In 2012, Dylan Field and Evan Wallace had an idea to create a web-based creative community with a pretty shocking twist - it would be free to use. At the time, Field and Wallace were both computer science students at Brown University and knew they wanted to create something of their own. While early ideas focused on 3D content and photo editing, the co-founders settled on the goal of creating “free, simple, creative tools in a browser” (Fields). Some elbow grease and $3.8 million in seed funding later, Figma was launched on December 3, 2015.
Figma is a vector-based graphics editor and prototyping tool with an all-encompassing free-to-use membership. The beauty of the software lies in its web-based interface allowing for easy access, cloud storage and a new level of collaboration the design industry had yet to see.
In April of 2021, Figma launched its first official addition called FigJam. Figjam is a collaborative whiteboarding tool, perfect for brainstorming sessions. Sticky notes, arrows, drawing tools and live emoticon reactions make it a fun, interactive experience.
If you are familiar with the design world you’ve probably noticed design applications come and go. There are only a select few contenders that have stood the test of time. Think Canva, Miro, Sketch, and of course the king - Adobe. Canva has a user base of photo editors and entry-level designers who are looking for a cheaper solution to Adobe. Miro, on the other hand, is primarily used for storyboarding and collaborative brainstorming. The point here is while these contenders have their advantages, none of them have come close to surpassing Adobe as a go-to digital design program. In December of 2021, Adobe Creative Cloud paid memberships surpassed 26 million subscribers with that number expected to rise to over 30 million by 2024 (Photutorial). To put that in perspective, nearly 90% of creative professionals have Adobe Photoshop on their computer (Adobe).
Adobe reigns because of its diversity - they have an application for every aspect of digital creation one may need. From photo editing to AR, any creative professional can find a useful tool, regardless of skill level. It is Adobe's broad range of solutions that make it such a powerful force to reckon with. While you can purchase licensing for individual software, the marketing for Adobe Creative Cloud is far too tempting at $55 a month for access to over 20 applications. While many creative professionals utilize other tools such as Canva or Sketch on the side, many of them cannot find an all-encompassing solution that would warrant leaving Adobe behind.
Years of experience, millions of subscribers and die-hard followers is just a taste of what Figma is up against.
“As Google Docs did for word processing and GitHub for code… Figma is doing for design.”
There is no arguing that Figma is making waves. With a staggering evaluation of $10 billion and over $200 million raised in funding, clearly they're doing something right. Figma has now racked up over 4 millions users. What was once a well-hidden secret is now a bustling community of designers continuously sharing their ideas and expanding the platform.
So what calls for this sudden rush of fame? What makes Figma the dark horse competitor who shocked the industry with its success?
Think of Figma as if Google Drive and Adobe Illustrator had a baby. The beauty of collaboration and version history paired with powerful design tools creates the perfect solution to a once slow process. With Figma, design became a team sport. The ability to have multiple people in the same design file working in real-time is truly groundbreaking. Whether you are using the browser or desktop version, the whole team is in sync. Productivity can skyrocket as teams discuss and edit designs on the fly. Outside of meetings, the comment feature is a useful tool, enhancing accurate project communication.
The collaborative essence of Figma is a big reason for the company's success. While many competitors have tried their hand at a collaborative workspace, few have come close to the bar that has been set by Figma.
Waiting for huge applications to install on your computer is a thing of the past with Figma. There is no more bogging down your computer, worrying about exporting files to share or having multiple programs open at once. Figma is one click, one click to open the latest project your team is working on, one click to share and add collaborators and one click to jump between your Figjam workspace and back to your design. You can thank Figma’s web-based experience for that. With free memberships and no download required, it’s revolutionizing shared digital environments. Professional design tools are no longer restricted to only people with Adobe subscriptions.
Additionally, nothing beats opening a new tab instead of waiting for Adobe Illustrator to launch. Oh, and not to mention how everything is automatically in the cloud. This means no more stress, needing to save your work every 10 minutes over fear of an application crash. What may seem simple to some is truly revolutionary to the design community.
