UNIFY YOUR SHORTCUTS ACROSS APPLICATIONS

Wouldn’t it be easier if the keyboard shortcuts for frequently used commands would be the same in every application?

Sure, some commands already have universal keyboard shortcuts: Copy is Ctrl-C (Windows) or Command-C (Mac) everywhere. But some other commands don’t behave so nicely.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

keyboard-shortcuts-before-and-after-unification

Recently, I got fed up with inconsistent shortcuts between the design apps I use the most. I decided to unify at least those I use most frequently: layer reordering commands (like Send To Back), group/ungroup, lock/unlock, and alignment.

These commands are virtually identical from app to app, but their keyboard shortcuts aren’t. They might not even have keyboard shortcuts (I’m looking at you, PowerPoint).

Fortunately, you can often fix this yourself – at least if you use a Mac. Most keyboard shortcuts can be customized using a built-in feature of Mac OS X.

This doesn’t work for Adobe apps – but it doesn’t need to, since Adobe apps already have keyboard shortcut customization inside the apps (which also works on Windows).

How it works

The ability to customize keyboard shortcuts has been a standard feature of Mac OS X for maybe 10 years. Still, many people don’t know about this hidden gem.

It’s pretty straightforward to use. For example, let’s say you want to setMove To Back to Command-Shift-B in Sketch, so that it matches with Keynote. Here’s how:

  1. Find the menu command for the function you want to give a new shortcut for. If there’s no menu command for a function, you can’t set a shortcut for it. Fortunately, if you look in theArrange menu in Sketch, there it is. (It doesn’t matter whether it has a keyboard shortcut by default – it’s enough that the command is in the menu.)
  2. Open System Preferences.
  3. Go to Keyboard > Shortcuts (search is the fastest way).
  4. Select App Shortcuts from the left.
  5. Click the ‘+’ button underneath the list.
  6. From the application list, select the app you want: in this case, Sketch. If you don’t see the app you’re looking for on the list, select Other at the end of the list and locate the app. (This happens if the app is inside a subfolder.)
  7. For Menu Title, type Move To Back – exactly as it appears on the Arrange menu in Sketch. Capitalization matters: Move to Back won’t work.
  8. For Keyboard Shortcut, press the shortcut you want, such as Command-Shift-B.
  9. Click Add. Done!

picture1

If you now switch back to Sketch and open the Arrange menu, you’ll see Command-Shift-B next to Move To Back. You don’t even need to relaunch Sketch: the new shortcut starts working immediately.

Just repeat this process for each app that has the same command.

Some limitations

This method works in most cases. Not always though:

  • It doesn’t work for Adobe apps like Photoshop and Illustrator. For them, use Adobe’s own system. For example, in Photoshop, select Edit > Keyboard Shortcuts (Command-Option-Shift-K). You still have to customize each app separately.
  • It doesn’t work if the menu item label changes on the fly. For example, Delete Column in Numbers changes to Delete Columns if you have more than one column selected. Things like this cause the custom shortcut to stop working.
  • Sometimes, individual apps simply refuse to handle particular shortcuts. If the shortcut you assigned isn’t working (but shows up in the menu), trying a different shortcut may help.

 

So, it’s not a perfect solution, and sometimes requires a bit of trial and error. Even so, it’s a useful trick to know.

Which of your favourite commands have inconsistent shortcuts? Were you able to fix them? Let me know in the comments.