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There’s change in the air for those of us who design interfaces for a living. Where once we could choose only between designing in code or designing in Photoshop, we’re now seeing at least one or two promising if still nascent alternatives. Last month I wrote about Bohemian Coding’s Sketch, which I now use more frequently than Photoshop. (.Net Magazine also did a short interview with me about Sketch.)

Having one viable replacement is almost more than any of us could have hoped for five or ten years ago, but here comes Macaw, still in previews but propitious all the same. It bills itself as a “code-savvy web design tool” and like Sketch it brings a refreshingly relevant approach to designing interfaces. A few of its many slick new features jumped out at me as I watched its longish sneak peek video: built-in lorem ipsum generation; grid-based nudging of elements; and oh yeah generating real code as you’re designing. If they work as advertised, all three look like genius.

I’m really happy these contenders are emerging today, but why did it take so long for this to happen? Technologically, there seems little about either Sketch or Macaw that couldn’t have happened five years — if not a decade — ago. The answer, I think, is simple: the Mac App Store, which has leveled the playing field for independent developers — if not completely, then significantly. It might have been possible to build Macaw or Sketch before, but the Mac App Store gives these new players a visibility and distribution channel that’s invaluable when indie developers go up against entrenched players.

You can watch the Macaw preview here.



  1. I couldn’t be more excited about this new breed of apps, but I think you’re giving the App Store a little too much credit. It certainly helps with distribution, but the web, and the workflows we use to design & develop for it, have changed radically in the last 5 years.

    If anything it was the iPhone that pushed responsive to the forefront and required designers to create a flexible visual system based on rules instead of styling static comps. Photoshop is fine for static comps, but it sucks for creating a system of rules. And on the dev side the evolution of entire front-end stack has made it easier to translate those rules directly into code.

    So even if I had to wait a long ass time, I’m hoping this will end my personal daily hell that is photoshop.

  2. These new apps are very exciting.

    I think you’re right about the App Store, but I think that’s a very small part of the bigger picture. I think there are a few things:

    1. The App Store giving exposure to the smaller developers.
    2. More recognition that Photoshop isn’t suitable for UI design.
    3. Twitter. Excited designers will tweet the crap out of a cool product.
    4. Startup culture. People seem to love the little guy these days. Screw Adobe, amiryt?

    The only reason we still use Photoshop is because of what clients expect in terms of deliverables. We’re working on something exciting to change this though —аmore to come ;).

  3. Very promising. I’ve been beta testing Webflow – which differs a bit from the others being a web ‘app’, but it’s definitely a good alternative to add to the mix.

  4. Macaw looks cool but I’d really like to know exactly how it is different (or better) than Flux and Lucid (which do the same/similar stuff i.e. wysiwyg code generation) and specific details on whether it can do things like generate javascript for actions. Guess time will tell..

  5. But Khoi, Macaw isn’t even available yet, and we’re talking about out it. Sketch also was available for download well before it was available on the App Store. I think it has more to do with the general realisation amongst the design/dev industry that Photoshop, for all it’s strengths, isn’t a UI design too.

    If the App Store had anything to do with it, I’d say it was because more people were designing and building apps in general, and realising that design tools could be better.

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