The more things change, the more they stay the same. Right?
Wrong. We’re speeding towards a world most of us won’t recognize in thirty years, powered by forces of innovation on a scale not seen since the Renaissance. To keep up, it’s important to step back and assess what’s been happening in a market or industry.
The tools of web design have undergone profound shifts in the past few years. New apps have emerged that have proven to be game-changers, while sturdy favorites have undergone extensive transformations to run even with the newbies.
But fundamentally, the concept of web design itself has also shifted, fueled by new apps and the power of cloud-based products.
The Olden Days of Five Years Ago
Web design was once ruled by a solitary king: Adobe Photoshop, where skilled creators worked alone to meet the needs of faraway clients. The flow of information mostly moved in one direction, even among the design team. Likewise, any client input usually came after mock-ups were completed, when information would flow back in the opposite direction, from node to node in a stepwise fashion.
In 2010, Sketch was launched as a Mac-only tool for UX and UI design, and many teams still consider it the gold standard for interface design. But there are limitations that have opened up space for new competitors to move in. Sketch isn’t supported on Windows, and Sketch isn’t linked to the cloud. It remains a file-based app, when the rest of the tech universe is migrating up, up, and away, to the cloud, where information flows in many directions at once.
The cloud has changed how web design tools operate, and in effect has changed the very notion of web design. One app getting a lot of attention is Figma, because it allows for a unique ecosystem based on real-time collaboration. Whereas information in the world of PSD and Sketch could only move in one direction at a time, Figma allows for team members to work on projects together even if they aren’t on the same continent. Under these conditions, design is much more the product of multiple layers of input, where ideas can flow to and from different nodes at the same time. Figma has a Comments feature that captures input from all stakeholders, leaving no doubt where everyone stands.
Even sharing mock-ups with clients has changed with Figma. Since it’s cloud-based, Figma lets designers simply send a URL of a prototype so that the website can load as it would appear once it was live. The prototype feels real in the browser, helping clients make the best-informed decision. Buttons are clickable, and the client can live in the design space as a user.
This is another web-based app that has many of Figma’s prototyping tools, with the added benefit that its UI will feel very familiar to anyone who’s used to an Adobe product. Given the Adobe pedigree, XD is cultivating a robust stable of plug-ins and extensions. XD’s API allows for importing data in real-time, and data is the coin of the realm these days. If you want your content to be populated with real data and not Latin sentences, then XD is a great platform.
But if the right look matters, then XD’s style and symbols features are less robust than Figma’s. But XD has the most powerful prototyping tools, such as auto-animate and voice protocols.
Before the advent of the cloud, web designers had to find a space to showcase a prototype that could show clients what the final product would feel like. InVision Studio became that place where designers could “screen” their work via uploaded JPEGs. Now it is vying to become a “unified digital product design environment” — in effect, yet another competitor of Sketch, with much of what Figma and XD have to offer.
InVision appeals to designers who work primarily in the mobile space and with animations. Its cloud functionality provides the kind of collaboration that teams have come to expect. Some reviewers have lodged complaints about the app being “buggy,” but no one disputes that the world of web design is rapidly migrating to a new land, with promising apps being launched each week. The best web designers must be nimble enough to navigate this ever-changing terrain. The ability to write code for multiple platforms is part skill, part art.
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