Design and Development Tools of the Trade: Your Answers to the AEA Survey

As 2017 kicked off, we asked our social media followers to tell us a little bit about themselves. Asking fewer than 20 questions aimed at finding out how respondents do their work, whether in design, development, or both, we got a quick snapshot of how part of our audience approaches their craft.

We'll be doing deeper data dives in the days to come. In the meanwhile, we're sharing some top-level data and conclusions with the community. Enjoy!

The Basics

We've heard a lot about how there are no more multi-skilled unicorns in our business—but, at least among people who responded to the survey, a different story emerged. A bit over 20% said they're designers, and 30% said they're developers, but 37% said they're a mix of both designer and developer.

Table 1. Areas of concentration

A mix of the two

37%

Development

30%

Design

23%

Other

10%

When it came to operating system preference, the Macintosh still commands a clear lead, but not as wide as we'd expected: 76% said the Mac is their OS of choice, while 19% prefer Windows. That seems like complete dominance, but in past years that split was even wider. With recent announcements, like the Surface line of professional devices and the availability of a full UNIX shell, combined with Apple's reluctance to release new hardware in the past few years, Microsoft would seem to be winning some hearts and minds.

Table 2. Operating systems

Mac OS

76%

Windows

19%

Linux

2%

Other

2%

Tools

Depending on how people answered the design-versus-development question, we asked them about the tools they use. These were “choose all that apply” questions, so the numbers add up to more than 100%. The winner among those of the design persuasion? It was a virtual tie between good old pen and paper and Photoshop.

Table 3. Design tools (multiple answers were possible)

Pen and paper

68%

Photoshop

68%

Illustrator

53%

Other

37%

Sketch

34%

InDesign

32%

We admit to being a little surprised by Sketch's showing. There's been a lot of buzz around Sketch and its capabilities, with many leading designers singing its praises, but only a third of our respondents indicated that they use it. Then again, 34% is a pretty good showing for a program that's only a few years old, especially when it's up against a multi-decade behemoth like Adobe Creative Suite. And Sketch's development does feel more nimble than Creative Suite's. Time will tell if it continues to gain advocates.

On the coding side of things, two-thirds of our respondents use the most-widely adopted tool, GitHub.

Table 4. Coding tools (multiple answers were possible)

GitHub

68%

Sublime Text

46%

Other

39%

Atom

29%

Vim

16%

What's interesting is that once we dug into the details a little further, GitHub was not actually the most popular tool among our respondents. As a follow-up to the question “Which tools do you use most frequently?”, we asked “Which tool is indispensable to your work?” GitHub (and Git in general) wasn't the most-frequently mentioned indispensable tool, not by a long shot.

This probably speaks to GitHub's pervasive nature, sort of like the foundation walls of a building. We never really think about them and, if asked to name our favorite thing about a house, we'd likely choose the layout or the space or the location—forgetting that without the foundations, the building wouldn't stay standing.

So which were the favorite coding tools? We'll explore that in a separate article in the near future. Stay tuned!

Teamwork

We asked respondents which one communication tool they'd pick if they could only have one, and, surprising almost nobody, Slack ran away with the top spot. Email came in a distant second, with the rest lingering at, or below, 10%.

Table 5. Top communication tools

Slack

49%

Email

18%

Other

11%

Skype

7%

GitHub

4%

Finally, when we asked people how projects got started, there was a clear winner, but the other options had strong showings. Very fittingly, given the nature of the industry, randomness seems to have won the day here.

Table 6. How projects start

It's kind of random

40%

Team leader

20%

Executive mandate

17%

Self initiated

16%

User studies and/or feedback

7%

Not Goodbye, but Instead, Adieu

The results have given us quite a lot to think about, both in terms of what we heard and what we might ask in the future. We've been doing follow-up with some of the respondents (providing an email address for further contact was an optional question in the survey) and will soon let you know what we heard from them. So let us not say goodbye, but instead, adieu!

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