Meme used with permission of its creator https://twitter.com/NCResq. For those uninitiated in Bollywood memes, this is a legendary scene from the Hindi film ‘Deewar’ where one protagonist asks the other, “I have a mansion, wealth and status. What do you have?” He receives a dramatic reply that leaves him stunned, “I have a ma (or mother).”
Everyone is talking about Figma. Non-users are curious. Users are holding meetups to debate the product’s nuances. There’s even a dedicated Figma memes account.
For a generation of young designers, Figma will be the only tool they know. Since I am in an age bracket where I can correctly identify an audio-cassette (also proud of the fact that I aced the BuzzFeed quiz), let me share my journey and hope that it is helpful. (This story is NOT sponsored by Figma).
Adobe to Sketch to Figma
I’m a hard-core Figma advocate today, but I got here by pirating Adobe’s Creative Suite and Sketch. While everyone’s go-to was Photoshop, I preferred Illustrator. After experimenting for a while, I moved to Sketch full-time in 2014, eventually getting the paid version. For someone trying to build a start-up, a $100 commitment felt like a lot.
I have been tracking Figma since 2018. Our license for Sketch was up for renewal last year and we decided to make the move. Figma had matured, rolling out a plugins ecosystem, as well as key features like auto-sync and multiplayer mode.
As a single designer, Sketch was adequate, but once the team grew, syncing files via Dropbox or Google Drive became cumbersome and inconvenient. Clincher: Moving to Figma was a money saver, since we could cancel our subscriptions to Sketch and Zeplin.
Collaboration Makes the Difference
Figma’s real time collaboration is very handy. With my team split between LA and Pune, it is easy to get on a call, share a Figma link, discuss designs and make changes. With the lockdown, Figma’s work-from-home features have further proven its value. (In hindsight I am so glad we didn’t have to adjust to a new workflow or tool in these conditions).
From manually redlining designs in Illustrator to taking printouts and leaving hand-written notes for developers, to exporting screens from Sketch to Zeplin, to now having constantly up-to-date designs in Figma, it’s been quite a journey.
The Math Works
With a generous free plan and cross-platform capabilities, Figma is the more obvious choice for beginners and start-ups. I don’t need to pirated software or a Mac to get started? I can pay for extra features as work increases and the team grows? Sign me up.
Community, Community, Community
Compared to Sketch, Figma’s plugin ecosystem is relatively nascent and rolled out in 2019. It has rapidly picked up, however, and some plugins are absolutely bonkers!
A couple of my favourites: The Random Layout Generator by Nick Jones and Pencil Pal by Nelson Taruc. The latter gives you greater control over Apple Pencil while using Figma on an iPad, something Figma isn’t even built for.
Some might argue that Figma takes a walled garden approach to plugins. Unlike Sketch, there is an approval process and you can’t download a plugin from anywhere. However, Figma’s approach allows you to discover the people behind the plugins. Plugins come with author profiles that display everything they have published, including files I can duplicate and build on.
Which brings us to Figma Community. It’s still in beta, but it’s their version of Github or Glitch – a place for people to share and riff on design files. While source files were previously available, Figma makes it so much easier to go through someone else’s design and view how existing designs are being improved upon.
I don’t have a formal background in design or engineering. Going through source files is how I taught myself UI design, HTML, CSS, JS and WordPress. Figma wants to make design accessible to everyone, and so far, they are making the right moves.
Design tutorials and remote workshops have picked up considerably with Figma’s multiplayer mode. A group of attendees can experiment in real-time on a single file. Everyone can watch and give feedback, which is the essence of collaboration. This is enabling people like Abhinav Chhikara to launch 10k Designers, creating a new crop of product designers who haven’t gone to formal design school and will not have a long on-the-job learning curve.
Sketch is scrambling to bring these product features to their app as well and they may or may not be able to salvage the situation. Where they will struggle is in replicating the community that Figma has built. 2019 was the year when VC’s said ‘community is the new moat’ and Figma has been running that marathon for a while now.
Walking the Talk
The Figma team takes their commitment to community seriously and they constantly share valuable information.
When we wanted a common font across our apps with the same feel as San Francisco and Roboto, I discovered Inter by Rasmus Andersson, Principal Designer, Figma. (Inter has since gone on to be used by Github, Mozilla and is now part of Google Fonts.)
While I’m no mechanical keyboard aficionado, I do love checking them out. Marcin Wichary, Design Manager, Figma, is the expert on the subject and is publishing a bible of mechanical keyboards.
Unlike the other faceless companies, the Figma team feels part of the community. They are accessible, responsive and fun. Check out this absolute banger of a musical on quarantining and working from home that they made during the lockdown.
Because I have interacted with the team so much (via Twitter), it feels like there’s a certain ‘apnapan (sense of belonging)’ about Figma, and I know other people who feel the same way. Finally, this will be Figma’s best moat. People come for the tool and stay for the community.