I’ve been a designer on and off over the last 20 years. Some roles were design heavy, some focused on development but I’ll always be a designer at heart. I started out like so many with a copy of Photoshop and Dreamweaver and for years would produce designs made up of layers, text and images, most of it long before mobile was a thing. When I moved more into the frontend side of things, I started to do less designing in Photoshop and began just building my vision in CSS and HTML to the point where it felt alien designing in Photoshop.
Obviously Photoshop became a thing of the past for the majority of designers and tools like Sketch and Figma started to make their way in but I never really picked them up as I was happy designing in CSS and HTML still plus to be fair, I was still in a dev role and only designed outside of hours.
4 years ago though, I decided that I had enough of being a dev and wanted to be a designer again which was a big decision as I hadn’t designed in anger for a good few years but it’s like riding a bike surely?
I focused on doing design still in CSS and HTML which resulted in me getting a role at the current agency. At that time, we were using Photoshop still but looking at Sketch. I didn’t really pick it up as I was able to design in CSS and HTML without any real problems.
Fast forward 4 years and the team has grown. We outgrew Sketch and moved to Figma but I was still designing in CSS and HTML. I’d taken up a new role where I would be doing less hands on design and more management. It’s the same issues and questions that come up regardless of tools so I was not too worried.
That said, I knew that me not knowing Figma might do more harm than good especially when everyone in the team use it including the people I am supporting on projects so recently made the decision to look into it and see if I can pick it up.
So that is what I have been doing. Picking up Figma and trying to see what the fuss is about and also to see if I can still be an effective designing in something other than CSS and HTML, maybe seeing if I can become a better designer?
The first few hours
“I’m never going to use this” turned to “ok this isn’t too bad” within the space of 3 hrs. Starting out with a fresh canvas was nice but I missed having set my rules around spacings, margins, grid-gaps. I think it took me an hour to figure out how to display a grid and then snap to it. If I had been doing this in CSS and HTML, it was some simple CSS and I would have already been producing content on the page.
Progress with a hint of meh
Once I mastered the art of frames and defining grids, I was away. I started to design something I had designed a few days back in CSS & HTML to compare. So far it was the tools and my experience rather than my design skills being the issue. I had designed pretty much the layout I wanted. It was nice seeing the full page in view rather than the viewport you see when in CSS and HTML.
But here’s the meh. I had made progress to the point where I had designed something but I had only designed something at 1440px. If this had been CSS & HTML, there’s a good chance I would have covered a lot more around mobile and tablet views also which then would have influenced how I built it overall. Here I was in Figma only thinking about one breakpoint.
So is this a bad thing? I understand the impact on other resolutions I have when designing something but I guess for others who don’t have that responsive understanding, its easy to get caught up in the moment and design something that simply won’t work on smaller screens. I did find myself however focusing on smaller details that maybe get lost when jumping about mobile and desktop in the browser.
This was a big thing for me really. I’ve spent a lot of time designing one screen whereas I would probably have designed 3 or 4 screens in CSS & HTML.
It’s not all negative
When I add something new to a design in CSS & HTML builds, it can sometimes take a bit of time building out the HTML and CSS. I must admit some things I was trying to achieve took less time throwing some shapes up. I guess this is a key thing for me. What am I trying to achieve?
When I build designs up in code, I am going to be demonstrating responsive websites as well as interactions like adding to bag or clicking on the menu icons. When working in Figma, I am solely looking at one state at a time. Whilst it might be quicker for me, there is now a gap between me and the devs in terms of what happens whereas in the past, they could click around a page and see how it should function which I always felt was a strong point to designing in the browser. I suppose I need to get better at explaining my designs from now on.
It’s early days
I’m only really starting to look at auto layouts in Figma. Whilst it looks cool, I am split on whether it’s that important but that’s the novice in me speaking. I plan to do more.
I like Figma. Designing things is quick and relatively easy. I found it an enjoyable time and I really did just focus on the one breakpoint and didn’t consider what would happen later on. Is that bad? I don’t know yet as I’ve not done a project with it but for now, learning how it works is fun enough. Is it better than designing in CSS and HTML? For me personally, not a chance. I could see me using it alongside though. That said, from a team point of view, having people all working the same way helps a great deal and means we can all chip in and support easily.
I’ll always be a designer
Regardless of what tools I use to design in, I’ll always be a designer. 20 years plus experience working on some huge projects. Tools are tools and in the web world, there will always be something new that comes along and gets picked up and becomes the new standard. It’s important that we don’t get lost in the how do you it over the why. Tools can be learnt but they take less time than learning how to design.
I must admit though, I’ve enjoyed this last few days and it’s really given me a confidence boost and some motivation. I’m not an old dog yet. It also emphasises that sometimes you have to give these things a try and go open minded. Took me a few hours to get to grips with it but I feel like I have a new string to my bow.