In case you haven't noticed, I'm using Figma to design the interface this project. If you haven't heard of it, Figma is one of the "new school" design tools that grew out of a frustration in the early part of this decade with using Photoshop as a tool to design websites and apps.
Sketch launched in 2010 and—as I remember it—sometime around 2015 there was a Cambrian explosion in the design app ecosystem. These apps were designed for modern designers: they knew about designing responsively for different screen sizes, they made it easy to reuse components, they allowed us to create motion, easily wire together screens into basic prototypes, and had basic support for inspecting design details to cull exact font sizes and pixel dimensions. It was an exciting time.
Figma launched in September of 2016 and I couldn't have cared less. I started earlier that year as a design lead at WeWork and was using Sketch daily. Symbols? Game changer! Without Sketch symbols Andrew and I couldn't have built Plasma, WeWork's first design system.
I didn't think about Figma again until earlier this year. In January I promised to build this app out in the open and I wanted a way for anyone to be able see what I was working on and give feedback on it, without them having to download or install anything. I thought that should be as easy and real-time as a Google Doc. That's when I remembered reading a complaint (shout out to Design Twitter) about how distracting it was to have other collaborator's pointer arrows zipping around the artboards in Figma. But that was exactly what I wanted!
My next thought was that Figma must be impossibly slow, a kids toy, running entirely in the browser. Boy was I wrong. I'm scared of the engineering team over there. What kind of dark dangerous magick are they invoking? I've been using (and building) web apps for fifteen years and I've never seen anything so well executed.
And of course Figma has all the table-stakes stuff that a modern design tool is expected to have in 2019: symbols, prototyping, inspecting.
But what Figma understood from the beginning (and everyone else is now scrambling to catch up) is that a design tool is not just for designers! Shortly after trialing Figma with this project, I gave it a try on a project with the team at Candid.
The copywriter could now just edit text right in the designs, like they were already used to in Google Docs. No more guessing about whether a block of copy was going to feel too long or too short on the page. Formal check-ins with the PM became less important, because they could pop-in to the design at any time and leave feedback right on top. And all this happening in one place—the work, and the work about the work—without the need for saving or exporting or downloading anything.
Figma's secret sauce is that there isn't a collaboration feature tacked on, it's baked in to the foundation. It erases the lines between the work and things you need to do with that work.
Check out the app I'm designing in Figma here.