Adobe’s answer to Sketch and InVision is Adobe XD. Sketch has been the leading tool for UX/UI designers for some years now, enhanced further by its community, plugins and integration with InVision.
If you couldn’t care less for Adobe XD, or don’t want to know what XD has to offer, do yourself a favour and scroll down and read the section “Why Adobe XD will dominate, regardless of features” before crossing XD off your list.
There are many other UX/UI design tools outside of Sketch and InVision. Figma, Framer and Protopie to name a few, but Sketch and InVision seem to be dominating the field. The question we need to ask is, is their reign about to come to an end?
I am in no way affiliated with Adobe and the opinions expressed in this article are my own.
A brief history to date
Traditionally, designers used Photoshop to mockup apps and websites, but Photoshop as a tool, was never created for the purpose of designing websites and apps. Photoshop, being a very heavy pro tool, began its days with a focus on photography, and was later picked up by graphic designers enabling them to bring their creations to the next level.
The big problem with Photoshop is that the tool is clunky, its native PSD format left designers managing large files and the majority of tools within the software are useless to most digital designers.
Sketch came to the rescue and addressed these issues and has now evolved into the market leader. Sketch allowed for reusable symbols and much faster workflows, enabling designers to work smarter and more efficiently. Sketch’s real power comes to light with the addition of plugins, allowing very specific, custom functionality to be added to the software, not available through the native application.
The ability to create prototypes was first enabled via InVision’s integration. InVision allowed you to upload native PSD and Sketch files to their platform and turn designs into workable prototypes. Recently Sketch enabled prototyping via its cloud service, but this is still very basic and limited.
“If an image is worth a thousand words, a prototype will leave you speechless.” — Shane Williams
Enter InVision Studio
When it came to complex animations, designers often still relied on building mockups in software like Adobe’s After Effects. This workflow was challenged when InVision announced Studio, a new piece of software that allowed designers to build more advanced animation and micro-interactions. Studio also integrated with InVision’s link to Sketch via its Craft plugin. Like Photoshop, After Effects is too heavy an application for UI animation work.
Adobe comes to the party
Designers at Adobe saw the need for a new design tool, and answered with a new piece of software dubbed ‘Project Comet’ in October 2015. This was developed in the open with monthly releases driven by feedback from the Adobe design community. The tool took on a new design philosophy, and promised the designer the ability to “design at the speed of thought”. Comet launched with an amazing new concept and tool called repeat-grid, which caught the attention of many designers.
This allowed designers to create an element, then use the repeat-grid tool to drag out a grid of instances of the same element in a grid-like fashion. Text and images could change within the grid, but elements remained linked, allowing cascading redesigns by adjusting one element, saving designers hours with the ability to experiment with layouts faster than ever before.
When Comet came out of beta, it was renamed Adobe XD (the XD standing for Experience Design). While being a very powerful tool, it still could not compete with Sketch and its ecosystem of plugins. Prototyping was basic at best, but prototyping via InVision was better.
This all changed when Adobe released their latest update to XD on 15 October at Adobe MAX 2018 .
Amongst the list of new features, plugins were now available in Adobe XD, and many Sketch plugins have already ported to XD. This was Sketch’s biggest advantage, and now Adobe has levelled the playing field.
Voice triggers and speech
Adobe XD have also allowed users to interact with your prototypes like never before. Voice triggers and speech playback lets you take users beyond the screen, allowing the ability to prototype with voice. Something no other piece of prototyping software lets you do.
Adobe XD killed InVision Studio with this feature. While it does not yet give you the fine controls InVision Studio allows, the sheer speed of Adobe XD and easy setup is something InVision Studio needs to work hard at to remain relevant.
I recently put Adobe XD’s auto animate feature to the test, you can read more about it and download the project files here:
Adobe XD: putting auto-animate to the test
Adobe recently announced their updated version of Adobe XD at Adobe Max in October and introduced a new feature called…uxdesign.cc
Adobe XD evolved their symbol ecosystem. It’s way easier to stay on top of changes when symbols copied from one document and pasted into prototypes remain linked. Now when changes happen to the source file, you’ll have the option to accept updates in another file.
Building design systems in Sketch has always been very powerful, but with linked symbols in XD, Adobe has opened up a new world when it comes to managing design systems in XD. This new feature is simple to understand and much easier to setup as opposed to Sketch.
Prototype drag gestures
This was a big missing element in XD’s arsenal, this update is huge for XD users.
Other XD features that can not be ignored…
- Users of Adobe XD can open Photoshop and Illustrator files in XD — traditional designers who use these software packages can now open their files in XD, and continue to prototype. No need to upload files into InVision any more.
- Sketch files can be opened in XD — giving Sketch users no excuse not to give XD a try.
- Open XD files in After Effects — complex animations can still be created in After Effects by exporting an XD project into AE and adding fine control to animations (if Adobe XD does not meet your needs).
- Developer handoffs — this competes with InVision’s new focus around collaboration. ‘Share for development’ allows developers to inspect design files via a weblink and download assets marked for export without ever opening or owning a copy of Adobe XD. Developers can also leave comments and questions.
