Ask Me Anything (AMA) with Marc Edwards

Hi everyone!

I’m the author of the recent How to master one-layer designs article on Sketch’s blog. I’m also the designer and co-founder at Bjango. I enjoy actual and artificial constraints when designing, as a way to learn and push the boundaries of our tools. Trying to see how far a single layer can go definitely fits this curiosity.

I’ll answer your questions here, on 2023-03-15T09:00:00Z. Feel free to post questions now. Here are a few tips on how to participate:

  • Please ask a question by replying to this topic one time only, using the Reply button at the bottom of this topic.
  • Before you ask your question, scroll down and take a look at the existing questions to make sure someone hasn’t already asked yours.
  • Please don’t reply to anyone else’s post as I’ll be using this space to answer their questions. If you’d like to discuss anything in more detail, you can always create a new topic in a relevant category elsewhere.

That’s it! Drop any questions you may have about one-layer designs in the replies below :point_down:

I like being thorough, so here’s some additional details and background, for those interested.

I struggled at school, and somehow convinced my parents to buy an Amiga 500 in the late 80s, to help with school work. I don’t recall doing any school work on it, but I did get into the demoscene, and played lots of games. From there, I started creating my own very simple games, which meant drawing all the graphics, writing some code, and writing some music. I had no idea those skills would end up being useful later in life.

The Amiga didn’t change my prospects at school, and I ended up skipping the last year of high school to attend an extremely non-prestigious one year design and photography course. Even though I didn’t have a degree, I was somehow able to land a job at a pro photo lab, and eventually moved across to print design, advertising, and photo retouching.

From there, I made a very intentional effort to learn web design and get back into software design. Part of that effort was designing macOS Dashboard Widgets, which is how Bjango began. The articles on Bjango’s website about design predominately exist as the result of side projects, researching a topic to learn more.

I feel this is important to mention, because not everyone is going to be able to take the golden path into the software design industry, via a degree at a good college or university.

Curiosity is a key ingredient to learning. With that in mind, what can Sketch do with a single layer?


For one-layer designs, I find it hard to jump out of designs based on circles/ovals and rectangular/lines, because a radial gradient will always be round-ish, and a linear gradient will always be, well, linear.

Any tips and tricks on circumventing such constraints on one-layer designs?


Hi Marc,

I’m a longtime user and a big fan of your app iStats. Can you provide some insights on how you started to do this app, about the struggles, the highlights and maybe what are your plans for this app? :slight_smile:


Hey Marc. I’d love to know what it is you’re currently excited about. Current projects, AI in design, or maybe just a new coffee shop opening around the corner?


Hey Marc :wave: What advice would you give to aspiring designers who are just getting started?

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Hey Marc! Thanks for doing this! This is a two-parter:

  1. What inspired you to explore the concept of designing with a single shape layer?
  2. Are there specific design contexts where working with a single layer might be particularly effective?

Hey Marc, huge fan of your work! I’d love to hear about your thought process for deciding whether it makes more sense to continue layering up fills/borders/shadows on the same layer vs moving on to an additional shape layer.

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Hello! Yep. We started building Dashboard Widgets in 2005, including a system stats widget called SysStat, that ended up being called iStat. We initially gave all our software away for free, because we had other jobs and didn’t want the hassle of taking credit card payments, building a licensing system, and being responsible for the standard of support we’d need to provide for a paid product.

We tried the product in loads of different forms — a big widget (iStat Pro), a small widget (iStat Nano), a desktop Mac app (just “iStat”), and a something that showed small icons in the Mac menu bar (iStat Menus). People preferred the menu bar version, so we continued to put a lot of effort into developing it. After version 2, we were exhausted and almost gave up on it. We were spending so much time working on iStat Menus, and so far it remained a free product. If you look at the version history, you may notice there’s no updates between version 2.0 and 3.0. This is why.

We decided to try version 3 as a paid product, and spent even more time to ensure it was an update (hopefully) worthy of charging money for. We did get a bit of pushback, but thankfully most people were supportive, and that allowed us to work on Bjango’s products full time.

