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Ask DN: Advice on transitioning design team to Sketch?

6 years ago from , Product Designer @ Facebook

After reading Subtraction's Design Tools report I was struck by how many people have completely transitioned to Sketch. I've obviously been hearing about it for a few years, but it seems we've reached a critical mass in 2015 in terms of where the industry is headed.

That's all well and good for the freelance designer who has the time/freedom to explore new tools, but I'm curious if anyone has any experience, positive or negative, in converting an internal corporate design team off of Adobe CS into Sketch.

As a software company all of our visual design mockups are currently done in Illustrator (with some old ones in Photoshop), and then transitioned into HTML/CSS.

I do worry that Sketch will somehow be a fad, but then again Illustrator was never truly designed for UI so while I don’t worry about the longevity, it never really was the right tool for the job (RIP Fireworks).

If it matters, we’re first and foremost a web app but will be adding mobile apps in very soon. I clearly see the benefits for Sketch in the mobile space (I also wish more design tools were focused for web apps instead of solely mobile, but that’s another thread).

My questions are mainly:

  • Once the transition was completed, was there a huge benefit in having your workflow run on Sketch instead of another tool?

  • How hard was the transition? Did you take the time to proactively update existing files/templates/resources, or did you just start anew and recreate as needed?

  • Has it been a blessing or a curse when looking for new hires (attracting new talent with the “latest” tools vs. training someone who hasn’t used it before)?

I appreciate any real-world experience provided.

20 comments

  • Shaun AndrewsShaun Andrews, 6 years ago

    My best advice is to not dictate what tools your team uses to get their jobs done. At Automattic (WordPress.com) we let designers use which ever tools they're comfortable with—over the past year or so, most of the team has organically switched to Sketch. But we still have a handful of designers using Photoshop and Illustrator.

    6 points
    • Joel CalifaJoel Califa, 6 years ago

      Totally agree here. People should use the tools that are best for them. You'll get the best work that way. At DigitalOcean, though, we couple this with lightly making fun of people who still use PS/Illustrator. I think within a few months we'll be fully transitioned :)

      3 points
    • Ryan McLaughlin, 6 years ago

      I think that freedom is important, but do you have issues with maintaining a common collection of files with multiple pieces of software? If half a UI is in .sketch files and the other have is .psd, that seems hard to manage.

      0 points
      • Shaun AndrewsShaun Andrews, 6 years ago

        Maintaining the various documents that each designer creates hasn't been an issue. All our designers are fairly competent using any design program—the skills and concepts are largely the same.

        We have a pattern library that we maintain in Sketch, Photoshop and Illustrator. Its fairly easy to update the assets in all three programs, and use that library as needed. If I need to update a design that was created in one app (and I don't want to use that app) I can recreate very quickly it in another app (that I may enjoy using more) thanks to our pattern library.

        0 points
    • Samuel ZellerSamuel Zeller, 6 years ago

      I agree with that. For teams from 15+ it's a good thing.

      For smaller teams it can be dangerous if someone leave. For example I worked 2 years in an agency and I was the only one doing 3D, I used Cinema 4D, Rhinoceros 3D and Maxwell render. They had to hire someone to replace me and they struggled because they found people using 3DS Max mostly, so the guy who replaced me had to learn some tools in order to integrate to the workflow I set up in two years.

      0 points
  • Alexander S. K.Alexander S. K., 6 years ago

    To answer your questions:

    • Once the transition was completed, was there a huge benefit in having your workflow run on Sketch instead of another tool?

    I think the biggest benefit was in time spent making changes. In our previous Photoshop workflow (especially pre smart objects and states of smart objects) making a change to a navigation element that existed in 25 PSD files was just a nightmare. Symbols and object styles makes it easier to work iteratively even as the project grows, whereas previously it felt like the longer the project went on the more painful it was to change stuff. The fact that asset exporting is a breeze and that it's pretty developer friendly as well was also a big benefit and time saver.

    • How hard was the transition? Did you take the time to proactively update existing files/templates/resources, or did you just start anew and recreate as needed?

    I work for a studio, so we just picked a few new small projects to begin with and started transitioning to Sketch for more and more projects as we became more comfortable.

    • Has it been a blessing or a curse when looking for new hires (attracting new talent with the “latest” tools vs. training someone who hasn’t used it before)?

    In my experience, people who are well versed in other design software (PS, Illustator, InDesign etc) can pick up Sketch pretty quickly. It just takes a while to get familiar with the keyboard shortcuts and some of the concepts, but it's pretty easy and self-explanatory.

