The more I use Figma, the more convinced I become that their approach to design tooling is unique. The first impression I got slotted it mentally in with tools like Sketch, Moqups, and in some ways even Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. Academically I knew it was “different” than using a true power tool like Photoshop, but the first impression back in 2017 was a lot closer to that than where I’d place it after spending time with it.
In this piece, Kevin Kwok dives deep on Figma’s product and business dynamics, getting at the core of what’s unique about the product versus its competitors in the space. I agree with his ideas here about what Figma can do to elevate design higher into an organization’s decision making process. Bringing wider teams of people into the meat of the iterative design process and allowing the non-technical to meaningfully contribute makes design into a more central piece of an org, rather than how it’s largely been historically treated (a “support” function to PMs, engineers, and marketers). No longer should it be “have a designer make a comp,” but rather, a marketer playing a participatory role in creating that comp.
Historically it has been very difficult for non-designers to be involved during the design process. If PMs, engineers, or even the CEO wanted to be involved, there were many logistical frictions. If they wanted the full designs, the designer would need to send them the current file. They’d then need to not only download it, but also make sure they had the right Adobe product or Sketch installed on their computer—costly tools that were hard to justify for those who didn’t design regularly. And these tools were large, slow, specialized programs that were unwieldy for those not familiar with using them. It was hard to navigate a project without a designer to walk you through it. Comments were done out of band in separate emails. Even worse, if a designer made an update before viewers had finished looking at the file, the file would be out of date—without the viewer being aware.