Yeah, it’s a listicle. But these are good.
Author Note and Shameless Plug: These are techniques I picked up while building UX Power Tools design system. I am an active designer and I use this system for 10 hours a day, along with every technique mentioned in this article. If I didn’t believe in it, I wouldn’t be writing about it
1. Use Styles
It pains me how often this needs to be said, but I’ll keep saying it until you start doing it
Fundamental changes are coming to Sketch very soon that will make your lives SO MUCH EASIER if you just buckle down and start using styles. There’s no better time than now.
Using text styles and layer styles makes your design more consistent, and believe it or not, you’ll end up working faster.
2. Make a Stylesheet
Stylesheets are hugely important in CSS because they allow you to centrally manage how things visually appear across a website. Make a change the button style and every button across the whole site will update.
There’s no reason to not create one for design projects so that you have a similar level of control. All you have to do is have a single artboard with a single instance of every saved text style and layer style. As long as you use these styles throughout your design, you’ll always be able to revisit this stylesheet artboard if you ever want to update the font.
The UX Power Tools design system is built on top of a central stylesheet. You can change fonts and colors on a single page, sync your changes, and the entire system will update to reflect your updates. It’s pretty cool and saves me a ton of time when I’m working on massive client projects.
3. Use Transparency
This is really just a fun party trick, but I showed this technique to a frontend developer last week and I’m still cleaning up the conference room where his mind exploded.
Why do I use transparency instead of hex values?
It’s a neat little trick to ensure that your text looks great over any background color. In the image below, the transparency (second line) looks much better than the grey (first line) because it has taken on the hue of the color below it.There are no tricks; the second line of text is the exact same in each color scenario. It’s just the transparency working for you that makes them look like different text styles. All for the price of one. How convenient!
This little trick can be used for button borders, too. You know how sometimes you want a red button with a slightly darker red border? Try an inner-border with 25% black:
4. Make an Empty State Symbol
I’ve only started doing this recently, but it’s really a nice time-saver. For things like data grids or pages where there may or may not be data depending on what’s been created or configured, it’s a great idea to have a nice empty state to let the user know that not all hope is lost!
Design a standard empty state symbol, then you can quickly reuse it later. I usually have a title, description, illustration, and action button:
For bonus points, make your illustration a nested symbol so you can swap them in and out depending on what page you’re on.
Which brings me to…
5. Create an Illustration Library
This is a bit of an advanced technique, but it’s a simple concept that will make your life easier, and your favorite illustrator’s life easier, too (thanks, Parker)!
Sketch Libraries have been out for a while now, but most people use them for managing their design systems. I recommend using it to manage your illustration library, too!
Create a separate Sketch file for illustrations, then add that as a library:
In your illustration library, make artboards for every custom illustration you’ll need, then import those symbols into your design file as placeholders:
This let’s your illustrator work on their own in whatever vector program they want (like Illustrator or Affinity Designer). When they finish an illustration, they just have to drop it into the appropriate artboard in your illustrations library file. Sketch will notify you of library updates, and all you have to do is sync the changes. Now your shiny new illustration is there in all its glory:
Pretty cool, huh?
6. Use Consistent Icons
Nucleo Icons are by far the best icons that exist on the internet. Not only is the set massive and diverse, but their desktop app is incredible.
You can change from filled icons to line icons, change the weight, and even define an accent color:
As if that’s not enough already, I’ve never found an easier way to prep icons for developers than their export feature:
It seriously doesn’t get much easier than that.
7. Use Ale Muñoz’s Artboard Organizer Plugin
I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t know this existed until about a month ago, but I’ve been obsessively using it ever since.
This plugin was created by one of Sketch’s lead developers, so it. just. works.
Download it here:
Hit Control-Option-Command-A on your keyboard and all of your artboards will magically align and group themselves vertically and horizontally. Rows of artboards represent groupings (50px between each artboard), and groupings are separated vertically by 250px.
The two best features of this plugin are: Artboard Snapping and Layer Reordering. When you drag an artboard into a new row, it will automatically snap into place, even if you drag it between other artboards. Even better, that artboard will place itself in correct relation to all other artboards in the layers list. I tell ya, I’ve never felt so organized in my life!
8. Build a Product Architecture (see above)
Once you have the plugin from #7 installed, product architectures (there’s probably a better name for that) become really easy to build out. The screenshot above is a real product architecture I created for a client project. Rows represent features, and each artboard represents a screen that we’ve identified that needs to be designed. The tiny ones are modals.
These are wonderful because the design process literally becomes a game of fill-in-the-blank. It’s easy to glance over the entire document to see what gaps still exist in the design, and it’ll be obvious if there are missing artboards.
9. Give Modals Their Own Artboard
This is a little tip mentioned in #8, but stop putting your modals on top of full artboards. It’s fine if you do it once just to make sure it feels right in the context of another screen, but after you figure out the right size, there’s no need to keep showing it atop other screens.
Well, what happens if you update the screen under that modal? Now you have to update that screen twice: once on the screen itself, and a second time underneath that modal screen. Pretty annoying.
The other advantage to making standalone modal artboards is you can link to them as modal dialogs using InVision’s prototyping tool. This allows a user to click on a button in your InVision mockup and the modal you created will actually animate onto the screen. Then they can click away from the modal and it will be “closed” just like it would in the real app. Clients love that shit!
When I’m not searching for warm and fuzzy feelings, I’m working on resources like UX Power Tools to make you a better, more efficient designer.
- Follow UX Power Tools on Twitter
- Follow me on Twitter
- Say hi on LinkedIn
- Learn some stuff and subscribe to my agency’s blog
9 Tips For Designing Faster and More Efficiently So You Don’t Go Insane was originally published in UX Power Tools on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.