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Figma vs. Adobe XD: How we picked our next design tool

Prehistory of Sketch and why the change is needed


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Tomas Urlikas

3 years ago | 11 min read

The time came for changes and our design team started raising the topic again about how we should consider moving away from Sketch. This is not the first time this question came to mind, but this time seems like it was serious.

Last summer we considered changing Sketch to something else, but at the time the decision was made that it is not worth the hassle. We decided to wait until this tool will catch up as some of us honestly believed in the future of it.

For Telesoftas designers it is a second revolution — the first big one was a long time ago a move from Photoshop to Sketch. At the time it seemed like an enormous deal and the progress of something revolutionary.

Now this time we can call it the second design revolution and the next big change.

Prehistory of Sketch and why the change is needed

Photo from Slideshare.com by Jens Hoffmann
Photo from Slideshare.com by Jens Hoffmann

Most of the team got used to Sketch and it was a really praised tool at the beginning of transition. We were excited about how easy it is to use, sharing with others tips and tricks, shortcuts.

What I liked about Sketch at first was symbols and how you can have nested symbols inside. It helped to save many hours; we improved consistency and sped up the entire workflow.

However, while working on bigger projects I saw serious performance issues when Sketch started crashing often. Some work got lost and it was a tedious process which tested your nerves.

Collaboration was really a pain and for that you have to use plugins, other services to be in sync with other designers. It was not working perfectly and sometimes we were resolving conflicts when we tried to push designs to the service cloud from the plugin.

That when a design tool requires so many other services to be functional at its minimalistic level is outrageous. For design sync we used Plant, for sharing designs with clients or PMs Invision, for creating animations Principle and for sharing with developers Sympli.

Sometimes also Anima to create smart adaptive layouts. Since Sketch is the industry-standard tool the missing product features created a lot of opportunities for new businesses to arise.

Some services I found useful, but it adds up initial monthly costs to be expensive. Sketch 99$ per year since obviously people need updates. Invision team license costs about 300$ per year.

Plant goes about 144$ per year and Sympli 108$ per seat. Since we need a lot of seats Sympli by itself costs a fortune as designers and developers need that access. It is not only the pricing issue, but the entire workflow going back and forth feels not right and counter-productive.

Why Sketch fell behind

Photo by wallpaperflare.com
Photo by wallpaperflare.com

The principal problem I see for Sketch is that it relied too much on the plugins who supported the tool. Some plugins were fantastic, and I am thankful for the community that helped when creating interesting solutions. However sometimes I had a feeling that some plugins should have been a native product feature instead.

It felt stupid that you have to use all these plugins to achieve some results. This might be the reason while it was lacking to create some additional features, because plugins fill up the holes.

At the moment I see that product tries to catch up and incorporates native functionality while replacing some plugins. It is good to see prototyping functions improving, auto layout, symbol and style management, cloud development happening, so I am grateful.

Sketch for teams hope

Photo by Producthunt
Photo by Producthunt

While we monitor Sketch blogs, email newsletter we got excited again for 2020 upcoming Sketch for Teams, cloud and promised collaboration functionality.

It was last year and at that moment I believed that these new updates will help to catch up with XD and Figma. From my point of view they are miles away from Sketch in terms of functionality and experience they can offer. We got new Sketch for team updates; we got the cloud, but eventually we were disappointed at the realisation of these features.

The Sketch cloud appears to be slow, the only thing we replaced was Plant, but prototyping, collaboration is still lacking.

Unfortunately Sketch for teams didn’t match up with the high hopes we had, so we started investigating others alternatives on the market to make a move.

I was really a fan of Sketch and enjoyed it to the fullest, but as I mentioned before other tools seem to be miles away from Sketch. So we listed up requirements and went to look for a replacement. The goal — one tool for all that can replace everything we currently use.

The Research Of Tools And Homework

Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

I started by researching “Framer X” and tried to do some small project with it. Before that of course I spent some time on YouTube and articles to understand more about it. The main value from this tool is that you do designs with real components, everything is fully functional.

For example integrated maps, video players, forms are working like a real product. At some point I was amazed by how interactive and real prototyping and designing can be. It has its “Store” where you can download components and by combining your designs with various components you can have usable designs.

But again feels like coming back to the same problem when relying too much on the outside plugins rather when having complete product. I can not say that this tool is easy to use.

For example if you want to have hover functionality you do need to got to code editor. The main idea is in the long term you need to have good command of React to be able to master it.

After my research for this tool was done I couldn’t see much value for it being as a design tool that can replace everything. I can see it more as a prototyping solution rather than comfortably designing. It has scored little at our criteria table so this tool is the first to drop out.

However we wanted to give a shot anyway as it seems interesting what they can offer. I believe it can have some bright future in the long term, but not at this moment.

While waiting for other scores to come in after that I jumped on researching Figma additionally, as I didn’t have much knowledge about this tool in general.

And then Figma came along

Photo by Tracy Adams on Unsplash
Photo by Tracy Adams on Unsplash

After my Framer research I started digging up for the investigation of Figma by downloading an app and by my surprise, it is free.

Almost everyday I am using heavily one tool named “Miro” for organising workshops, collaborating with clients, with teammates, and organising research.

The multi-player experience at some extent felt very familiar to me of Figma. I even started feeling that it can replace my beloved “Miro” tool and our one tool for all dreams would be even more beneficial.

The tool felt minimalistic, but at the same time it has everything you need. It has smart components, smart layout which is working even better than in Sketch.

