← Back

I will judge you for your messy design files

Think in prod, not in pixels.

I once asked a senior designer to share their Sketch file when I took on some of their work. The file I received blew me away. It was the most meticulously crafted design document I had ever seen: every page was laid out hierarchically and evenly, every layer and group was aptly named, and every pixel was neatly aligned to the grid.

If someone put this much care into an artifact, I knew they must be excellent in every other professional facet as well. After thanking the designer for inspiring me, I replied half-jokingly, “Remind me to never show you my design files.”

This one file motivated me to strive for excellence. On every project since, I aimed to perfect my design artifacts: tying every piece of color, copy and component back to the design system, creating design systems from scratch if they didn’t exist, and aligning everything to a grid. Although, I still didn’t name layers, that’s a bit much.

I recently read about how designers at Linear do almost none of the above. They view the design file as merely a reference, not a deliverable, so how it’s constructed shouldn’t matter. Their files don’t use an intricate design system, and each designer chooses whether or not to name layers or use autolayout. They also design on top of screenshots 😱.

I started to question whether I was focusing on excellence in the wrong area. I work within design teams, and I know that every designer has their own style and way of working. Design work is creative, and the level of structure I demanded probably stifled creativity. The output of our work is software, not pixels. As designers, we need to be way more obsessed over how our designs work in production versus perfecting our shiny, simulated mockups.

I still believe in practicing excellence in every part of the craft, including design files. Your artifacts represent you. At a minimum, your design files must be organized enough for your team to work in them effectively. So I’ve shifted my focus away from overbearing pixel management to making designs that are ready enough for code.

Think in prod, not in pixels.

I tweaked this on Fri Apr 19 2024 03:25:39 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)