Article from Issue 265/2022

After vowing to not be impressed by AI-generated images, Graham has spent this month communing with Stable Diffusion like it's some locally installed oracle or prophet of truth.

Prototyping and design


When Adobe announced it was going to acquire Figma (the go-to tool for designers) for $20 billion, there was initial shock followed by a mad dash to find alternatives, which isn't an easy task. Designers are an exacting bunch. They don't want something that simply helps them explore and iterate over user-interface proposals. If they did, they'd use Inkscape. Instead, they want something that appeals to both their own sense of design and their desire to share and collaborate. They trusted Figma to do this because its drawing tools live right alongside its social features, including comments, notes, and a whiteboard. These all help make designers a central part of the app and web development process. Luckily, there are a few alternatives. The strongest is Penpot, which is an excellent design and prototyping tool that we've looked at previously. Penpot is a brilliant collaborative design tool, but it only works through a web browser and needs to be hosted.

This is where Akira might help. Akira is an open source native Linux design tool in its early development phase. There's still a lot of work that needs to be done – and the project is keen to point out it should not be used in production. But Akira is already functional and well positioned to take advantage of any support and resources that might come from an influx of ex-Figma users. The application will already feel familiar, too, because it's built around a central canvas panel for your designs. These are organized by what Akira calls "Artboards," with a hierarchical layer view on the right and the object parameters view on the left. Vector and text objects are added to Artboards, which can then be edited or moved around the canvas. Subsets of objects can be grouped and ungrouped, and as with other vector editing tools, you can raise and lower individual elements so that some parts are allowed to overlap others. Individual elements can also be dragged.

One nice feature is that a toolbar icon is highlighted only when it can be applied to the current object or selection, so you're not left randomly clicking things to see if they'll work. If an object is at the bottom of the stack, for example, only the raise icons will be available. Another great feature common to other design tools is that an object can have more than one color mixed according to each color fill's opacity. This is great if you're working with a specific palette, but also useful when objects overlap, because their colors will change according to their own opacity levels. Anyone who has used an editor such as Inkscape will understand how all of this comes together to help prototype design ideas, but like Inkscape, Akira is currently missing any collaboration features.

Akira has been built using Vala, GTK, and the Cairo graphics library. It also uses the elementary theme for its icons and layout, which need to be installed if you're not natively using elementary OS, but the results look fantastic and should definitely appeal to designers. It's a great example of how good a modern Gnome application can look. There are still substantial elements missing, of course, especially in export and collaboration, but hopefully these will come as support for this application grows. And even at this early stage, it's easy to see how successful Akira should become.

Project Website

1. Add objects: Ellipses, rectangles, and freehand curves can be added to the canvas to create your designs. 2. Fills: Unusually, any number of colors can be applied to an object, and they'll be blended according to opacity. 3. Interaction: Cut graphic objects and reorder them to create the appearance you need. 4. Layouts: There are light and dark colors, and you can change the layout. 5. Layers: Group objects together, collect them into Artboards, and use the layer view to change their order. 6. Text: Add transformable word blocks to your designs. 7. Opacity: Colors are mixed naturally, both with fills and when objects overlap.

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