However, had you asked me which tool is better about a year ago, the answer would most assuredly have been Sketch. So, why did I change my mind? To understand my new outlook, we have to go back to the beginning and understand the industry at that point and see how it has evolved since.
I migrated from Website and Interaction Design into UX Design approximately 8 years ago, marking a point in time where the roles of designer and developer were far more polarized than they are today. The type of education and training required for UX was either non-existent or just starting to become adopted by universities and other educational institutions. As a result, to be successful in Interactive Design and/or UX design, you had to take it upon yourself to become a hybrid designer… a unicorn.
As a major in Graphic Design, I was fortunate that I took a more digital course in my career early on. My personal entrepreneurial drive and fascination with the ease of designing WordPress websites for freelance clients forced me to dive into the code, learn how it works, and think like a developer. Then, over time, I would go on to develop a keen awareness and appreciation for web based layouts, object oriented positioning, digital information hierarchy, and an ability to both read and write basic HTML and CSS. I also developed a strong affinity for using simple naming conventions to keep things organized — all of which, when combined, helped to make developer handoff go as smoothly as possible.
When Sketch finally hit the scene, it was clear that Bohemian Coding was very much aware of the fact that designers like me were leading a movement into the role of UX designer — and built Sketch to meet the demand. The way Sketch handles symbol naming (type / subtype / etc), nested symbols, symbol overrides, and styles forces designers to think and plan their design strategy — much like a developer would. And in doing so, the resulting design philosophy would go on to make creating UX style guides and scalable design systems much easier and help maintain a single source of truth across the design team. See also: Sympli, Zeplin
Times Have Changed
But alas, times have changed. Educational institutions and training resources now teach the best practices that Sketch pioneered. Tools like Sympli have allowed designers with non-development oriented backgrounds to quickly adopt best practices and help streamline developer handoff. Adobe has also had plenty of time to learn from Sketch’s innovation, find ways to create trouble for them (ever try to import a Sketch file into XD?), and incorporate all learnings into a package that’s free and more approachable to designers with experience in other Adobe tools (Photoshop, Illustrator).
Which One Is Better For Me?
So now, with both Sketch and XD being nearly equal — when people ask me “Which is better, Sketch or XD?”, I am now able to base my answer on 2 primary factors: The type of team the designer works on and the amount of experience they have with UX best practices.
What type of team do you work on?
How experienced are you in UX best practices?
If you work on a team that’s more of the “A type”, the platform really doesn’t matter that much. Personally, I believe that teams should seek to be platform agnostic. Not only does it give designers the ability to be creative and stay productive in their tool of choice — it allows companies to consider a more diverse set of creative talent to build rockstar teams. But if your team has a tight budget or your team members (including developers and other stakeholders) are all on-board with a single platform’s specific workflow — then stick with what works. However, if you work on a team that’s more of the “B type”, the debate between Sketch and XD is (in my opinion) settled based on the designer’s personal experience in UX best practices.
For Type B team designers who are transitioning from other design verticals with little to no experience working in and designing for development-based mediums (i.e. web and mobile apps), Sketch is hands down the best place to start. It’s a far better “teacher” of best practices than XD, and you’ll become a better UX designer as a result. I recommend downloading a comprehensive Sketch UI design system (example) in order to fully take advantage of and learn from the design philosophies mentioned above.
In conclusion, a solid foundation in UX best practices is essential no matter which tool you prefer. You can learn that foundation in college, on any number of online training websites, or by jumping right in and learning with a tool that is crafted to help you think and design with development in mind (Sketch). But once you have that foundation and either you or your team are prepared to scale with UX best practices, the best platform really is the one that elicits your very best work.