A decade in design — in conversation with Emanuel Sá

Sketch is 10! And to celebrate this pretty big anniversary, we’re putting together a series of blog posts looking back over the last decade and discussing the biggest trends, changes and developments — across both Sketch’s own history, and the design community as a whole.

To kick things off, we sat down with Emanuel Sá, Sketch’s co-founder and Chief Design Officer, to talk all things design over the last 10 years.

Okay, so let’s start at the beginning — how did you personally start with design, and what was the landscape like back then?

I had a background in photography, so I was quite familiar with Photoshop. But I was never satisfied with default stuff — give me a default OS and I’ll just change everything. I just don’t accept the status quo when it comes to visuals (laughs). So I started playing in Photoshop, and I soon understood: this is more than a photo editor, there are tools here that I can benefit from if I want to change other stuff.

Eventually I got into iconography. It was interesting for me, because I could change everything on the user interface, but finding replacement icons that I liked wasn’t so easy. I pretty much had an idea of what I wanted, so I thought I might as well do it myself.

Soon I moved on to designing themes for the Mac, and I would say that our MacThemes.net community from ten years ago has easily been the biggest influence on interface design in the last decade. Pretty much every single user in that forum has been a designer or leader on the most successful products of the last few years. I remember at the time that Chris [Downer, Sketch’s Product Owner] was, like, 17? Janik [Baumgartner, a designer at Sketch] was about 15, and he was already designing.

I would say that our MacThemes.net community from ten years ago has easily been the biggest influence on design in the last decade. Pretty much every single user in that forum has been a design leader somewhere in a big company.

Back then we were just doing fun stuff. But eventually the iPhone came out. Suddenly everyone got interested in doing apps for iOS, and they needed someone to help them with design. Where did they look? The MacThemes community. I would say there were five or six of us taking on the majority of the iOS landscape when it came to interface design and iconography back then.

It was interesting because in the first two years it was basically accountants, lawyers, doctors, all wanting to make an app. They’d say, “I want a contacts app, but make it a spinning wheel. You know, like the one on Wheel of Fortune? I want one like that”. We’d say, “that’s not interface design, that’s illustration.” But back then it was huge, they wanted all those details — what we call skeuomorphism. They basically wanted to cram everything that was real into a screen.

Sure, this was when skeuomorphism was at the peak of popularity. Do you think that came from a misunderstanding of what skeuomorphic design was meant to be?

Yeah. For some reason it was very interesting to people — minimizing huge things into very tiny spaces, often with odd

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