How Tools Have Shaped the Role of the Designer –

Twitter was one of the 40+ tools used to create the talk.

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to deliver a talk at Shift in Split, Croatia.

Shift is a developer conference, so initially I thought it would be entertaining to talk about what it’s like to work with an engineer, from a designers perspective. The working title of the talk was Things Engineers Hate About Working With (Me) a Designer.

I was going to share the mistakes I’ve made and what I’ve learned from them along the way. It was to be a manifesto of what not to do when working with an engineer.

However, feedback included phrases like, “it’s a bit tongue & cheek” and the best talks are ones that are “raw, honest and vulnerable.”

You don’t write code, but you’ve been successful in spite of it. The lines are blurring between design & engineering. Why not talk about how tools have helped bridge that gap?

There was something more interesting to talk about. I realized that I didn’t write code because I didn’t need to. For years I’d been spoiled, and to some extent enabled, by a handful of incredibly talented engineers. The realization didn’t sit well with me.

I scrapped everything and went back to the drawing board.

Tools were my first introduction to a hobby ? that turned into a passion ? that has become an obsession ?

They have been steadily influencing and shaping me as a designer from the first time I sat in front of a computer in elementary school. I would not realize how much they’d impact my life until much much later.

Tools have had a massive influence on me and my work, but had they on others?

Data Collection: The Survey

To answer this question, I put together a survey and sent it to a handful of designers and asked them to help me spread the word.

I created the survey using Google Forms.

Tools like Twitter or Facebook — yes, they’re tools — allowed me to reach a community of designers that extended well beyond my personal network with far more efficiency than traditional methods like direct mail, the telephone, or even email.

When asking friends for help (left) Twitter’s reach was staggering. Especially when compared to engagement (right) of a typical tweet.

Tools have become a pervasive fixture in our lives. We tend to forget what life was like prior to their existence. For fun, I started to add up the tools I used to create the talk. The list kept growing. At the time I delivered the talk the list had ballooned to include 44 tools.

Quip, Keynote, Twitter, Facebook, Messenger, Linkedin, Principle, Flinto, Sketch, Photoshop, Illustrator, Spotify, Dropbox, Fount, Design Hunt, Chrome, Google Forms, Inbox, Sheets, Typekit, Font Manager, Image Capture, AirDrop, Snapchat, Sketch Mirror, Flint Preview, Principle Mirror, Photos, Craft, Zeplin, SMS, Caffeine, F.lux, Bartender, Slack, FaceTime, Phone, Notes, Calculator, Safari, Vimeo, Spaces, FastestTube, Preview, TextEdit, etc…

Survey Participants: An Overview

In total, 107 participants across 4 continents contributed 6,601 words to the study.

Of those surveyed seventy-four percent have been designing for more than eight years. They have borne witness to this massive shift in tools, and it was evident in their responses.

The top 3 skills possessed by designers were Interaction Design (84%), Product Design (79%) and Visual Design (74%). Interestingly, one out of four respondents possess Motion Design (25%) skills.

Web & mobile design consume the lion’s share of our time and attention, but twenty-six percent of those surveyed still work in print.

Sixty-six percent of those surveyed work for an in-house design team. Participation came from a variety of in-house design teams including those at Facebook, Twitter, Google, Airbnb, Pinterest, Instagram, Dropbox, Apple and Uber.

More than half of the design managers surveyed are still in the trenches doing the work. I can’t express how valuable this is when trying to recruit and hire talent.

Design & Our Tools: A Look Back

We had been left to play with the hand we were dealt.

Photoshop is an amazing tool, but it was not designed for web or mobile design. It is image editing software designed by engineers Thomas & John Knoll in 1987. Three words. Image. Editing. Software.

The same goes for Illustrator. It’s an incredible tool, but it was not designed for web or mobile design either.

A early demonstration of Photoshop by creator John Knoll.

The Death of Flash.

In April of 2010, Steve Jobs used more than 1,600 words to explain why Apple was killing the support of Flash on iOS. It marked the end of an era, but also opened the door for designers and developers to fill the void it left behind.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Flash was probably the best prototyping tool ever made.

The Birth of Sketch.

While designers around the world mourned the death of Flash, a small team based in The Hague was preparing to launch the first tool of its kind.

Founded in 2008 by an engineer (Pieter Omvlee) and a designer (Emanuel Sá) Sketch released to the public in September of 2010. Sketch, unlike the tools before them, set out to build something that would meet the growing needs of a designer.

Scope has grown enormously. Many years ago, you could make a fancy design and call it a day — after you had exported some assets, perhaps.

–Pieter Omvlee, Founder Bohemian Coding

Expectations have changed.

For many years we designed primarily static experiences with an extremely limited set of tools. Print, web, and even mobile browsing experiences were flat, static, and linear.

We operated in a world where designs often made their way to a printer ?, not a developer ? ?

Some examples of print, web and mobile design from 2000–2001.

Today we’re designing and building highly interactive experiences with a range of tools; tools that allow us to work seamlessly across a variety of platforms & device types.

Fully automated ?? concept for BloomThat. Clients would be able to buy flowers without ever talking to a human.

The process has changed, too.

The days of designing, building and shipping in a vacuum are gone. Today, teams rapidly design, prototype, test, and iterate before shipping to customers. They use a mixture of qualitative & quantitative research to help inform design decisions.

Author: Jonathan Lieberman

Collect by: