Aren’t there too many design formats?

almost 2 years ago from , CEO & Co-founder at Avocode


For a long time, I have been observing how different companies in the design space behave. I realized that while there is a lot of new UI screen design tools hoping to “solve it all”, their quantity and variety slows down the overall innovation. To build new features and solve new problems in our space, every company is developing a new (and often incompatible) format and rendering, because there is no universal standardised solution that developers could build upon. I have written a blog post exploring these thoughts in more detail.


While we have started our business (https://avocode.com/) in a niche area of the design space (the hand-off to developers) we have had to build quite a robust technology to solve it the way we believe is right. Eventually, we have decided to offer our technology (design format parsers, standardised JSON format and C++/OpenGL rendering engine) to third party developers to speed up innovation.

With that in mind I'd like to introduce you our Avocode SDK, (today also on Product Hunt).


And how do you deal with the amount of design tools and formats?

Do you think one is the best and will prevail or that design files should be app independent?


  • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, almost 2 years ago

    Yeah, I think you're probably right. There are too many design formats, but how do you indent to keep this from happening?

    XKCD Standards Comic

    32 points
    • Vu Hoang AnhVu Hoang Anh, over 1 year ago

      Great question Daniel. That's why we're considering to make the OCTOPUS file format free and open for everyone.

      1 point
      • James MatchettJames Matchett, over 1 year ago

        Sounds like we've got a 15th standard!

        Making it free and open doesn't mean everyone will use it, you're asking people to potentially rewrite entire segments of their software for your standard. Hasn't sketch's file format been open since sketch 43?

        So to bring up Daniel's question again, what are you going to do to keep OCTOPUS from being another standard?

        6 points
        • Robert Salazar, over 1 year ago

          It makes you wonder if we just got lucky with things like USBs or JPGs or PDFs being standards..or if there was some secret sauce in the 90s that we're all missing.

          0 points
          • James MatchettJames Matchett, over 1 year ago

            As for USB hardware standards are a lot easier it seems like because of the manufacturing process. Also it was created by 7 of the largest tech companies at the time, so of course it's going to be common.

            File formats are a bit different. JPEGs came from the ISO and a standard group within the UN from a quick google search. PDFs were proprietary for the longest time but now are open and an ISO standard.

            Maybe that's what it takes, we need some universally recognized group or for all the design tools to come together to create in. Instead of this situation where one company says they're creating a new standard and we get just another "standard".

            0 points
            • Vu Hoang AnhVu Hoang Anh, over 1 year ago

              Thanks for your reply James. You’re right. Sketch will probably not rewrite a significant part of their software just because our design format is free and we do not expect them to do so.

              What we’re trying to do with this SDK is to offer an already established technology for teams that would like to build something that involves design files. They simply would not have to start building everything from scratch and they could build on top of an existing technology.

              The octopus file format itself isn’t that innovative. But combining it with our parsers and rendering engine really makes a huge difference.

              For new tools that means that they don’t have to come up with a new design format.

              For Sketch it could mean that they could easily open and edit other design files. Not just Sketch but also XD or PSD. We’ve already made it possible with our design converter - https://avocode.com/convert-psd-to-sketch

              Sketch definitely made their format more readable so developers could integrate with Sketch easier. But everything they build is going to be closed within Sketch. And what want is to make everything a little more open.

              I’m not sure if Octopus is going to become one format that everyone uses. But it’s a necessary part of our technology that could help design tools creators build things faster.

              Our parsers can parse most of the design formats and convert them into the Octopus format. The Octopus file already contains all the information from all these other designs formats. That’s what we meant by “Universal design format”.

              3 points
        • Ranit Sanyal, over 1 year ago

          Valid point.

          0 points
  • Ken Em, almost 2 years ago

    Isn't this post simply more self-promotion?

    12 points
    • Vu Hoang Anh, almost 2 years ago

      Thanks for the comment. We're already talking to some companies that share our visions and would like to eventually open our universal format as something like a PDF so designers would no longer be limited by tools and platforms. So no, rather than promoting our technology, we'd like to start a conversation. What's your opinion on the variety of design tools and design formats?

      2 points
    • Thomas Michael SemmlerThomas Michael Semmler, almost 2 years ago

      as is 90% of content for "Designers". It is just part of our industry, unfortunately.

