How to bring your design files (and team) into Abstract

Follow this guide to get your design files and your team into Abstract.

How to bring your design files (and team) into Abstract

Once you've piloted Abstract and your team is as excited as you are, it’s time to bring your files into Abstract. By migrating your design files into Abstract, you’ll trade in your team’s fragmented design process (hello, email threads, Slack, Asana, Jira, and the good ‘ol water cooler) for a centralized hub that everyone has access to. That’s generous design, in our minds.

In this post, we’ll focus on the nuts and bolts of migrating your files from wherever they’re stored into Abstract.

How to think about files in Abstract

Files are the containers for your designs. That means some of your files may look like Marie Kondo’s shoeboxes, T-shirts tightly folded, standing at attention. Others look like your real-life laundry baskets at home: mostly empty, surrounded by clothes that didn’t quite make it in.

Before you start tidying up, audit your team’s design files. (Hint: You can use our “How we use Abstract” Worksheet to guide an in-depth discovery session with your design team.) Whatever the state of your files, moving to Abstract is the excuse your team has been waiting for to get things in order. You’ll get the chance to assess all the housekeeping work that has been neglected during the hurry of product development.

Together, your team will transition from my files to our files.

Once this upfront work is complete, it will be time to celebrate. 🎉 You’ll be able to:

  • Share files as a design team from a single, organized hub.
  • Watch everyone’s contributions to projects start rolling in through Commits and merges.
  • Collaborate with PMs and other non-designers with less stress (...instead of frantically digging through your Downloads folder to find one-off design files 😅).

How your design files will evolve with Abstract

For most designers, the status quo is working on your own files, in your own folders. It pretty much looks like this. Abstract opens up the design workflow, by giving you a personal, safe workspace called Branches, within the context of jointly-owned design files called Master. Together, your team will transition from my files to our files. At the end of the day, this transparency leads to more efficient collaboration, faster time to launch, better design-to-developer handoff. It's a more organized (and less stressful) way to work.

With Abstract, your files will be used and seen by everyone on your team. To make sure everyone gets the most value out of working together in Abstract, it’s important to make a few team-wide commitments:

  • All design work will happen in Abstract.
  • Files will be named and organized in a way that everyone on your team can navigate.
  • Everyone will share their thought process in Abstract through Commit messages, Branch summaries, and comments.

We’ll dive into each of these requirements a bit more.

Abstract or it didn’t happen

Once your team has decided to move to Abstract, you need a team-wide commitment to work on your design files in Abstract. Any work that happens outside of the Branch, Commit, Merge workflow won’t be recorded in Abstract, and won’t be available to the rest of the team. In essence, you’ll be missing out on the full power of centralizing your work.

Working outside of Abstract can result in data loss (ack!). What's more, you’ll miss opportunities to build your team's collective wisdom through your transparent design process, to log explorations so you can revisit them as needed, and to record how and why design decisions were made.

Wayfinding is kindness

Onboarding to a new design team and searching for files to do your work can feel a bit like dipping your toes into very cold water.

Maybe you’re not the newbie on the design team, but every day you go on safari to hunt down files for your projects. This “work about work” is draining, meaning you have less creative energy to pour into your designs.

Help out yourself and your fellow new designers by frontloading the organization of your design files in Abstract. Best practices for project and file architecture include structuring your projects and files according to how your product is built, not who is working on them.

Your design brain, in Abstract

As you’re designing in Abstract, your micro and macro decisions about your process are automatically documented in your Commit messages, Branch summaries, and comments. Documentation happens as you design. There’s no need to take time after the fact to document the how and why of your designs. Abstract builds your system of record inline, without you ever needing to leave your design workflow.

Pro tip: Your system of record is only as good as you make it. The most successful teams take the time to be intentional. As you branch, commit, and merge, document what you’re thinking in your Commit messages, Branch summaries, and Merge messages.

How to move your files into Abstract

Let’s talk about the how of getting your files into Abstract. Start by creating projects based on the product you’re working on. Once your projects are in place, you’ll import your libraries, then clean up your design files and import those files as Master.

Libraries first, then files

The customers we’ve seen have the most success transitioning to Abstract have prioritized importing their libraries first. By importing libraries first, you lay a solid foundation for your team to actually design in Abstract.

Before you import your library files, you’ll need to make a decision about where to import them. This decision is based on how often your libraries are updated.

If your libraries are updated frequently and/or are product-specific, import your libraries directly into the project where you’ll be using the libraries. This allows you to quickly update your library files from within the same project and Branch.

If your libraries are rarely updated and/or are product-agnostic, consider creating a separate Design System project and importing all of your libraries there. This allows all of your Organization’s projects to link to these libraries. A separate Design System project is also easier to manage for your Design System Lead.

Pro tip: Once you’ve imported your libraries, check that your files are referencing libraries in Abstract, and not your local library files. Right-click your Master files and select Manage libraries. If any are not pointing to libraries in Abstract, you’ll need to select the corresponding Abstract library from the drop-down menu.

Mastering Master

Master is what we call the “final_final_no really final.sketch” files for each project. You’ll likely end up with more than one file making up Master in each project. The files that you import or create for a project represent the final versions that everyone on your team will start to branch off of and begin their work. They’ll be named according to the structure of your product (e.g., Homepage.sketch, Account.sketch).

Abstract builds your system of record inline, without you ever needing to leave your design workflow.

You’ll create Master for each project. Here are some basic dos and don’ts to follow:


  • Intentionally select which Artboards reflect the most up-to-date designs of your product and import or copy / paste those to a new Sketch file in Abstract.
  • Migrate files as you work. You can continue to build out Master for each project over time.
  • Clean up your files before migrating them to Abstract. You should:
  • Find the file that’s closest to the final.
  • Edit the file until your team is happy with it as your source of truth for that design.
  • Import the file into your project.


  • Dump every Sketch file your team has ever created into Abstract.
  • Expect Master to be 100% complete on day one of using Abstract. It may take a few months to get every file you need migrated over to Abstract.
  • Import a massive Sketch file with loads of outdated, unrelated Artboards. Abstract makes it easy to break up Sketch files according to the structure of your product (e.g. Home.sketch, Account.sketch, ListPage.sketch).
Pro tip: If you really want to start with a clean slate, create brand-new files in Abstract and copy/paste individual artboards from your old files to your new. This approach is helpful when you’re overhauling the structure of your design files.

I’ve imported my files to Abstract. Now what?

Once you’ve migrated your first files, your team is ready to start collaborating in Abstract.

Governance makes for happy design teams

To prevent your move to Abstract from turning into an impromptu season of Survivor, we recommend deciding on a few guardrails for your design team. You can use our “How we use Abstract” Worksheet to guide the conversation.

Some baseline governance questions may include:

  • What is Master going to represent? Does it need to be approved by the entire design team? If not, who is the approver?
  • How are we going to name our Branches? (Hint: *Not* by the designer’s name!)
  • How often are we going to commit to committing? (We recommend 4-5 times/day at least.)

Once all your files are in Abstract, you're ready to roll. If you're in the process of transitioning, we'd love to hear how it's going. If you've gone through it already, share your tips on Twitter and tag us @goabstract.

Read more of The Champion’s Toolkit

  1. How to pitch Abstract to anyone
  2. How to pilot Abstract for your design team 
  3. How to bring your files into Abstract — you are here 📍
Illustration by
Daina Lightfoot
Illustration by
Daina Lightfoot
Illustration by
Daina Lightfoot
Illustration by
Published on
August 2, 2019

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