A Sketch versus Illustrator conundrum

Good morning! Today I am going to communicate a bit in regards to the design process that designer/developers typically go through in a team environment. And it’s a situation that I currently have no sound answer for.

Recently I was tasked with the design of MacOS desktop software. This software is meant for test participants to use on their home computers during their day to day activities. It helps to log event data and to also allow for a customized experience that learns over time – driving ML models.

I am most comfortable using Adobe Illustrator for quick and dirty general design work. It’s mostly vector-based so that scaling elements can be done at any point in time without serious repercussions. It’s quick to jot down shapes, gradients, effects, etc. There really are no libraries like you’ll find for Sketch, but selection of items in Illustrator seems so much more straightforward to me and I don’t worry as much in regards to grouping.

Also, when I delve into a grouping, the screen UI changes to show where I am in the layer hierarchy without needing to look at a complex list of layered components. While in Sketch, layering happens but the selection of elements doesn’t give you a sense of where you are unless you drive by using that nested view.

I used Photoshop once to design some software (ages ago) and while the results were stunning, there was no easy hand-off of assets to a developer or by myself as a developer. Some pixel states don’t always make for a good flow – and a raster environment isn’t one of them. It took ages to translate the designs into something that could be built while being flexible in regards to device dimensions, screen resolution, application bundle size, etc. Never again I vowed. If you are not strong using vector design tools,. spend a few weeks and get better at it. Life will become easier.

So I set out to generate design directions and ideas in Illustrator. When I was generally happy with what I had for the time allotted – I then had to translate everything into Sketch. Why? Because some members of a team prefer that tool – and I understand why. To export assets out of Illustrator is not fun and a very manual process. Sketch streamlines this workflow in many ways, making it far easier for a developer to obtain the assets or for a designer to deliver them.

It’s never as simple as copy and paste. To avoid translation masks, etc. it is better to recreate elements rather that pasting them in and then having to worry about future edits becoming a real pain in the ass.

The best would be a hybrid model of Illustrator in my option. Support symbols and libraries. Make it easier to create art boards. Make it simple to make things “exportable” in the designs. Automate more of the process – like a single button to produce a whole set of assets (image/svg/color) ready for easy consumption.

I will continue to use Illustrator as a main tool – since it allows me to more quickly jot initial ideas down. Sketching works (on paper) as long as I’m using a fountain pen on decent paper – but in my mind I can see color and effect already, so Digital is nearly as fast and produces more memorable results for me in order to more quickly proceed with iteration or different design directions.

Have you run into a tooling issue while working on a development team?

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