I’m a day late writing about this, but yesterday Figma launched their 1.0, which included multiplayer simultaneous editing. Evan’s got a post that describes what they’ve done in great detail — it’s worth reading every word — Evan’s posts generally are amazing like that.
I’m really excited about this launch (and judging by the responses we got yesterday and today, lots of other people are) — for a couple of different reasons.
First off, I love love love productivity software. We’re in an absolute golden age of software that helps us do things together. For the first time in 25 years, there’s a massive reinvention of how we create things together happening — really the first time since Office solidified into its (rough) current form in 1990 or so. From about 1990 to 2007, Microsoft held an absolute distribution advantage — because Windows was on virtually everyone’s computer (95%!), Office had an almost overwhelming bundling advantage. (Internet Explorer did as well, but for some different reasons, Firefox and then Chrome broke that stranglehold for the web in the 2nd half of the last decade.)
But in 2007 we got iPhones and Androids, and Office no longer had the overwhelming distribution advantage they did before — we were all reading and creating on new screens running iOS & Android.
That move to new platforms also came with a new human behaviors and expectations: real time notifications, messaging, auto-saving to the cloud, focus on content rather than files, and a desire/demand for apps designed to fit the way we were living and working, rather than fitting the way we work to the way apps worked. And so we’ve been the happy beneficiaries of completely new systems like Slack & Quip & many other modern ways to create.
In many ways, this orientation towards messaging and collaboration also mirrored the rise of open source and collaborative development, as more and more developers started using the systems and norms and tools of open source.
I think we’re going to see a long boom in productivity software, including some things that look completely different than we’ve ever seen, truly matched to the capabilities of mobile & cloud.
So of course Figma’s exciting to me as it’s very in line with those trends.
The second reason I’m excited about Figma’s launch is that interaction & interface design is very near & dear to my heart. Learning about design and HCI at Stanford changed my life — it moved me from focusing on computer architectures towards building things that humans wanted to use. And that led me to work at Apple and Mozilla and on many other adventures.
But design has stayed stubbornly isolated — it hasn’t undergone the same collaboration revolutions that software development and office productivity have gone through — it’s remained, basically, single player while the rest of the world has moved towards collaboration.
Some of that is intrinsic — designing, like coding, really, is an act of pure creation and constraints — of figuring out how to get artifact to match intent. And that very often takes place with just one human in the loop, at least for the critical parts of it.
But I think a more fundamental reason that design has been solo is simply that the tools have been solo — they haven’t embraced the concepts of asyncrhonous open source collaboration, or of syncrhonous messaging. A lot of the reason for that is that it’s legitimately difficult to build systems that allow this type of creation from many people who aren’t staring at the same screen. You needed robust cloud technology; you needed something like the web, and you needed something like GPUs that the web could use to make everything sing.
And you needed folks like Evan & Dylan and the Figma team to put it all together in an exceptionally ambitious technology package that builds on the very best design traditions of Adobe (and more recently Sketch), but also opens up new areas for both asynchronous and synchronous collaboration.
To my knowledge, there’s never been a system built quite like Figma.
I think for some people this will be an obviously interesting & exciting cliff to jump off. I think it’ll make other people uncomfortable, with images of design by committee and bosses looking over designers shoulders.
It will definitely mean we need to figure some new things out in terms of how we work together. But we figured it out in other areas — with tools like Slack & Github, with Quip & Google Docs. I have pretty high confidence that we’ll figure it out with Figma and design, too.
Our experience with Figma so far has been exactly that — that it’s shorted design feedback loops, that it’s productively gotten more people in each company understanding and appreciating design, and that it’s just helping make better products faster.
So that’s why I’m excited, and so proud of what the team at Figma has built.
Achievement unlocked: multiplayer design.
Lots and lots of fun days and learning ahead.