A big part of my day is spent writing (scientific papers, lectures, research proposals, business plans etc) and a big part of this is diagrams, charts, and other visual elements. I like creating visuals. I’m not especially good at it but it’s enjoyable and a great way to really capture the essence of a complex concept. I’m embarrassed to say that in all of this time (almost 20 years) I’ve come to rely mainly on the likes of Powerpoint (and sometimes Keynote) to create these visuals. What’s wrong with that you might ask? Well these are both capable presentation packages but their core competence is the creation and management of slides, not creating art work. Sure they provide some powerful drawing capabilities, choc full of all of the usual tools that one might expect (shapes, lines, curves, elaborate files and patterns) but they stop far short of the type of capabilities available through Illustrator or Photoshop.
So why not use Illustrator and Photoshop? I’ve tried but these are great examples of feature-bloat. Both options provide so many features that it’s difficult to know where to start and I have always found myself wondering whether “I am doing it right”. So back to Powerpoint and Keynote it has always been.
Then earlier this week I came across Sketch for the Mac, which promised Illustrator-like vector graphics but with a minimally viable feature-set and a great Mac interface. I must say that after only a few hours of use it doesn’t disappoint. The interface feels familiar in the way of great mac apps. It provides all of the shape creation and text tools that one would expect but it also exposes a number of hugely powerful vector manipulation tools that are absent from the likes of Powerpoint and Keynote. For instance, the ability to create new shapes by logically combining individual shapes (union, intersection, difference, overlap) is fabulous and working with simply layers is a godsend; I am always ‘loosing’ my shapes in Powerpoint as they become hidden in a mess overlapping elements. There is also a very powerful set of fill features that allow for the usual colour, gradient, and texture fills, but also make it possible to combine and blend fills together.
Sketch is available for a free 30-day trial from the Sketch website. After that it’s a €45 purchase from the Mac App Store. I think I’ll be getting it once the trial period expires and the app is certainly garnering some strong reviews and here’s a useful video walk-thru that gives a good overview of the basic capabilities.