We updated this article in April 2017 so that we could compare Sketch’s responsive design features with the critically-acclaimed Auto Layout plugin.
Rejoice, fellow Sketch users! Sketch 39 finally delivered us the ability to create truly fluid layouts. Fluid layouts are layouts whose individual elements can auto-resize, float to one side, or remain fixed in place as the size of the viewport/browser changes ⏤ the basic concept of responsive design is derived from fluid design.
In Sketch, fluid design is known as Group Resizing, offering similar functionality to the Fluid Plugin for Sketch; the crucial difference is that Group Resizing is a native feature, and therefore offers a more streamlined user experience while offering pretty much the same functionality. Group Resizing is the clear winner here!
However, Sketch fans have been raving about this Auto Layout Plugin for Sketch. Auto Layout obviously doesn’t deliver the fluid design features natively, but it’s built to appear as such, and actually delivers a faster workflow than Group Resizing due to some of its additional features (such as the ability to toggle Artboard orientation, and the ability to quickly convert, say, an iPhone 7 Artboard to an iPhone 6 Artboard (this is useful for testing Universal Apps for responsiveness).
So, which is better, Group Resizing or the Auto Layout Plugin? Well, I use the native Group Resizing feature for mocking up smaller, more conceptual ideas, but the Auto Layout Plugin when I need to work on something bigger (a slightly less-native experience is a fair trade-off for the extra features that it brings).
Let’s take a quick crash course in designing responsive layouts in Sketch, as we learn about both Group Resizing and Auto Layout, as they are both awesome, and can both be installed at the same time!
Why Design Responsive Layouts?
Being able to test rough responsive layouts before you begin designing high-fidelity prototypes reduces the likelihood of encountering setbacks later on (setbacks as a result of not testing your concept on all screen sizes). In fact, taking a mobile-first approach to low-fidelity prototyping before you even begin accepting feedback, is probably the best (and safest) way of validating your ideas and delivering a responsive solution to a design.
Fluid design certainly doesn’t account for elements that you’d like to hide (or change, visually) when adapting the screen size of devices, but it does mean that Groups in Sketch have suddenly become far more useful. It’s not 100% responsive design, but it’s close enough.
Groups can now be resized without scaling all of the objects inside them, which is quite ideal for when you need to duplicate mobile Artboards and scale them up (because mobile-first!) to desktop Artboards. Your logo (for instance) would need to remain in the top-left corner, your menu would need to remain in the top-right corner, and your main body of content would float evenly in the center of the screen. Group Resizing and Auto Layout makes this happen.
Let’s take a look at Group Resizing first.
Step 1: Low-Fidelity Prototyping
Before adding colours, fonts and other visual aesthetics, it’s best to design a low-fidelity mockup of your concept first. Low-fidelity design can be blazingly quick; it doesn’t have to take up too much of your time (in fact, it will probably save you some time in long run, as you can afterwards move forward with the peace of mind that your concept works).
Press A for Artboard, then select the “Desktop HD” Artboard from the Inspector.
Design a logotype in the top-left corner of the Artboard using a vague combination of text and shapes, as you would do creating a simple wireframe. Repeat these steps with a top-right menu and a centred heading+text combination (nothing fancy, we’re only experimenting with an idea here). After that, Group all of the logotype layers together, then all of the menu layers, then all of the centred content layers, and then finally all of the Groups together into a single Group.
For quick reference:
- Rectangle: R
- Oval: 0
- Text: T
- Group: Command+G
Step 2: Putting Resizing Rules in Place
Pin and Stretch
Now this is where we define the positioning of our canvas objects. Naturally, the logo needs to remain in the top-left corner, so choose “Pin to corner” from the “Resizing” select box in the Inspector, where the relevant corner is whichever corner the layer is closest too (you probably noticed that the first option was “Stretch” ⏤ this is the default behavior when resizing Groups, the behaviour that you’ve been familiar with all this time).
Repeat this step for the top-right corner menu.
It took me a while to realise how “Resize object” works. It doesn’t scale the layer relatively, it scales the layer by the same amount that you’re scaling the Group that contains it.
This is…unconventional, but, fortunately, we won’t need it for this tutorial.
Float in Place
“Float in Place” does exactly what you think it does. It keeps layers aligned when resizing, however, it’s especially useful for centring layers either horizontally or vertically, so let’s do that with our centred content to keep it horizontally aligned.
In the next step, we’ll resize our Group to test it for responsiveness, and use that information to determine where the responsive breakpoints should be; these breakpoints determine which screen size a design needs to be adapted for a better user experience.
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