframes. For developers, how useful is that?

    Excel allows me to generate spreadsheets as diagrams with links to each other to demonstrate use cases. For UX designers, how useful is that?
    posted by ardgedee at 12:07 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


    ...why the hell are all the things animating when I scroll down. Just show me the damn data!
    posted by SansPoint at 12:21 PM on September 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


    It tested well in the PowerPoint mock-ups!
    posted by Artw at 12:26 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


    Jesus Christ my eyes. Apparently visual design's been weaponized while I wasn't looking.

    Well, they are specifically referring to WEB designers here, so...
    posted by Thorzdad at 12:30 PM on September 10, 2015


    I pity those using InDesign for pretty much any of the uses shown here.
    posted by Artw at 12:32 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Surprised that "smearing foecal matter on the walls of my cell" ranked so low.
    posted by stevil at 12:35 PM on September 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


    It's under "brainstorming".
    posted by Artw at 12:36 PM on September 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


    ...why the hell are all the things animating when I scroll down. Just show me the damn data!

    But, if they did that, they'd lose all cred with the other web devs next door. You gotta bang those bells hard and blow the whistles good and loud, y'know.
    posted by Thorzdad at 12:38 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


    ...why the hell are all the things animating when I scroll down. Just show me the damn data!


    Animations, visual impairment-unfriendly color palettes, doughnut charts used for comparisons, needless use of charts instead of tables...Tufte wept.
    posted by jedicus at 12:38 PM on September 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


    I have been at the same job for far too long, so it makes me smile to read the comments here, and know that there are plenty of other semi-dysfunctional design groups out there.
    posted by freakazoid at 12:43 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Brainstorming & Ideation: Pencil And Paper.

    Too funny! Because I thought it was a piece of software I hadn't heard about.
    posted by storybored at 12:58 PM on September 10, 2015


    I've just been assimilated into the borg that is this city's largest volunteer run tech startup conference and am probably a generation older than the rest of the team.

    "Oh no, we're not using Facebook and Whatsapp this year, its Slack and Drive"

    w00t

    /Slack and Drive will be my something I know, a blog perhaps?
    posted by infini at 12:58 PM on September 10, 2015


    Slack is what cavemen knew as "IRC" or "messenger".
    posted by Artw at 1:00 PM on September 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


    In other news one the devs here asked me what Usenet was.
    posted by Artw at 1:01 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


    ~Brainstorming & Ideation: Pencil And Paper.
    ~Too funny! Because I thought it was a piece of software I hadn't heard about.


    Well...actually...
    posted by Thorzdad at 1:01 PM on September 10, 2015


    The high tech wire framing solution I'm seeing more and more is a whiteboard and someone taking a snap of it with their phone at the end of the meeting. Works well enough for me.
    posted by Artw at 1:03 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


    Comparing against the in-house design team I'm on...

    Wireframing: Illustrator, because you'll get hung for using Photoshop


    Please tell me where you work, because it seems to be populated with people of unusual intelligence and insight.

    I'm so damn tired of the inertia and fame behind Photoshop keeping it in use for any kind of screen design work. A tool whose primary metaphor is raster layers was always the wrong tool, and it's even more the wrong tool now that we're working with different screen resolutions.
    posted by weston at 1:04 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Recently I was upbraided because when presented with the "comps" to build for a project, I came back with some pieces which were going to be coding black holes as designed (notice no actual specification is mentioned, who needs those?). "You need to mention this before this is signed off!"

    "You have to show me the comps before I can do that. If you show them to the client first, and y'all have 'signed off' on them, don't put it on me when that thing you want is actually pretty complicated to code, requires research and a spec first, doesn't fit within the budget, etc."
    posted by maxwelton at 1:10 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


    "You have to show me the comps before I can do that. If you show them to the client first, and y'all have 'signed off' on them, don't put it on me when that thing you want is actually pretty complicated to code, requires research and a spec first, doesn't fit within the budget, etc."

    Heh. Change some words and you have the exact same warning legions of graphic designers and art directors have been screaming at Account Managers for eons.
    posted by Thorzdad at 1:15 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


    It's gratifying to see Sketch getting so much usage. It's a great tool, one of those rare apps that consistently makes me happy in unexpected surprising ways. I hadn't realized it had caught on so much. Hopefully this means it's got a long life ahead of it.
    posted by alms at 1:25 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


    If you think Dropbox is version control you don't have any idea what version control is.
    posted by odinsdream at 1:40 PM on September 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


    I hear lots about version control, though I suppose you'd have to have a development process that's a little more involved than the boss walking up and saying 'I want feature x for tomorrow's ten o'clock.'

