Fireworks Begat Sketch

It has been great to watch Sketch evolve from a fairly simple drawing application (DrawIt, originally) to a key part of many digital designers' workflow and the center of a design tool ecosystem. Having been a heavy Fireworks user, I see a lot of it in Sketch.

The Bohemian Coding team was obviously aware of Fireworks and the community around it. One of the first Sketch plugins I knew of was Ale Muñoz's Sketch Commands, which he originally developed for Fireworks. He has since joined the Bohemian team. Bohemian Coding also asked illustrator and designer Isabel Aracama to create a vector illustration showing that Sketch could be used for such things. Prior to its demise, she was a vocal promoter of Fireworks. If you didn't know Fireworks could handle complex vector illustration, check out her work.

Fireworks wasn't just for slicing images. A number of features made it a good tool for designing any pixel-based interface, features that are among those designers coming from Photoshop to Sketch have found particularly welcome.

Flexible Canvas Sizing


Fireworks allowed you to creates pages within your design file of different resolutions. Ultimately, it's not as flexible as the Page > Artboard (or infinite canvas) arrangement in Sketch, but it was a lot more flexible than Photoshop allowed at the time. This made it easy to design different parts of interfaces while having access to the same symbols and styles.

Flexible Symbols


Fireworks allowed you to nest symbols, and scale and style them without affecting other instances. If configured with 9-slice scaling, you could stretch symbols without distorting the areas outside the center slice.

Buttons were a special symbol type in Fireworks, allowing you to create a base button and reuse it with custom label text. Within the symbol, you could create up, down, and hover states.

Rich Symbols were a pain to create, but provided some of the same functionality as Symbol Overrides do in Sketch. The prolific John Dunning wrote some tools to ease the process, but Fireworks was a bit buggy in handling custom Rich Symbols.

If you needed to share your symbols, you could just export a symbol library file.

Plugins


Plugins (known as Extensions in Fireworks) were an under-promoted feature in Fireworks. As designers find with Sketch, plugins can dramatically increase your efficiency. One of the first plugins I installed whenever I set up Fireworks was John Dunning's QuickFire, which put all the commands of other plugins a few keystrokes away rather than buried in a submenu of the Commands menu, much like Sketch Runner does in Sketch. I used Ale Muñoz's Orange Commands, John Dunning's keyboard resizing commands, and Matt Stow's math resizing commands a lot to improve my workflow.


The Twist and Fade plugin included with Fireworks is similar to Looper for Sketch.

Click-Through Prototyping


If you are primarily concerned with testing whether a navigation scheme makes sense, simple click-through prototyping is quite useful. It doesn't let you work with user input beyond clicks or transition smoothly between states and views, but it can help you address problems in layout, contrast, and labeling.

In Fireworks, you would draw arbitrary polygonal hotspots or place button symbols, then specify a page within your Fireworks file to which they should point. You couldn't specify a transition (push left, right, cross-fade, etc.); everything just swapped. You could export to HTML (which created an image map) or to a clickable PDF with everything rasterized. The prototyping functionality in the recent v49 release of Sketch is not terribly different, but it represents what Emanuel Sá referred to as “the tip of the iceberg.”

Miscellany

  • Fireworks used an extended version of the PNG file format that made for pretty compact files, even with lots of pages. It's certainly not why I chose Fireworks as my design tool, but it was welcome when backing up or working on a machine without tons of memory.
  • I miss Fireworks' Auto Shapes sometimes. There are a few in Sketch (star, polygon, arrow, triangle), but Fireworks provided a few more. A former colleague learned how to use Fireworks after seeing how easy it was to redline mockups using the Measure Auto Shape.
  • I still miss the ability to simply see the distance between two guides by holding down a modifier key while the cursor is between two guides on the same axis.
  • They wouldn't really make sense in Sketch, but Shared Layers were another huge advantage of Fireworks over Photoshop for UI design. These worked a bit like master pages in InDesign. Create a layer (a navigation bar, for instance), then share it to all the pages where it should appear. You could achieve the same basic thing with a symbol, but symbol positions don't carry across instances.
  • There was a cool gradient fill type in Fireworks called Satin that could be used to create nice abstract graphics. It would be tough to translate to code (be it CSS or a native UI toolkit), but it would still be great for static graphics.

What Wasn't So Great

  1. There were stability problems that decreased over the time Adobe developed the product, but it never became rock-solid. Sketch has really improved in this regard.
  2. No native vector export. John Dunning wrote an extension to export SVG that worked quite well, but no built-in option existed.
  3. No multi-resolution export. This wasn't a big deal until the iPhone 4 came along with the high-PPI Retina display.
  4. Text anti-aliasing was always so-so.
  5. No springs and struts (or constraints, resizing rules, etc.).

I'm glad that David Malouf had adopted Fireworks for the team at my first job working as a designer. It served me well from 2006 until Adobe announced the end of development in 2013. Reading the writing on the wall, I switched to Sketch, even before it had many tools for reuse like symbols and shared styles. If they can just get that guide space measurement feature implemented…

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Daniel J. Wilson

I am a designer, drummer, and photographer in Brooklyn, NY.