Abstract: Bridging the Gap Between Design and Development

Josh Brewer, CEO
Today, more and more technology companies are realizing that design is a competitive advantage. By focusing on delivering an exceptional customer experience, design-led companies are seeing an increase in revenue and a decrease in churn. However, as companies scale their design efforts, they are finding that the tools and workflows these teams are using are behind the times—especially when compared to those of their developer counterparts.

Currently, design teams work on multiple versions of the same file, often duplicating efforts and, as a result, overwriting and losing work. Teams are spending countless hours searching for files, exporting them from one tool and importing into another, consolidating feedback from multiple sources, and never really knowing what changes have been incorporated and approved. CEO, Josh Brewer, and CTO, Kevin Smith, co-founded Abstract to solve these pain points and to bring clarity and transparency to the design process.

Brewer’s team has developed a visual version control system to bring all design workflow into a single, unified place. His vision is to not only go beyond assisting with file management but also improve collaboration and transparency between designers and the engineers who are implementing their designs. “In the last few years, the design tool space has expanded faster than most of us imagined,” says Brewer. “But this proliferation of tools has actually increased the complexity of cross-functional work as the creative process becomes more collaborative.”

As Twitter’s Principal designer during a time of rapid growth, Brewer experienced these issues first-hand. Having spent a majority of his career implementing his own designs, Brewer was very familiar with the benefits of version control in a developer workflow.

“Designers have long wished for a system of record like what developers have come to rely on with Github. We need a secure and reliable home for our design work,” says Brewer. “And we need one place where all stakeholders can check on the status of design in progress, review and approve work, and keep a record of what changes were made—this should also be the same place where developers can grab design assets without having to open the source files and feel confident that they are implementing the latest, approved designs.”

We need a secure and reliable home for our design work

While a version-controlled workflow is new to many designers, Brewer and his team are seeing this shift bringing designers closer to the model already in practice by their developer counterparts. This allows both teams to speak a common language. And so far, it is working.

Abstract is currently being used by thousands of design teams to work more collaboratively across organizations. For example, Brewer notes, “One of our customers is a large e-commerce platform with 250-plus designers distributed globally. They struggled to synchronize their design efforts, which led to different teams providing different customer experiences across different platforms.” With Abstract, the organization was able to collaborate on a design system that could be used by all teams to create consistent visual experiences across mobile, web, and their point of sale systems.

The platform is well positioned to become ‘the’ system of record for design. The one place all stakeholders, designers, and developers go for all design-related work, much like Salesforce is for sales teams, Marketo is for marketers, and GitHub is for developers.

As the roles of designers, developers, and product managers become more intertwined, Brewer and his team believe that a more collaborative and open platform will enable faster production cycles. “In 2019, communication and collaboration means just looking at the design and knowing that as the work evolves, updates will appear automatically. We’re leaving the ‘where is the latest file?’ world behind. And it feels so good,” says Brewer.


San Francisco, CA

Josh Brewer, CEO and Kevin Smith, CTO

A design workflow management system that lets designers, developers, and stakeholders manage, version, and collaborate on design files