    At the end of the day it's all about picking the right tool for the job though. Photoshop is great at photo retouching and painting, Illustrator has superior vector illustration tools and type control, InDesign is great for print and text-heavy stuff whereas Sketch is a a great tool for multi-page/state web and app design (although Photoshop has been closing that gap more and more recently)

    3 points
    • Ryan McLaughlin, 6 years ago

      Thank you, I think the points about Sketch being faster to manage a large library of assets is important. We struggle with that at the moment.

      0 points
  • Malte NuhnMalte Nuhn, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    I went through this about 12 months ago. Lessons learned:

    • Find a champion and let them test drive it on a live project. Make sure they have backup, and embrace the collaboration hit from using another tool.

    • A regular team check-in ('how's the Sketch trial going') is super helpful. Covering positives, negatives, new things learned, and open questions in a somewhat structured format was helpful

    • Make it clear that transition is optional and driven by the team. It's more likely to encourage even the skeptics to give it a try (vs stonewalling)

    • For virtuoso users of Photoshop, Sketch can actually be slower because its feature set is just more limited. For us, that happened for one person – but even then so rarely that it didn't really impact his speed much at all.

    • Look outside the team Our engineers LOVED sketch because it encourages designers to only design 'buildable' things, and its mental models map much better to how implementation actually works. It was also cheap enough that we just put it on some of their machines. That cut out additional cycles for the designers, and made collaboration easier.

    1 point
    • Ryan McLaughlin, 6 years ago

      Your last point is interesting. A couple times we have run in to the issue of being stingy with Adobe licenses due to cost, but you're right about being able to have devs get in there and grab what they need.

      1 point
  • James Young, 6 years ago

    I transitioned to Sketch a bit late but it's a strong tool for what it does. The only problem is that I've switched back to Windows and I have to keep switching to my mac to recover or edit files from past projects.

    Not the biggest issue in the world if your team is all mac but do bear it in mind if your team use a variety of OS#'s.

    1 point
  • Felipe DutraFelipe Dutra, 6 years ago

    Sketch improved the design team workflow a lot, not only in speed but also in file management. The transition was fast, it took less than a week. Some older psd files was quickly converted manually to sketch, after that everything became more and more easier. As I said before, the transition was fast and newcomers adapted quickly.

    1 point
    • Ryan McLaughlin, 6 years ago

      Thanks, good to hear. I'm hoping our file management process would improve with better software.

      0 points
  • Todd FTodd F, 6 years ago (edited 6 years ago )

    I'd really recommend having someone who knows it well walk your team through using Sketch. It seems like it's pretty much the same thing as PS or IL, but it really requires completely different approaches to many common things. I assumed our team would just "start using it" and in a couple of days we'd be at 100%. The reality was that it took months to fully internalize the peculiarities of Sketch (peculiar in comparison to the Adobe apps, I mean). I do feel like Sketch is my first choice for UI tasks. I still use Illustrator for drawing icons, because I can't get Sketch to work like I want yet, but for the most part, I'm happy with Sketch.

    1 point
  • Frédéric AudetFrédéric Audet, 6 years ago

    We switched completely to Sketch and it was harder for designers to adapt. Developers love the software. Make sure to have a good solution for font management for them and do lots of versions! Sketch documents can break when opened without proper fonts, annoying for developers...

    As for designers, it a big change of environment, but after a while, they will understand the benefits of web design inside of Sketch.

    I'd say designers were mostly interested in the tool instead of being turned down by it. It's a simple tool, training is quick, much quicker than Photoshop.

    Good luck

    0 points
  • Stefan Rauch, 6 years ago

    It's terrible for type. But there are some things we like.

    We all switched over for Zeplin.

    0 points
  • Colm TuiteColm Tuite, 6 years ago

    I personally would not work with a company who prescribed which design tool I should use. Or which text editor I should use. Different people grow at different paces, different people get more value from different features. Trying to force everyone into the same box is counter-productive.

    0 points
  • Philip LesterPhilip Lester, 6 years ago

    Just do it.

    0 points
  • Tristan FreeTristan Free, 6 years ago

    It'll be an organic transition for your team. The benefit is that it's pretty light weight; you can flip through your mobile/responsive frames or screens easily. Super robust app, that is worth more than its price point.

    Had 14+ years of PS and AI, it was a breeze to pick up.

    0 points