    Mind you, "inheritance" is largely a matter of control-c, control-v hereabouts as well.

    I laugh at you serious coders.
    posted by Mooski at 1:46 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


    My design team switched over from Photoshop to Sketch very, very rapidly and very, very passionately. Including lifelong Photoshop zealot/experts. It was really odd, I've never seen a (voluntary, unprompted) tool shift that fast.

    If I was Photoshop's business team I'd be terrified. Though their revenue is up (due to the switch to subscription), so they may not notice that an entire industry has run to a better, cheaper app until it's too late.

    I'm still bitter about Adobe ending support for Fireworks, though, so I'm happy to see Adobe get pummeled. (To me Sketch seems very like Fireworks, just a bit more modern.)
    posted by feckless at 1:59 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


    I'm a coder, but these people are designers, so I suppose I'll cut them some slack on the tools that they choose to use.

    However, designers absolutely should be responsible for considering accessibility in their designs, and holy shit this site fails at that (and there are a ton of good tools out there that can help designers do this).

    Among other things, WCAG 2.0 states that "normal-sized" text should have a contrast ratio of 4.5:1 or greater (3:1 for large text). This is a totally reasonable and accomplishable goal for any website to achieve, and there are a lot of tools that make it very easy to check/fix your designs to fit within the criteria. (WCAG considers this to be merely "acceptable" -- the higher levels of conformance require a contrast ratio of 7:1)

    The teal-on-white text on this site has a contrast ratio of 1.54:1. That's shockingly terrible, and outright hostile to the site's users (including the ones who are not visually impaired).

    Graphic design is part art, part engineering. The profession would do well to remember that second part. Designers absolutely need to stay on top of technical competencies, and follow established standards and practices when it comes to things like accessibility. Contrast ratios are the lowest of the low-hanging fruit when it comes to usable graphic designs -- there aren't really many excuses to ignore them.

    So, yeah. For a site that claims to be an arbiter of what's going on the design world, this is pretty scary.

    But I guess the site works well on a tablet, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
    posted by schmod at 2:07 PM on September 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


    My design team switched over from Photoshop to Sketch very, very rapidly and very, very passionately.

    Simple. It's because Photoshop was never meant to be a design tool, and Fireworks was terrible. As soon as there was a viable alternative that was actually built for the purpose, people started using it.
    posted by schmod at 2:08 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


    I agree with that -- but I would have though ingrained habits would make it harder for folks to switch. I'm happy with the result.
    posted by feckless at 2:21 PM on September 10, 2015


    I'm still bitter about Adobe ending support for Fireworks, though, so I'm happy to see Adobe get pummeled. (To me Sketch seems very like Fireworks, just a bit more modern.)

    Yeah, Sketch replaced Fireworks for me within a day of trying it for the first time. I do still use Photoshop a lot, but for different tasks.
    posted by primethyme at 2:26 PM on September 10, 2015


    This just reminds me that I really need to switch over to Sketch. I've been going back and forth between Photoshop and the cold corpse of Fireworks for way too long.

    If you think Dropbox is version control you don't have any idea what version control is.
    It's almost as if different disciplines have different requirements for tasks that are only nominally similar!
    posted by danny the boy at 2:31 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


    It's almost as if different disciplines have different requirements

    That's madness. Everyone knows that the only use-case that matters is whatever Silicon Valley brogrammers are doing this afternoon.
    posted by aramaic at 2:36 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


    However, designers absolutely should be responsible for considering accessibility in their designs, and holy shit this site fails at that (and there are a ton of good tools out there that can help designers do this).

    Which leads me to ask...Are web designers not given a solid grounding in visual design, the same way graphic designers normally are? I mean, so much of web design today is simply horrible at job #1 - clear communication. A lot of it actually seems to be made in conscious opposition to clarity.
    posted by Thorzdad at 2:58 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


    this goes straight into my 'hilariously redundant design masturbation' folder.
    posted by ouke at 3:01 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


    As I understand it, version control is difficult for designers because we're working with large binary files, not code. A git repository is great for software since it can track just the changes you've made, and allow you to merge conflicts and whatnot. When you push a PSD, though, the whole thing gets stored over and over, and the project balloons fast.

    Also, the way a lot of people work means that multiple iterations on a thing will actually be contained within one file. Take a look at Aaron Draplin's process, which is how a lot of people work. The way he uses an artboard is like a little version control system in itself, duplicating an idea at crucial steps, going back and branching out into different concepts. The thing is, a designer needs to be able to quickly see every version at once and consider the decisions that went into those versions, and pull elements from one version into another. This is kind of what git does for code, but it doesn't work for anything a designer uses.

