Creating a true open platform for designers

Mar 30, 2018

Invision Studio is just around the corner. I got the early access, but I am supposed to keep it hush-hush for now. I have seen what it can do, and what it could potentially also be in the future.

Last week I read an article on Fast Company, about Figma and their vision of being the platform at the intersection of design and engineering. I admit I have only tried that tool on a surface level. A lot of designers seem to dig it, therefore I presume it is a valid tool to get stuff done.

Being a user of Sketch, myself, I have never been happier with a design tool in my professional career. I made the switch back in 2014 from Illustrator, and never looked back. While still using Adobe products, it never felt that something, even XD would make me feel the need to switch.

And should it?

Designers care about their efficiency, creativity, communication, compensation (tangible and non tangible), learning, and professional development. I guess, what I am trying to say is that designers do not care about specific tools, but only about their investment in those tools.

For the community to move past beyond the everlasting discussions of “design tool wars”, we need to setup some principles so that the future of product design is not governed and moderated by the limitations of the tools we use, but only by the level of progress we are willing to make.

A true open platform for designers

Design work should not be dependent on any design tool. For an open structure like that to ever exist, we have to borrow notions from the engineering world, again. Choosing your own text editor should be a matter of personal taste as long as we can work together.

Imagine a design team that is working on a product on multiple tools creating 1 deliverable. Impossible?

Universal design format
An open format would be a great start in that direction. The team has files for every page they are building plus their libraries. A file while working on the home page of an app could have a home.dsgn filename attached to it and the library of elements is coexisting in the same folder under styleguide.dlib

Yes I just made those extensions up but you get the idea.

We all edit the same files in the team. I am super fast with Sketch. Lana really enjoys the web version of Figma. And Jason is “the windows guy” so he uses XD (seriously Jason…?).

Version control
The open format opens up the field for tools like Abstract. I had the pleasure to meet Josh (CEO of Abstract) at DSCONF — the design systems conference I organise in Helsinki, Finland. Josh is a bright guy and he shared his vision on version control while showcasing the bleak truths of teams and what they go through — STILL — nowadays when they have to work on the same design files.

The open format would let tools like Abstract acting not only as the single source of truth, but a further step into true design collaboration. A GitHub, or a way to integrate with Github (or Deshub™ — lol cheeky, I know) for design teams, combined with version control and a complete breakdown of everyone’s changes, additions, and documentation of their actions.

On getting stuff done

It all comes down to that. For a long time we stood and watched a new design tool emerging every week that promised to be the next true tool for the design community. The truth is, it doesn’t have to be like that, and obviously it is not a race.

What we do care about, at the end of the day, is our own efficient way of creating value to the products and services we are working for. Give us the freedom to be truly free to use our creativity.

So let’s drive this as a community towards an open platform for designers?