I’ve been interested (and obsessed, really) with design for my whole career, stretching back to the early nineties when I got to work on early human-computer interaction at Stanford. A lot’s changed since then — the rise and dominance of the Internet; then the absolute ubiquity of phones and other connected devices — because computing has permeated every facet of the way humans live, intentional design has become a necessity for just about every product.
But for all that the orientation towards and understanding of design has changed, the technology we use to design hasn’t really. Despite advancements in cloud computing and graphics processing, most design tools have remained stubbornly stuck in the 90’s. Designers must run them locally on their computers, syncing to file storage services and exporting inert versions to share with collaborators. In other words: in a world of collaboration, design has remained a stubbornly solo activity.
This has never been a great state of affairs, and more than that it just doesn’t work at any scale at all. As technology companies grow, and the reach of the products they make extends, workflows to create those products are getting extremely complicated — it’s generally a mess of hacks to allow basic communication among engineers, marketers, product leaders and designers. Which means that companies like Airbnb are employing entire teams of people to build custom software to make this work.
And so: design becomes the bottleneck to great companies’ growth, instead of what it should be — the driver of their success.
There’s a big opportunity here, which is why in 2015 I was so excited to invest in Figma, the first collaborative design tool that runs in the cloud. From the beginning, Figma had a lot of things going right for it. It broke down barriers to collaboration between teammates because it ran on any operating system, its files are always up-to-date, and multiple people could work together in real-time.
But in the first version of Figma, it fell short on a few key areas — prototyping (for design feedback and user testing) and developer handoff (so engineers could pull the data they needed from design files).
These aren’t optional features — designers need ways to communicate their work quickly to people in other departments and receive their feedback.
Before now, they’ve relied on hacked-together systems that are painful. Plugins loaded on top of plugins cause design apps to freeze and crash whenever there’s an update. Presentations go out of date as soon as they’re exported because they’re not tied to the actual design file. And of course everything gets much more complicated as groups and companies grow — the number and type of stakeholders grow, and everything gets slowed down.
That’s why the next chapter of Figma’s business is so significant. Today the company announced Figma 2.0, with prototyping and developer handoff integrated into the design tool itself. That means that for the first time, the entire product team can work together in one live, always up-to-date environment for ideation, design, prototyping, and code delivery. No other design tool today offers this.
It doesn’t take a fortune-teller to see that this is the future. Virtually every other creative activity has moved to the cloud & the collaboration that it offers.
It’s well beyond time for design to follow suit. Computing and interactive devices like phones now power much of the underlying fabric of our society, and so the demands on designers and product teams are become larger and more acute every day. More than that, though, every company that builds digital products today must become a design first company, designing products with intentionality. And so every company needs tools and workflows that let everyone in the process be part of the process.
Figma 2.0 is an awesome new release— go check it out.