Ease of collaboration made this tool the logical choice for our design team.

As a remote-first digital solutions delivery company, NearForm is no stranger to working across time zones and with a variety of different tech stacks. Our design team always works with the client’s software, and a feature we value highly in any tool is the way it facilitates collaboration with the client and within our team.

In an effort to improve this collaboration we recently decided to make the switch from Sketch to Figma.

Today, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons that prompted us to make the switch, how that switch came about and how we plan to approach changing design trends in the future.

Why we changed our design stack

Until we switched to Figma, NearForm generally worked with a combination of Sketch, Abstract, Zeplin and Invision, with occasional forays into Adobe XD.

With Sketch, you can create your design and then upload it in JPEGs to InVision to create a prototype that allows you to simulate the end product on a device and create clickable hotspots. Prototyping is an important part of the design discovery process at NearForm. We use discovery workshops to reduce the time spent on discovery and provide our clients with comprehensive product prototypes at the end of the process.

The design tools market is an active one, with constantly shifting trends and new players entering, dominating and leaving it on a regular basis. Sketch proved itself to be a good tool for user interface/user experience (UI/UX) designers working in the Mac environment, but it has faced growing competition in recent years.

Figma emerged in 2016 as a cross-platform, browser-based design solution specifically created for UI design and quickly distinguished itself as a serious contender in the increasingly crowded market. At the time, Sketch simply wasn’t adding new features as quickly as rivals such as Figma. Following several iterations and the addition of numerous new features, Figma became more stable and emerged as a potential replacement for Sketch.

One of the most compelling reasons to move to Figma was its strength as a collaborative tool. Sketch did add Sketch for Teams to cater for designers working together, but it remained a product in which users worked and made their changes in isolation and shared the outcome when it was ready.

Sketch has since added real-time collaboration, but until recently Figma was the only design tool that allowed separate users to work on the same document at the same time. The experience was completely interactive, allowing designers to work in a truly collaborative fashion at the same time.

For teams working across timezones, it’s a huge benefit to be able to jump into the same file with someone as you work on it together. And it’s not just useful for designers; developers can access files at a much earlier stage of the process, allowing them to be part of the process sooner.

Integration with Storybook, an open source tool for developing UI components, also enhances the designer/developer workflow

How we moved

NearForm always works with the software our clients use, so we are in touch with shifts in trends. By mid-2020, we noticed that many of our clients were transitioning to Figma. For example, part of the design work for the Covid-19 contact tracing app we built for Scotland was completed in Figma.

With some 90% of our design work taking place on Figma by early 2021, the logical decision was to move our entire stack to Figma. Although we still use Sketch and Adobe XD, the industry trend is toward Figma — primarily because of its collaborative tools, excellent enterprise plan, and the fact that it is based in the cloud.

No tool is perfect, but Figma is constantly adding features and improving. With an excellent developer community and an open API, Figma allows users to develop plugins and work more interactively with it. Furthermore, Figma reduces costs substantially by eliminating the need for separate branching and version control, prototyping and design tools for working with developers.

Where to next

Design software is constantly evolving.

From MS Paint to Adobe Fireworks (formerly Macromedia Fireworks) to Photoshop to Sketch, the tools preferred by designers are always changing. And, although Figma is top of the design heap today, it could be toppled within a couple of years. Designers don’t tend to be brand loyal; they will use whatever makes their work easier to produce quality work.

However, in a world driven by speed and the need to ship quickly and often, Figma offers the perfect tool for a collaborative workflow. With new features such as branching, it also blurs the lines between development practices and design practices, making it even easier for teams to work together.

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