    So yeah, dropbox isn't really version control, and it's dumb to call it that. But to my knowledge there isn't really a proper version control tool that actually serves the needs of designers.
    posted by buriednexttoyou at 4:53 PM on September 10, 2015 [10 favorites]


    I really wish that designers of things that aren't web sites could take back the word "designer" so that it doesn't automatically mean web design.
    posted by shmegegge at 5:28 PM on September 10, 2015 [8 favorites]


    Really more than version control designers need some kind of asset management system, but those are all awful so...
    posted by Artw at 5:29 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


    As I understand it, version control is difficult for designers because we're working with large binary files, not code

    Yeah, I kind of think the hard truth here is that we have not yet come up with version control that actually works well for anything which is not made out of text. It's a legitimately hard problem.

    Which doesn't stop me from twitching in reflexive horror every time I think about the practices that seem like they're endemic to just about every field that isn't the subset of programming where people have been paying attention to the tooling for the last decade or so.
    posted by brennen at 5:43 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


    As I understand it, version control is difficult for designers because we're working with large binary files, not code. A git repository is great for software since it can track just the changes you've made, and allow you to merge conflicts and whatnot. When you push a PSD, though, the whole thing gets stored over and over, and the project balloons fast.

    I'm not sure this is an *inherent* problem in any kind of design file. Raster file formats are going to eat a ton of space unnecessarily, though -- but then again, this is one of the reasons why PSDs suck so bad, because a lot of screen design work is really vector (except for photos, and you probably shouldn't be doing a lot of destructive edits on those). And PSD is a problematic file format.

    Vector formats are probably going to be more amenable to small diffs, which means more amenable to version control.

    I do think the version control interface that works for software/web projects may not work very well for design work, though.
    posted by weston at 5:47 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Version control for graphic artists is a five-terabyte drive.
    posted by Thorzdad at 5:49 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


    Version control for graphic artists is a five-terabyte drive.

    Version control for modelers and animators in the games industry is a ~100 TB server of some sort, Dropbox for working space, and prayer. Oh so very much prayer. The broken, desperate prayers of drunken, possibly stoned atheists.

    I thought the anguished cries when programmers lost like an hour's worth of work due to source control own goals were something. You have not seen the true depths of despair to which First World Problems can sink until you have seen the face of an animator who has lost something he'd been working on for like two days.

    So yeah, dropbox isn't really version control, and it's dumb to call it that. But to my knowledge there isn't really a proper version control tool that actually serves the needs of designers.

    Yep. Good binary versioning is effectively unpossible. There are ways in which it can fuck programmers, too, although obviously not to the same extent.
    posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 6:10 PM on September 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


    Yep. Good binary versioning is effectively unpossible. There are ways in which it can fuck programmers, too, although obviously not to the same extent.

    Yeah, somewhat echoing weston, I don't by any means think it's impossible in the fundamental sense. People have done it within applications, to some functional extent. It's just really complicated to meaningfully diff, record, and usefully display things (well, formats) with a lot of inherent strong semantics and complexity.

    To effectively version control most large software projects (at least as well as we've learned to do it yet), you really don't need to know a hell of a lot about meaning - for the most part, you handle characters and lines and file paths. (And really, you barely need to deal with a lot of those.) Add in all the ways that binary formats aren't even standardized between documents written by different versions of an application, nevermind in-between applications within a problem space...
    posted by brennen at 6:30 PM on September 10, 2015


    Could someone explain to me how Slack and Hipchat can be project management tools? I don't work in an Agile shop anymore but I'm pretty sure "hey did someone finish that story? 🐣💩🎉" isn't what they're talking about.
    posted by fiercekitten at 6:49 PM on September 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


    Yeah, somewhat echoing weston, I don't by any means think it's impossible in the fundamental sense. People have done it within applications, to some functional extent. It's just really complicated to meaningfully diff, record, and usefully display things (well, formats) with a lot of inherent strong semantics and complexity.

    It kind of seems to me like whoever really, really gets it right is almost certainly going to come at it in an orthogonal kind of way, where it's not about coming up with a really novel way of diffing binary blobs, but knowing a huge amount about how those blobs were formed ahead of time.

