The Upside to Single User Files in Sketch and Abstract

September 15, 2020
Sarah Corner
Designer & Animator

The world of interface design has been advancing like nobody’s business. Of the UX/UI essentials recognized by designers and developers alike, Sketch, Adobe XD, and Figma are the forerunners.  Since spring of 2019, Adobe XD has caught up with Figma’s multi user system in which multiple designers can work in the same file at the same time — albeit, with some bugs along the way. 

By the time multi user platforms were becoming a standard, Visual Service already had the entire interface and design system built out in Sketch — the one UI program still stuck with single user files.

This spawned several issues including (but certainly not limited to) consolidating files, bugs in the Sketch libraries, and one major issue: that a team couldn’t all work in the same file. This led to dozens of versions with version names tacked onto the end. 

This was an issue Sketch was still trying to solve, but it was already solved with Abstract. We were introduced to Abstract and integrated it seamlessly into our Sketch flow.

What is Abstract and how abstract is it?

Abstract is a program that essentially takes your file and allows you to create branches off of that initial file. These branches do not affect the original until after you and your teammates have fiddled with your own files.

Flowchart showing branches of files from a master file.

So your teammates have made their changes to this theoretical Master File, otherwise known as the parent file, via the “children” of the parent file, File 1, File 2, and File 3. When it comes time to merge the files, Abstract will cross-examine each of the files and target the differences. From those differences, you decide which ones you want to keep and which ones you want to discard before merging.

In this example, let’s say you want to keep the following changes to the master: File 1 added a square, File 2 added a circle, and File 3 moved the triangle and added a star. Abstract will take these desired changes and merge them together.

Flowchart showing how each lower branch can had unique design changes and then be incorporated back into the master file.

Abstract archives the total file history, which has been useful for the occasional computer crash or Sketch hiccup. Having Abstract as a reservoir of past and present changes helped our Visual Service flow by giving us access to old iterations from months prior and ensured no change goes unnoticed. The best part of the day is sharing progress via Abstract and cross-examining the iterations. 

To see our work from this project, check out our Visual Service Case Study here.