And What Are Your Favorite Tools?

Khoi Vinh says there’s tremendous change happening in the market for design software right now. “We see a new app geared towards the needs of designers—particularly digital designers, but sometimes those working in print too—released about once a month. That rate is such a dramatic change from the situation we had a decade ago, when there was basically one game in town—Adobe—and few people willing to take them on.” Vinh recently launched a survey called “The Tools Designers Are Using Today” (designed by Hyperakt). I asked him to explain his goals.

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What do you hope to do with the data?
The data is a means to understanding how this aspect of our craft is changing. Tools directly impact the way designers work and therefore influence the kind of design that gets done. To me, that’s worth a closer look.

How are these tools different from standard graphic design methods?
The standard graphic design tools are more or less settled territory: Even newcomers that deal with vector drawing, raster editing or page layout tend to look more or less like Illustrator, Photoshop and InDesign, respectively.

There are two major new categories.

First, tools that focus on interface design—a kind of blend between vector and raster manipulation, with a bit of page layout–style templating thrown in. The early winner there is Bohemian Coding’s Sketch, an amazing app from a scrappy indie software team whose employees are spread out all over the world.

Second, there’s user experience prototyping—basically tools that let designers craft the way interface elements move, change and behave. That is a very robust category at the moment because there are no clearly established best practices yet. Some tools are very simple and some tools are very complex, and no one has settled on a single app as a de facto standard yet. I wrote about this in this blog post.

Were you surprised by any of the responses?
In some respects, no. It wasn’t that much of a surprise that Sketch has done so well in the market, because anyone who has followed it for the past two years knows that its adoption rate has been stellar.

On the other hand, it was interesting to see how well old stalwarts, like Photoshop, have hung on. And it was also interesting to see how some tasks—like brainstorming—are still dominated by pencil and paper.

How will this help the field?
Well, I think it’s worth repeating that tools determine how designers work, which shapes the nature of the work itself. So trying to better understand how the market is changing is really a proxy for understanding how the way we work changes.

And by “we,” I mean designers as well as those who are building these tools. In the past that would have meant big, well-capitalized companies only. Today that could just as well mean scrappy startups, one- or two-person companies formed ad hoc, or even folks tinkering with tools in their off hours.

So in the end, I hope this will help people understand what the new tools are that they should be trying if they want to stay current, and also, maybe more importantly, I hope it helps developers of design tools make better tools.


Do you design your own typefaces? Have you created stunning type-centric design work? Have you produced a gorgeous handlettered project? If so, we want to see your work. All too often, typeface designs, typographic designs and handlettering get overlooked in competitions—which is why Print developed a competition that gives the artforms their full due and recognizes the best designers in each category. Enter Print’s Typography & Lettering Awards today.

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