    One thing about Dropbox specifically is that the cloud aspect means it's basically getting a middling-competent network admin for free, which for indies and certain kinds of startups is actually kind of a big deal in terms of cost savings, depending on the stage they're at.
    posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 6:51 PM on September 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Well, I mean, free with the cost of whatever class of Dropbox account, obviously.
    posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 6:53 PM on September 10, 2015


    Pretty much the same way IRC has always been a project management tool, I guess. It's a time-phased, low-bandwidth, location-agnostic medium well-suited to coordinating team activity.
    posted by brennen at 6:53 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


    If it's your main project management tool you are probably largely free of bureaucratic project management - not necessarily a bad thing, and TBH quite enviable.
    posted by Artw at 7:01 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


    WordPerfect, a pirated copy of CorelDRAW and a custom Foxbase .dbf for bug tracking. Hell, a guy could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas with all this stuff.
    posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:17 PM on September 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


    Between dropbox and none for version control, more than 3/4 of the projects are fucked from the outset.
    posted by plinth at 7:18 PM on September 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


    > My design team switched over from Photoshop to Sketch very, very rapidly and very, very passionately. [...] If I was Photoshop's business team I'd be terrified.

    Adobe's most successful new products research for the past couple decades has been on behalf of their Merger & Acquisitions team.
    posted by ardgedee at 7:19 PM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


    I'm project manager at a small agency that uses Slack. I wouldn't exactly say that we use it for "project management" but using it definitely helps us manage products. Combined with Droplr (a dead simple screenshot sharing app that lives in the menubar) it's a great way for everyone on the team to know where we are with everything. But again, we're a small team.

    For the actual project management part of my job, I've tried everything from Trello to JIRA and found them all wrong for my needs, so instead I just maintain a master Workflowy list that makes liberal use of the @username and #hashtag features to assign tasks, update projects, track due dates, and keep everything straight. (A few more details here.) It's not perfect, and it's not cutting-edge, but it's simple, fast, universally accessible, and exactly what a team my size needs.
    posted by Ian A.T. at 8:07 PM on September 10, 2015


    Don Delillo has an amazing "version tracking" system for his novels: he writes on a typewriter, and whenever he writes a sentence he doesn't care for, he just tries it again and again until he's happy.

    So a "paragraph" could be something like:
    The cars began arriving at noon. At noon, the cars trickled in. The cars arrived during lunch. The station wagons arrived at noon in a long line stretched across campus. The station wagons arrived at noon, a long shining line that coursed through the west campus.
    So one page of finished manuscript might be 20+ pages of rough draft. When he's ready to compile a chapter, he sits down with all those pages, highlighting the sentences and paragraphs he wants to keep, and types up a new draft.
    posted by Ian A.T. at 8:17 PM on September 10, 2015 [15 favorites]


    The service has (very sadly) shut down, but LayerVault used to provide pretty good version control for PDF documents.

    So, yeah. It can be done.
    posted by schmod at 1:06 AM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


    My design team switched over from Photoshop to Sketch very, very rapidly and very, very passionately.
    Same here, and from my experience it's been developers who have been the biggest supporters. I currently work at an agency and we usually work with third party dev teams and we were concerned that we would face companies that would insist on Photoshop and it's actually been the opposite. It has a few nifty little tools that make it easier for the dev to translate things like positioning. And the UX team and Digital Design team appreciate using one single tool and format to share with each other.

    Could someone explain to me how Slack and Hipchat can be project management tools?
    Slack does have some integration with Jira, so I would say that it's a handy side-tool for project management, but I have yet to see how it could manage that end to end. (One tip I read that I have yet to implement is to 'star' comments to build yourself a to-do list but that doesn't count as project management.) The private rooms are also very useful for supporting project discussions, but again not really project management.

    I think the main explanation is that designers don't really know what project management is.
    posted by like_neon at 1:46 AM on September 11, 2015


    I think the main explanation is that designers don't really know what project management is.

    I think it's a rare "project manager" who knows what project management is.
    posted by maxwelton at 2:31 AM on September 11, 2015 [8 favorites]


    > My design team switched over from Photoshop to Sketch very, very rapidly and very, very passionately.

    At 99 rats for a licence, who can blame you.
    posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:36 AM on September 11, 2015


    Not only the price, but it appears to directly take into account the actual work performed by designers for UI/UX and web products, whereas Photoshop tries to be a general-purpose toolbox for really anybody. I can see where Sketch might not be the best fit for certain jobs, but those where it's focused it appears to be fantastic.
    posted by odinsdream at 8:26 AM on September 11, 2015


    schmod: "The service has (very sadly) shut down, but LayerVault used to provide pretty good version control for PDF documents. "

    PSD. I meant to say PSD when I wrote that at 4AM.

    Also, the link in weston's comment is arguably the greatest code comment ever written. I feel his pain.
    posted by schmod at 9:06 AM on September 11, 2015


    I have this on my list of tools to check out someday https://www.pixelapse.com. I'm not a pro, does it seem legit?
    posted by RichAndCreamy at 3:34 PM on September 11, 2015


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