Interview with Christopher Downer the Guy Who Designs Sketchapp Inside Sketсhapp

Chris Downer is a 25 year old interface designer living in Canterbury, UK. Chris is working for the company most Mac-addicted interface designers love - that's Sketch🙂

Photo by UNiconf.

In this interview Chris will tell us about Sketch app in general, as well as some interesting facts about Sketch that you definitely don't know.

Alex Bulat: Why did you suddenly decide to move to your own update platform, instead of continue using Mac AppStore?

Christopher Downer: It’s something that may have seemed quite sudden on the surface, but it wasn’t a decision that was made quickly, or lightly. It had been something we were wondering about for quite a while, and was something we discussed at length internally. We had already been selling copies of Sketch from our own store for quite some time–where we could offer things the Mac App Store couldn’t, such as upgrade pricing, education discounts, and volume purchases for companies. During our time in the App Store, we saw a number of high-profile apps leave, and upon learning their reasons, it was really something that resonated with us. In the end, we agreed it would be the best choice for our customers.

Since our move away from the App Store, we haven’t looked back. One of our main reasons was that we couldn’t update as often as we would like to, due to restrictions and approval times. In that time, we’ve launched three major updates, as well as a number of smaller point releases. Being out of the store means we aren’t imposed by the technical limitations sandboxing brings, which would have limited some of the features we want to bring to Sketch.

Alex Bulat: Have you run any tests that would show how much time it takes to design an interface in Sketch and Photoshop? Is there any appreciable difference in speed?

Christopher Downer: This is an interesting question! Looking at design from a purely visual point-of-view, it would be something that’s difficult to gauge as it’s down to your familiarity and experience when using a product like Photoshop. Someone with six years experience is going to be quicker that someone with six months-worth of experience.

The main difference between the two apps is that Sketch is purpose-built for interface, and digital design, whilst Photoshop is an app that’s built for photographers first and foremost. Because of this, Sketch’s features and functions are upfront and accessible for ease-of-use as you may be using them a hundred times a day. Interface design capabilities in Photoshop is almost like an afterthought, as designers need to “hack” and wrangle with it to achieve their desired designs. In its interface, this shows as certain features or commands may be deeply nested inside menus, or be tucked away in various panels, which requires a lot of extra thought to remember where everything is.

Alex Bulat: How much time does it take for a web designer to become accustomed to working with Sketch? What’s the best way to get started? Which resources except those mentioned here would you recommend for beginners?

Christopher Downer: I’ve been fortunate enough to talk with, and meet many designers who have either moved to Sketch from another tool, or have started using Sketch even though they may previously have never designed before–and have told me how easy it was!

Coming from another tool, you already have an understanding of design concepts, such as layers, as well as a knowledge of features and how to put together designs, so there is that familiarity there. So naturally, we like to think Sketch is pretty easy to pick up. However, if you’re new to designing, or haven’t used any design tools before, it can be quite scary and intimidating. It’s something I remember well! Getting started with Sketch is one of the topics that we’re continuously improving on, creating video tutorials, putting together design courses, and keeping our documentation up-to-date to name a few. Another huge factor is our fantastic community of users who create lots of valuable written, or video tutorials, as well as sharing lots of design resources, such as things they’ve created in Sketch. It was the source files like these that I really cherished and was thankful for when I was trying to learn how to use various design applications years ago!

Some great links and resources that I would recommend are:

Alex Bulat: What kind of difficulties do beginner Sketch users encounter when starting out? What’s the best way to overcome those difficulties?

Christopher Downer: From my experiences from starting design, it’s how I might have the idea of how something looks inside my head, but I would have difficulty trying to translate that onto the screen. There were times when I got frustrated and wanted to give up, but just as with everything else in life it required practice. For a long time, I wondered if it was just me, but after talking to a lot of other fellow designers, it turned out we had shared experiences. It was the tools we were using which added an extra degree of difficulty, and it was something we had to deal with, as we weren’t blessed with the number of design applications that are available today. They’re the hurdles that I would like Sketch to take away when it comes to beginners starting design.

As previously mentioned, there’s lots of great Sketch resources and tutorials out there to help educate new users, as well as a number of various design communities people can join to get feedback and help with their creations.

Alex Bulat: Not long time ago you launched a new section on your site with a listing of Sketch plugins. How do you determine which plugins should be included in the “featured” section? What are the most popular and must-have Sketch plugins in your opinion?

Christopher Downer: It seems like that not a week goes by where there isn’t an awesome Sketch plugin that’s been released by a developer. What’s included in our Featured section usually are the the most-recently released plugins. We don’t have any guidelines or reasons for featuring the plugins that appear there. Sometimes the developer will message us asking to feature their plugin, or it’s one that’s popular and customers are talking about. Every so often there may be a plugin there that amazes us from a technical viewpoint and we’re wondering how exactly they made it!

Alex Bulat: When working with text, there is some padding at the top and bottom of a line. The padding has different size, and makes it harder to do certain things, for example to center the text. Why is the padding of this particular size?

Christopher Downer: This is something I get asked about every so often: The technical answer is that this space is needed by some characters, particularly those who contain diacritics. The caron that can appear on an uppercase S (Š, found in Czech and other Slavic languages) and a lowercase c with a cedilla (ç, most common in Turkish and French) are two of many examples.

To trim the bounding box to fit the height of the text layer’s ascenders and descenders would be wrong, and as a result you wouldn’t get the expected behaviour when implementing the design as CSS and native applications render line height this way also.

Alex Bulat: Will there be a possibility to animate interfaces with the help of native tools, without installing additional extensions?

Christopher Downer: This is a popular question. We don’t see what’s wrong with using other tools in addition to Sketch. Especially when there’s so many out there, and each of them is different, and good. We’re more focused on creating Sketch for the time being. We certainly don’t want to implement features that some customers may never use at the risk of becoming too bloated. I think it’s important that we focus on doing one thing really well, rather than becoming a jack-of-all-trades type of app.

Alex Bulat: Right now Sketch is available for Mac users only. Are you planning to extend it to other platforms?

Christopher Downer: I don’t want to say no outright, but will say this: Sketch was originally built upon OS X features and frameworks, such as Quartz for example, and all-in-all is a very typical Mac app. It’s not just the case of hiring a Windows developer and porting the code. These frameworks and other things will need to be completely re-written so they can be cross platform and that’s something that would take years of work. Then there’s the user interface. It will need to have its own consistent design language so it neither favours OS X or Windows, but a middle ground that is familiar to both users. If we were to do this, the whole product would suffer as we couldn’t continue to work on the OS X version during this time.

Alex Bulat: Are you working on the 4th version of Sketch right now? If so, what’s the approximate launch date?

Christopher Downer: We can’t share any details about the future of Sketch but we are continuously working on improving Sketch and trying to make it the perfect tool for all digital designers.

In case you're willing to master Sketch, feel free to enroll to the educational course at curated by Chris.

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Alex Bulat

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