      1 point
    • Dan S, over 1 year ago

      It seems more like self promotion because the discussion is at the same time as the product launch

      1 point
    • Andrew C, almost 2 years ago

      Who cares? I think Designer News is a great place for people to begin discussions about their design projects. Why would we shoo away people doing this? It would be great if every design entrepreneur would post their stuff here.

      10 points
  • Andrew Hersh, over 1 year ago

    Competition is the only thing that drives innovation and keeps prices in check. The only benefactor of a monopoly or enforced standard is the person at the top.

    4 points
    • Vu Hoang AnhVu Hoang Anh, over 1 year ago

      Very true. We embrace this by making it easier for creators to build new tools. That’s what we’re doing with the SDK.

      1 point
  • Matt C, almost 2 years ago

    JSON is the simple answer. You guys are over-complicating things.

    2 points
    • Vu Hoang AnhVu Hoang Anh, almost 2 years ago

      Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure if you read our page, but it is actually a JSON.

      “Octopus is an universal design format that carries all representations of layers, effects, text, and layout, regardless of the original design format.

      It is a JSON object that is easily readable and accessible.”

      3 points
  • Gio Vas, almost 2 years ago

    yeah it seems like every tool is opening up their platforms via APIs - maybe it enables you to use 2 similar tools together..e.g. Open Sketch in Figma, open XD in ProtoPie. Good luck with the new product launch too!

    2 points
    • Vu Hoang AnhVu Hoang Anh, over 1 year ago


      1 point
      • Tyson KingsburyTyson Kingsbury, over 1 year ago

        gotta say, that 'open sketch' thing has been a HUGE blessing.... I've been able to do a bunch of things that would have been a real problem... I was able to convert several PSD files to sketch, then, in turn..open them in Figma... I'm a really big fan of Figma, and now use it every day... so that convert tool has been a real life saver :) Plus, there's SOOO many great kits etc built in Sketch, it's been wonderful to use them in Figma, thanks to your tool :)

        0 points
  • A. N.A. N., over 1 year ago

    Doesn't matter the tool you're using or how you handoff specs, all that matters is the final result.

    1 point
  • Tim Kjær LangeTim Kjær Lange, almost 2 years ago

    I see some promise in tools that gap the divide between design and engineering.

    You don't need to be an engineer to use Xcode Storyboard. You don't need to be an engineer to use real React Components for your prototypes in Framer X. Formats are not a problem with these tools, because the format is the same for design and engineering.

    Tools like Photoshop and Illustrator was built in a different age for a different purpose.

    1 point
    • James MatchettJames Matchett, almost 2 years ago

      I mean literally built for a different purpose. The fact we relied on photoshop so much when it was a photo editing tool not a design tool.

      There's power in tools that bridge that gap, but I've also seen those tools be barriers to some great designers because they don't have the flexibility that designers need sometimes. I'm hoping for great things with Framer and Framer X though, it's been the closest I've seen to cover the gambit of skillsets.

      2 points
  • Aaron Wears Many HatsAaron Wears Many Hats, almost 2 years ago

    There is a universal solution, it's JSON

    0 points
    • Vu Hoang Anh, over 1 year ago

      Agreed. That’s why octopus is json. Feel free to read more on our page.

      “Octopus is an universal design format that carries all representations of layers, effects, text, and layout, regardless of the original design format.

      It is a JSON object that is easily readable and accessible.”

      2 points
  • Andrew C, almost 2 years ago

    "I realized that while there is a lot of new UI screen design tools hoping to “solve it all”, their quantity and variety slows down the overall innovation."

    Uhh no. The more choice the more innovation, generally. You yourself as positioning a new tool as "open" against a conglomerate of closed ones.

    Perhaps these "stop using print to solve screen!" companies aren't doing it right because they're closed off but that's a different problem. IMO Sketch already opened up its file format enough (enough that entire companies like yours can succeed and build functionality by simply parsing it). It's one of the principal reasons I really like Sketch.

    The competition right now is great. I don't see anything wrong with a standard either, mind you, but I'd be very surprised if a company like InVision (SUPER aggressive and thirsty for customers) would ever want to contribute to that.

    0 points