- Comments — via ‘Share for review’ comments can be pinned to designs, for faster collaboration with stakeholders, competing with some of InVisions offerings.
- App integrations — Adobe XD now integrates with more of your favourite collaboration and productivity apps, including Slack, JIRA and Microsoft Teams. InVision seems far less relevant when looking at this collaboration feature.
Why Adobe XD will dominate, regardless of features
While features will evolve in Sketch, InVision, Studio and Adobe XD, Adobe has one massive advantage, and that is around workflow. If you’re not an Adobe XD user, you need several pieces of software to communicate and manage your designs. Many design workflows end up looking someting like this:
- Design in Sketch
- Publish to InVision
- Prototype in InVision or build out animations in InVision Studio
- Share and collect feedback via InVision
- Back to step 1 or 2
This often divides the design process into different steps, meaning flat designs often happen first and prototyping and animation happen later.
Round-tripping between these steps is not as frictionless as it seems, which is why these steps often happen in isolation.
Prototyping, design, and animation all happen in one space when using Adobe XD, meaning testing and iterating on design happens easier and much faster. The design process is effortless, interactions and animations all happen in context of each other allowing these disciplines to become part of the design process, rather than independently of each other. This is very powerful and enables design to happen at the speed of thought.
The ability to move from wireframe to hi-fidelity prototyping, to developer handoffs in one piece of software shows how much Adobe focuses on workflows. By making workflows simple and easy, they are addressing some of designers biggest pain points — something only Adobe is truly equipped to do via its software ecosystem.
Adobe also has a huge dominance in the design industry through its Creative Cloud suite of apps. Most designers use one or more of Adobe’s applications and have a Creative Cloud licence. When having to fork out cash for a Sketch, and InVision license along with a Creative Cloud license, it makes no sense to keep up Sketch and InVision licenses when these benefits are already covered in the Creative Cloud suite. InVision has a free version, but bigger teams, need licences. Adobe XD is also free, with the limit being the number of projects you can publish for commenting and sharing in the free version. The barrier to entry with Adobe XD is set very low.
InVision’s strength is also it’s biggest threat
While Sketch and InVision seem inseparable to most designers, this is also InVision biggest threat. InVision is so integrated with Sketch, a piece of software maintained and owned by a 3rd party. When Sketch updates, InVision need to play catchup. This may be why InVision have changed their focus to collaboration, with less focus on Sketch. With Sketch Cloud now available, InVisions existence may be under threat. Many of InVisions advantages are being addressed by Sketch Cloud, and there’s no telling how far Sketch will push in this area. Only time will tell if InVision Studio will be able to fill the gap Sketch could leave should users abandon the platform in favour of Sketch Cloud.
InVision are pushing collaboration as their focus along with the slogan “DESIGN BETTER. FASTER. TOGETHER.” The platform is evolving and pivoting its focus.
InVision’s new product, DSM (Design Systems Manager) may be how InVision stays relevant going forward. InVision shows no signs of an Adobe XD integration, and still seems glued on Sketch. If this platforms opens up to Adobe XD, they could secure a much more sustainable future.
Adobe’s focus on workflow and collaboration
The December release of Adobe XD brought in a new way of working through what they call ‘Document Cloud’. This allows documents to be saved to, shared and worked on through the cloud, much like DropBox but with a deeper integration inside of Adobe XD. This is also a slight departure or what appears to be an evolution of Adobe’s Creative Cloud folder cloud syncing.
This could pose a threat to InVision’s solutions as Adobe strengthens its approach to collaboration and workflows. According to Adobe, future updates in 2019 will include live collaboration and versioning. No longer will you need to manually save out versions of documents, with cloud documents you’ll get easy ways to make a milestone version that you can quickly access within XD.
Adobe’s future plans also make reference to Design Systems — you’ll have everything you need to create and manage robust design systems for use with your team or organisation with cloud documents and Creative Cloud Libraries.
Will history repeat itself?
Back in the day, when print was the dominant platform, QuarkXPress ruled the roost. This was a desktop publishing software package that allowed layouts for print. At the time it was unrivalled by it’s competitors; Macromedia’s Freehand, Adobe’s Illustrator and Photoshop.
When Adobe unveiled InDesign, it competed directly with QuarkXPress and provided an alternative, it opened up a new world of possibilities in the desktop publishing arena.
Many believed that InDesign could never replace QuarkXPress, but Adobe’s sheer power, market dominance and integration with its other software packages soon left QuarkXPress in the dust. While Quark is still alive and kicking, many designers today have never even heard of QuarkXPress.
Is history about to repeat itself with the advent of Adobe XD in the UX/UI space?
Adobe XD’s future is looking very bright and will win over many Sketch users. InVision’s change of focus may ensure it’s survival but one thing is for certain, Adobe XD is here to stay. The Adobe powerhouse is strong, and smaller companies like InVision and Sketch will have to work hard to stay relevant in the future.