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The Rise of Sketch in Enterprise Software

May 14, 2018 by James Rafferty

TL;DR

  • Sketch is no longer a niche tool.
  • The spectrum of UX Design for Enterprise is broader than just sprint work, however, enterprise companies are coming to realize that putting working software in the hands of their users as soon as possible allows them to learn, take greater strides with each iteration, and is key to product success and sustainability in the marketplace.
  • Sketch streamlines the design/build/iterate cycle by helping to bring design and development together into a single, unified resource.

In the beginning…

Not long ago, Design Director Jason Frasier shared his thoughts on Sketch in Enterprise UX. At the time, Sketch was fast-becoming the definitive tool for screen design despite the fact it suffered inevitable comparison to other, more ubiquitous tools. Jump ahead to today and we find that Sketch is no longer a niche tool. Because of its steady development, ever-expanding set of useful, time-saving features, and its seamless coalescence of third-party plug-ins, it has become the tool of choice among UX design practitioners.

All through its rise, Sketch was a force of change for how designers and developers could work together. Here at DesignMap, Sketch is essential to our workflow. It enables us to offer design and front-end development as a single unified service. Our final deliverables now include high fidelity prototypes, production-ready front-end solutions, pattern libraries, and live style guides. Couple that with the eagerness of enterprise companies that want to put working software into the hands of their users as quickly as possible, you can see how these services add indispensable value to any project.

Consistency, Collaboration are the Keys

Deploying holistic teams made up of interaction design, visual design, and front-end development—all sharing a common set of tools—eliminates the need for designers to create, and developers to distill exhaustive, often complicated documentation. Instead, team members are able to build, evaluate, and iterate software that exemplifies a congruous balance of the best user experience achievable within the restrictions of feasible code, together, and in real time.

Applying principles of Agile methodology beyond the development phase and into a broader design process plays a critical role in the time and money-saving gains realized in its practice. When you consider the power of the resulting consistency across your product, you can start to see real value.

Enterprise Companies Opening Up to Agile

In a Diginomica article, Jon Reed questions author Frank Scavo about the rate at which enterprise companies are opening up to Agile methodology. Surprisingly, in report findings released by Computer Economics, it turns out large enterprises were the most likely to adopt Agile methodology, no longer believing the old adage that Agile was only effective for “edge projects but not for large, mission-critical projects.” It is true that there are still barriers keeping many companies from integrating Agile into their lineup, but there is no denying that doing so would allow them to improve product viability, sustainability, and market success through unified team participation in a design/build/iterate process that embraces continuous learning.

No Need to Design Every Screen

Modular design seeks to simplify and organize by breaking down complex systems into their most elemental parts. Design and development working together do exactly that; designers build the fundamental elements that developers will later index as reusable components: the pattern library. Designers can export and developers can extract production-ready assets directly from the source Sketch file, and they can perform simple tricks like holding down the option key while hovering over an object to display redline pixel measurements; a feature available to anyone using the application.

In addition, developers can utilize the patterns housed in key page type designs to build entire systems without having to wait for wholesale design mockups. And by using Sketch in conjunction with tools like Zeplin and Jira Cloud, design and development each have the capability—in a synchronous exchange—to create the building blocks for completing large-scale constructs.

High Fidelity Prototypes

Sometimes it is difficult to get a true understanding of how a complex interaction, animation, or static design might feel. Building high fidelity prototypes can be paramount when evaluating early iterations of a design because they provide a realistic portrayal of intent and overall user experience without having to body the entire product. With little investment, prototyping exposes issues of technical feasibility, and facilitates more informed design decisions because stakeholders can interact with realistic models early in the process. Applying all the thinking around consistency, collaboration, and key page type design during the product cycle reduces churn, diminishes the need to produce non-essential explanatory documentation, and provides almost immediate proof-of-concept validation.

Pattern Libraries and Live Style Guides

A pattern library houses an overall system of front-end components that are uniform in visual identity and coding methodology.

A live style guide simplifies the development process by serving as a single source of truth from which a diverse team of developers can draw from and build software in a consistent way.

Always Improving Process

A primary goal at DesignMap is to tirelessly strive for improved communication between designers, developers, and project managers, both internally, and with our client counter-parts. The tools we use to validate design, rapidly test intricate UX patterns, communicate complex information, and gather feedback are vital when we evaluate, and before we commit to a final design. Sketch has allowed us to streamline our process and foster our goal of improved communication, particularly between design and development. But beyond that, we have been able to expand our own service offerings, and Sketch is one tool among many that helps us improve dialog and collaboration among all stakeholders.