Prototyping and animation are also advanced, even vector design felt so good that I started questioning if it can replace Adobe Illustrator. I was like a kid driving a Ferrari, excited to use Figma and I dug even deeper into their YouTube channel to watch everything they got.

Figma’s plugins and community

Picture by figma.com
Picture by figma.com

Another discovery which I made was the plugins. Strangely these plugins felt like a pleasant addition to the existing flow rather than completing product’s missing features like it was in Sketch.

As a product, Figma at this moment felt complete. As I did my research for Figma at our point system, it was in the first place, not to mention the experience and feeling I had with it. I tried to be as unbiased as possible when researching tools, but I quickly fell in love with it.

Collaboration felt like on another level like I had a similar experience with Miro. I knew this tool for some time before and how people were praising it, but now I only understand how good it is. It is the closest to being our dream “One tool to replace them all”, by going with it we don’t need Invision, Sympli, Plant, Anima and even Miro. Also seems like a suitable solution to do presentations with it.

Decision time

by Tomas Urlikas
by Tomas Urlikas

Everyone has completed their research and something unexpected happened. Adobe XD at our point system was almost equal like Figma, as I started going deeper it seems like it has almost everything. Additionally it has one benefit.

It plays well in our already existing Adobe subscription plan and works well with other Adobe products. From my own experience I was using it when it came out a couple years ago and gave a try.

I had a really different experience since then and XD definitely went a long way. It even has a collaboration feature which is in Beta, but as we tried out it was decently working fine.

It was time to do a presentation, since we live in the interesting “Corona” times all presentations were done remotely. I had a long presentation prepared with extensive research about it which I used present mode and Figma I presented with Figma.

At the moment seemed like I covered most concerns everyone had about it, but it had some minor things which were not working as well as Adobe XD. I can admit XD is a decent competitor, its animation and prototyping are better. This was visible easily in the example where we did simple hover effects.

In the Figma it was easy as you have to create a hover state somewhere and you use overlay to make it happen. While in XD with states it did this with just a couple clicks as these states really seem useful and beneficial.

Everyone now had concerns and in the point system they were equal competitors. Now half the team were vouching for XD and other half were still vouching for Figma. The camp has split up into two parts and after endless discussions we made the decision that we go back to the research phase one last time.

This time we research each other’s tools. We also know the pains of both tools. XD doesn’t have pagination and with Figma the frames can be messy sometimes and hard to work with it.

The next day we had a usual catch up coffee break where we discuss non-work related topics, but even then the flames between XD and Figma appeared again. It was a sign to make up minds faster.

Back to the drawing board

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash
Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

The next day in the evening I gave XD a try. Launched the tool and started doing some simple designs. It felt like a nice tool to do landing pages or simple mobile apps; it didn’t look like it could manage large SAAS products.

I can consider that as a tool it is good, simple, minimalistic, has all features you need, and they are growing fast. In a couple of years it surpassed Sketch, but behind there is corporation Adobe which has all the resources needed to get work done.

In the meantime, my colleague Liudas has jumped to the Figma’s webinar where they talked about intro to “Figma”. They introduced Figma from all perspectives, showed use cases, for example you can have easily fully scrollable maps in prototype mode.

During this webinar we got a sneak peek preview about some future updates coming to place. Apparently they are working under improving prototyping features and I assume they even will catch up to Adobe XD.

By looking at the current situation and future again, we are sure that Figma is the most appropriate for us. This Webinar might help a little bit for everyone else to make a definite decision.

Another meeting happens, but this time evenly we come up with a decision that Figma definitely will be our next design tool. One of things we agreed also was that if a particular project has a need for more advanced prototyping or animations it can be done in XD.

Also we still have Adobe subscription so it is not going away, but the default one will be Figma.

Conclusion

Picture by figma.com
Picture by figma.com

We made a choice, so what is next? It will be a big change, since we at Telesoftas are like community and a design tool we chose as these values as us — community first.

It is a change in our design workflow to be more collaborative, more open to everyone else and life will be easier. Now we have an overview of all projects that are happening and in a need can jump in for help.

It is important that designers have ownership of the project, we include clients and developers in early stages to be involved as possible, without collaboration like Figma has now before it was hard to do. Involving everyone in the early stages and having open design culture makes it easier in the future to get user centred decisions.

Future of Design tools

Last year’s 2019 design survey covered that Sketch is still number 1 among all and Figma behind. However, the answer to which tool you are most excited to try out next year was Figma, so it says a lot.

Not sure what the current situation is, but feels like either XD or Figma should surpass Sketch, especially when pandemic kicks in with remote work needs. I can think of it as an evolution, change is necessary to keep up with the design world and I think this change is good.

Even though there was a moment when I enjoyed using Sketch a lot with all the plugins. We don’t know what the future holds, what is the next big thing in the design tools world. My guess would be something more with AI and Development related.

Update on Framer

I was doing research at that time for Framer X, now they launched framer for web and the company did some changes. It looks like they’re focus is to be the best interactive prototype tool, which at the moment seems like a competitor to Protopie or Axure and not for regular design tools.

Now I am sure it was good decision to ditch this tool at first, however if we are talking about interactive prototyping only it is a good tool for that.

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Tomas Urlikas

I enjoy turning complex problems into simple, beautiful and intuitive designs. I am providing most effective solutions and presenting information in an understandable way. The hunger to learn more and do better has helped me to achieve business requirements the company might have and ability to see the problems from a different point of view.


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