The Sketch movement is gaining momentum, and now Khoi Vinh and some others on the Etsy design team have made the switch. Here's what you need to know
.net: What part of the Photoshop experience was frustrating you enough that you went looking for an alternative?
Khoi Vinh: There are too many to fully enumerate, but the big one is that Photoshop has never been focused on user interface design. The number of its features that are truly helpful for UX and UI designers comprise maybe twenty percent of the whole app. So to use Photoshop for this purpose is to shoulder that outstanding, largely useless eighty per cent of features. In practice, the price I pay for that is heavy, heavy downloads, frequent crashes, useless or irrelevant-to-me features constantly getting in the way, and a hefty price tag.
.net: In your blog post you've described the Sketch approach as 'un-Adobe-like'. What do you mean by this?
KV: Sketch is purpose-built for user interface design, so every feature is crafted around those ideas. It chucks out the preconceptions that decades of Adobe apps have built around… well, around Adobe itself. For the past decade-plus, Adobe has been focused on an "insurrectionist strategy," in my view. They've tried to build an OS inside my resident OS, and they've written tremendous amounts of code to do that. At the state they're at now with this approach, the justification for crafting features seems much closer to, "Well we do it this way because this is the way Adobe does things," rather than, "We do it this way because this is what the user expects."
.net: What specific advantages does Sketch offer over Photoshop for UI design?
KV: Everything in Sketch is can be edited, manipulated, resized, tweaked numerically, right from the inspector pane on the right. And yet the output is indistinguishable from raster art. So you can achieve the kind of very rich effects that user interfaces sometimes require -- drop shadows and transparencies and blurs -- in very precise, mutable ways. That kind of flexibility and accuracy is a real boon to UI designers.
.net: Are there any tasks for which you go back to Photoshop?
KV: There are a few, but not many. Generating textures from scratch is not something Sketch excels at. Actually, it may never be something Sketch excels at, which is fine with me. For that kind of work, which is closer to rendering than to interface design, I'm perfectly happy to go back to a raster program like Photoshop. Actually, there are great alternatives to Photoshop emerging on that front too, Pixelmator being just one. We are within striking distance of a day when a UI designer won't have to open Photoshop at all. That's pretty remarkable, and kind of exciting.
.net: Is there anything you'd like to see changed or added to Sketch?
KV: At the very top of my list would be smart objects, so that I can create a button, say, duplicate it any number of times, and then make changes to to all of those instances at once. For me that would make Sketch virtually feature complete.
.net: Is there any advice you would give to a designer considering making the transition to Sketch?
KV: The learning curve is much shallower than a designer who works primarily in Photoshop would expect. I would guess it wouldn't take more than a full work day or two to get comfortable with Sketch, and one could be producing production-ready work with Sketch within the first week, for sure.
The harder part is really fighting against how Photoshop might be entrenched at one's workplace, or with one's client. The only remedy for that, I think, is propaganda. The notion that Sketch is a viable alternative to Photoshop is gaining strength, but I bet it will need to be broadcast a lot further before this early migration turns into mass adoption.
.net: What if someone on a big team with complex workflows was thinking of transitioning to Sketch - can you see any major troubles with that?
KV: I can see problems swapping files with other designers if one or more of them haven't yet switched to Sketch. However, the beauty of the web stack is you can generate the assets however you like, so from that perspective Sketch can output your PNGs or whatever just like Photoshop can.
Sketch recently launched SketchMine, a place to share templates and UI files