We’re currently working on the next major revision. iStat Menus is 16 years old, so it’s time to clean up, optimise and do what we can to ensure it’s good for the next 16 years.


Hey Vincent. Yes! I think there’s a few ways to get around the linear and circular nature of using gradients in a one layer design:

  • Borders and more elaborate shapes! The main vector path doesn’t just need to be a circle or a rectangle.
  • By combining a few linear gradients, it should be possible to make any regular polygon on on the inside of the shape (hexagon etc), or even more complex shapes.
  • Remember that things can overlap, so a radial gradient can be used for portion of the interior shape. It doesn’t need to be the entire thing.
  • It’s similar to how shapes get added and subtracted via boolean operations to form Combined Shapes. A lot is possible, you’ll just have to figure out how to break things into the required parts.

Here’s an example using 3 linear gradients to form a triangle inside a square.


Hey Chris! :grinning: Always excited about coffee.

AI is such a wild topic. I’m tentatively excited about it, but I’m unclear on the medium term ramifications of it. I really don’t know what it’s going to mean for design. The most obvious outcome seems to be that it would be a tool used by designers, rather than replacing designers? How do you think it’ll be used for design?

Right now, I’m excited about the process and workflows of design. What are the mechanics that help us actually get to the point where a design is good, and implemented. I guess I’ve always been into that though.

On a more personal level, I’m excited that I might be releasing some music this year! It should be at least 4 songs, but nothing’s confirmed yet (still waiting on contracts for the first 2, the other 2 are in production).


Hey Katy! Great question. Hopefully I can provide a worthy response.

  1. You don’t need to do everything.

Software design is an incredibly wide and diverse field, and you can’t know everything. Focus on what you enjoy, and what helps you get a job. Once you feel comfortable with your chosen areas, you can venture into new territory.

  1. Say hi!

The community can be supportive, and most people want to see you succeed. Networking and chatting to people in the industry will probably help you learn and find good roles, rather than sending out lots of copies of your resumé. This can happen in person, or in Slack teams or forums or wherever the industry hangs out. Please say hi!

  1. Everything starts as a rough draft.

The most amazing designs you’ve seen were rough ideas at some point. Be mindful of that when comparing your initial concepts with other people’s finished work. Also, don’t rush to judge your work — start with some exploration.

  1. Don’t wait for permission.

You don’t need anyone’s approval to build things. A great way to learn is to just attempt something on your own. You can always ask for help, if you need it (see #2). Developers are often open to some design help for their side projects, and that can also be a good way to start in the industry.

If only I could go back in time and tell myself these things.

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Hey Marc! Big admirer of your work! It’s been a while since the last update on it – but is Skala still a thing? For what it’s worth, it’s still on Bjango’s website :smiley: Can’t believe I am asking this on the Sketch forums, but it’s an AMA so I thought I should give it a try :smiley:

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Hey Mayra!

There may have been earlier examples, but I saw a Dribbble shot by Pedja Rusic and was hooked on the idea. I tend to take things too far, so I spent the next few months exploring what was possible. :grinning:

Yep! But, let’s start with a couple of opposing ideas:

  • Many designs can be a single layer, using layer styles.
  • Layer styles can often be broken into separate layers.

With that in mind, it’s all about structuring your documents to give you the behaviour and abilities you’d like. Doing more in each layer can clean up your layers list and make certain edits a lot easier.

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Hey Joseph,

I think it’ll come down to what you feel is the right way to construct your document. This challenge will likely create some layers that would… errr… maybe not be ideal in production documents.

But, it’s good to know your tools well enough to be able to build a certain design many different ways, so you can be mindful which technique is best for the situation.

Let’s assume you’re after a blurry icon. If you can construct it entirely using layer styles, then the layer blur can be used. I don’t believe it’s possible to blur a group or a symbol — you’d have to convert the group or symbol to a bitmap image before blurring. In this extremely contrived example, building everything as layer styles might make sense, because it keeps the artwork entirely vector and editable?


Hey Thomas! Thank you! Yep, it’s definitely still a thing.


Thanks for your tips!

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I don’t think I should opine too much, but it can definitely be complimentary! :grinning:

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