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  • Writer's pictureChrissy Wesh

The design file is dead, long live design files!

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

We have dropbox and google changing the way we collaborate for a while now. File Management has been the bain of a designers life. Managing naming conventions, keeping track of versions and remembering to share. This current reality is slowly changing and the design file may be dead, with hosted sharable collaborations taking its place.

Hands up if you have been that person the label a file like the following. V1….V2… V2Final… ‘VERSION2_FINALFINAL!!!!’. Versioning and sharing are at the core of this problem. We need be able to go back in time and get a previous iteration but we also need to be able to share the latest files for feedback.

What then would it mean then to not have design files at all?

Companies have been slowly shifting to a fileless model for years. GoogleDocs encourages 1 file and many collaborators. Or sketching ideas and sharing rough drafts in Dropbox Paper or EverNote.

The design file is not the value! Tweet

Trends are leaning towards collaboration and we need to recognise the benefits and time savings this can bring us.

Ownership of a design file is therefore not needed. We are cloud based, and this archive of design files is more than an outdated concept. We need to bring more value to our deliverables. More collaboration, ideation, testing, and thinking thats what we as design we bring to the table.

“In a pure cloud world, this atomic unit of documents seems increasingly archaic. Documents are more a constraint of a pre-cloud world,” explains Kevin Kwok in his essay The Arc of Collaboration.

We create to be able to share it with our business stakeholders, product managers, developers, and users. Designing is sharing.

Better together

Design has always been able to change much more easily that other more traditional disciplines. In that regard I have high hopes designers will be able to accept a file-less workflow. Its no longer a battle of new features in our tools but the tools we use that are getting attention and results are the ones focused on working together.

“When Figma first launched at the end of 2016, the industry wasn’t ready for a ‘file-less’ design process and we had a lot of detractors. We had to win people’s trust and prove that a web-based design tool could be just as fast and powerful as a native application. We also had to show designers that their productivity wouldn’t grind to a halt if other people and teams had open access to their design work.” — explains Noah Levin, Design Director at Figma.

The end of silos?

The focus is on usability, measurability and data. Companies need to become more design-driven. Tools that are browser based – or browser launched (like Microsoft Teams) open up doors for new levels of collaboration.

Design should be ready to hand over the keys of creation and invite our stakeholders into our world and work with us. The future could mean we are not the only ones able to change a design file. Instead, lets focus on why these changes are needed in the first place.

We still need our specialised tools like Photoshop/Sketch/After Effects. But more and more in the coming year we should be asking for collaboration & to start getting used to showing our work while we are in the messy middle.

2020 is the year to focus on tools that augment our collaboration superpowers and help us work better together. Perhaps the next stage is having users create with us? Wouldn’t that be something! Imagine collaboration and on the spot testing? The ultimate ‘Lean’ environment. I would happily swap my design files for that future.

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