James Walker

James Walker

Web Developer

First thoughts on Affinity Designer

Published on Thursday November 9 2017 at 19:03 in General posts

This week I bought Affinity Designer and the physical Affinity Designer workbook, choosing the Serif package over Adobe XD. I'll be using it predominantly for UI design but also for any design and branding work clients may ask of me.

I'm preparing to set up my own digital agency. Coming from a development background, the design aspects of the business are the biggest things I need to learn. This learning starts with the design tools. In my case, for a variety of reasons, the decision came down to Adobe XD or Affinity Designer.

XD, being an Adobe product and hence more likely to be known by clients, was the initial choice. I used it for a while during the beta to prototype a few app designs and found it accessible and easy to get to grips with. However, I was repeatedly frustrated by its lack of functionality, overuse of distracting microinteractions and animations that make its own UI feel sluggish, and the lack of customisation features within the UI. On a 3440x1440 34-inch ultrawide, having panels fixed to the sides of the display feels a bit ridiculous.

Enter Affinity Designer. I started a 10-day free trial in August but only used around an hour of that. Adobe XD had by this point convinced me it was worth investing in. However, by late October, I was realising XD wasn't working for me and it was creating too much friction. I started a new Affinity Designer trial in a VM and started to replicate some of my XD prototypes in it. The advantages of Affinity's customisable UI, extensive feature set and multi-discipline capabilities immediately became apparent.

After a little more evaluation of both, I decided to purchase Affinity Designer. I've spent around £90 in total for a perpetual licensed, fully-fledged design software and a beautiful, 450-page workbook explaining how to use it. The workbook is laid out very nicely and contains in-depth, beginner-friendly tutorials on core design skills, as well as seven case studies/project tutorials showing how to use Designer in real work. Contrast that with the barebones £10-monthly XD and its set of video tutorials.

I've been using Affinity Designer quite a lot this week to construct the branding and design for my own agency. I'm really liking the software so far. As a relative newcomer to this kind of suite, I've found it surprisingly accessible. The tools are intuitive, advanced options are readily available, and – crucially – everything is fully documented in either the comprehensive help system, online video tutorials or the workbook. Most commonly, an answer can be found in all three of these resources.

My biggest problems with AD so far? Performance. The Affinity website claims you shouldn't have any performance problems with AD, or at least makes claims about performance to that effect. Running on an i7-7700K with 32GB RAM, a 1080 Ti and Windows 10, I'm not so sure. I suspect the last component of that stack is the culprit here, since AD was Mac-only for a long time. Unfortunately some panels seem to be a bit slow to update and the UI occasionally seems to "stutter." It's the kind of issue that's very hard to pin down – you're aware it's there, but you can't identify one thing that's causing it. Nothing deal-breaking, but it's there. Somewhere.

Secondly, I've encountered a few bugs. Again, nothing crippling, but not what I had expected to run into. In the most serious case, a piece of text got stuck on the pasteboard and appeared forever more, even though its object was long gone, in a kind of swirling effect. This persisted in the document after relaunches, PC restarts and deleting all objects/artboards/layers that could possibly be related to it. Still this ghost swirling text object persisted. I eventually made a new document and moved everything across.

So the verdict, so far? For freelance developers looking to gain experience in design, Affinity Designer seems to be a great option. It has great documentation and support, a very versatile feature selection and excellent accessibility. The advantages of a perpetual license and 450-page "workbook" from the devs are not to be understated. If you're on a Mac, I expect your experience is even more satisfactory.