May 13, 2015

Two Weeks of Sketch

People are still talking about switching to Sketch, so I figured I’d throw my two cents in. And yes, I’m tossing those pennies into a fountain currently overflowing with other designers’ pocket change, but maybe I visualize the metaphor differently and it’s not a fountain, but maybe it’s a deep well, and maybe there’s room for one more blog post?

After using Sketch for about two weeks now, I’ve been surprised at how quickly I’ve adapted to it. I felt like I should write a comprehensive list of where I’m at, just in case anyone was pondering making the switch. The list itself doesn’t take sides, it’s just supposed to be as highly detailed as possible – down to the most seemingly insignificant issue. And hopefully someone can add to it, or correct me, or even learn something about Sketch they didn’t know.

###Part 1: The Good

Holy Artboards Batman, exporting in Sketch is awesome. In Illustrator, exporting specific artboards requires looking up the artboard number (or numbers!) and then entering them into a box in the export dialogue, which was, to put it lightly, maddening. Also Sketch can export arbitrary objects and groups, a feature which I can only react to by making the gesture chefs make when they kiss their fingertips and then do a little ~explosion~.

Smart guides are pretty smart! I especially like how they infer spacing between repeated elements, which is useful for maintaining vertical rythym. They can be too smart for their own good sometimes, and they get confused when you start having a ton of objects on the screen, but there’s a command to toggle them off, which you’ll need to set your own keyboard shortcut for.

InDesign-esque shared styles are one of my favorite features, but they would be more useful if they were a little bit more intelligent. A particular pain point I have is that I’ll set some type to an existing shared style, ‘header’ for example, but I’ll want this header to be a bit smaller, so I go and decrease the font size a bit. In InDesign, this would create a new style, ‘header*’ (read: header but slightly modified). It wouldn’t retroactively apply those changes to all the other header objects unless you explicitly told it to (the command is called ‘redefine character style’). Most of the time, this is what I want, but Sketch doesn’t work this way, so I often find myself setting a text style and then un-setting it just so it won’t affect other text in my document.

Most values in Sketch (position, size, transforms, font size, leading, etc) can be dragged like sliders so you can tweak the value to be juuuuust right. This is amazing and it’s something I never knew I needed until Sketch. (jk After Effects does this and it’s great)

Illustrator’s ‘Split Into Grid’ tool lets you turn an arbitrary rectangle into a grid, and I remember gasping when I found that tool thinking my life had changed forever. But Sketch’s layouts leave those grids in the dust. Yes, Illustrator’s method is theoretically more powerful. But Sketch, its main strength being the fact that it is streamlined for UI Design, knows what you want and delivers. I don’t know about you but if automatic n-column grids on every artboard that can be edited per instance don’t make you squeal with delight well then I’m not sure you can call yourself a designer.

Creating new plugins is dead simple, mostly because the documentation is straightforward, there are lots of examples, and the plugin template they provide is extremely helpful. Have you ever needed to exactly swap the positions of two objects? I’ve been meaning to make an Illustrator script that does that for YEARS and I made it for Sketch my first day after using it.

I wasn’t sure if this was good or bad so I put it under good. Sketch’s align tools take away the ability to choose what you’re aligning to – either the selected objects or the artboard. Most of the time this is actually ok, because it can automatically detect the right answer. But it is missing ‘align to key object’: an option that lets you align multiple objects to one arbitrary one. This is really useful for times when you have one icon in the right place and you just need to move the others, but aligning to the selection would move them all. I’ve found in my experience that Sketch will often guess this automatically as well, but not having the explicit option still makes me suspicious.

###Part 2: The Bad

I’ve gotten so used to using shortcuts in Illustrator that my left hand operates through reflexive reaction at this point rather than conscious decision. Sketch has completely different shortcuts, but that’s not really a problem: it’s really the fact that lots of menu commands don’t have shortcuts set by default. And you can add your own shortcuts, but it’s a tedius multi-step process compared to Illustrator, which gives you a menu in the app and even lets you save shortcut profiles.

When I have to move something around in Sketch, which I’d say is about 95% of the time, I basically have to have no tool selected. Which means that I press ESC a LOT. It’d be much easier just to have a move tool and map it to something close to the home row (like v for example?). I do realize that Sketch tries to do its best to infer when you want to move things so you don’t have to switch tools, but my shorcut reflexes can hit a key fast enough so that it’s not a drawback but does help me be more precise and predictable.

This one is actually my biggest gripe, but man, Sketch needs to grow up and get some big boy typography tools. Kerning has been exiled to a nested menu, choosing a typface is much harder than it needs to be (1, there’s no autocomplete for typing in names, and 2, why restart the list from the top every time I open the menu), and there are lots of things it’s actually impossible to do: text indents, drop caps, hanging punctuation, and toggling certain opentype features (I miss oldstyle numerals!). There’s also no glyphs panel, which makes it hard to do things like use icon fonts.

The copy/paste behavior baffles me. Let’s pretend I copy something, then move over to another artboard that’s quite large so I’m currently zoomed into the very bottom, where I want the pasted item to go. If I hit cmd+v, it’ll paste into the center of the artboard, where I can’t see it. If I hit cmd+shift+v, it’ll paste into the top left corner of the artboard, where I also can’t see it. Only if I right click and select ‘paste here’ will it drop the copied object somewhere within my visible viewport. And in case you haven’t picked up on it yet, I hate when programs force me to use my mouse.

Also, you have to hit enter when you’re entering hex values for colors, otherwise they won’t apply. The insignificance:frustration ratio of this one is off the charts.

###Part 3: The Stuff I Learned

Lots of times when I complain Sketch doesn’t have something, someone informs me that it does, so here’s a list of things I didn’t know you could do until recently:

Presentation mode! I missed Illustrator’s floating panels that I could move out of the way if I needed more room, but then I found Sketch’s presentation mode, which is very similar to InDesign’s, in that it is awesome.

I was quite offended that it didn’t seem easy to zoom at any intervals between 50% and 100%, but then I realized you could hold down cmd and use the scroll wheel to zoom, and I was once again at peace with the universe.

The distinction between Illustrator’s selection tool and direct selection tool was one that didn’t seem to apply to Sketch, which was the bane of my existence whenever I needed to access layers in deeply nested groups. But I was on Bohemian Coding’s website and found that you can select individual objects no matter how deeply nested by holding down cmd and then clicking.

###Part 4: So Which One Do You Like Better?

This list is supposed to be neutral as far as this debate is concerned, but personally, I’m leaning towards Sketch being better for UI design (websites and mobile apps) at the moment and Illustrator being better at everything else (actual illustration, everything print). Which is the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?