Getting the hang of Figma is a relatively simple process for most. Its clean workspace and simple layout make it much less overwhelming compared to other competitors. Keystrokes are similar to other applications of its kind and the Figma Help Center is phenomenal. The platform has basic tools, easy for first time users to understand as well as more advanced features as you become more comfortable with the program.
Figma’s prototyping and sorting tools have been bringing in a lot of attention to the platform. Specifically, the “Auto Layout” tool which allows you to structure components and frames that can automatically grow, making the container adapt to the size of its contents, or vice versa. Many users say this is their favorite tool.
At the end of the day, a platform is nothing without the people who use it. Figma officially launched Figma Community in 2019 allowing creators to share their work with others. Similar to Behance, Figma Community works as a sort of social media for the platform. You can browse for inspiration, download other people's work or search a large library of plugins to enhance your design space. In 2021, Figma reported an average of 1,600 uploads added to the community every day.
There is also the Figma Community Forum which was created to help answer users' questions and gather ideas on how to improve the platform. Fields claims he receives “millions” of requests from the community everyday suggesting new features and future ideas for the platform (Forbes). Seeing how Figma is a young company, it is exciting to think how much the community and platform will evolve in the coming years.
As Figma continues to grow and add features, it is no surprise more people are making the switch from other platforms. According to Medium, in 2020, 63% of designers claimed Figma was their primary UI design tool with only 26% of designers choosing Adobe XD. It is clear the future of design is web-based. In 2021, Figma catapulted to spot #7 in the Forbes’ Cloud 100 List as it continues to prove design is better done as a team. Figma is now commonly used among tech agencies and large companies alike. Dropbox, Slack, Netflix and more have reported using Figma as a design tool. The platform has even made it to the Whitehouse. According to Forbes, Joe Biden’s campaign managed all its visual assets via Figma.
Many design platforms have risen and fallen over the past few years - but it appears Figma is here to stay. As it continues to evolve, many of us designers are on the edge of our seats waiting to see what will come next.
To be fair, Figma isn’t perfect. Just like many other platforms, Figma experiences occasional network issues and bugs, but they aren’t common, and there is always a connectivity risk when relying on the cloud. However, when we are discussing how Figma stands up against Adobe in the design space, Adobe is notorious for their bugs and crashes. That simply isn’t the experience on Figma. However, when put up against Adobe’s beefier design programs such as Illustrator and XD, there are a few areas where Figma falls short.
One of the great things about Illustrator is the ability to edit everything. The various tools and effects in Illustrator truly makes it a powerful application capable of producing some truly stunning work. While Figma does have many similar tools, some of the more advanced ones are lacking. For instance, style and effects tools are limited on Figma. While you can add and adjust a drop shadow, options to fine-tune it simply are not available.
While new users won’t be missing those advanced features right off the bat, veteran Figma users can be left wanting more. Once you get comfortable in the workspace, you feel like you have mastered it. The feeling of fully understanding every single tool rarely comes from a program as robust as Illustrator. The curiosity to explore the program and experiment with tools you’ve never heard of isn’t an experience you’ll have on Figma.
Unlike most Adobe programs, Figma is only intended for digital work. This means you are stuck in the pixel, RGB world. One of the things many designers find handy about Illustrator is its ability to be used for digital or for print. In Illustrator you can design in physical units of measurement. The printing options are in-depth and exporting PDF’s, PNGs and JPEGS are a breeze.
Figma does not have years of being an industry standard or several other programs ready to pull from. This means that while many plugins on the Figma Community are great, they are still somewhat limited. Compared to Adobe, Figma pales in comparison to resources and additional features you can add to enhance your workspace. For example, Adobe Fonts and Adobe Colors are two features that come with the Adobe Creative Cloud subscription and allow users to sort through thousands of fonts and color libraries. In one click, these assets appear in your Adobe library and can be instantly used in your project. To put it kindly, Figma fonts and colors leave a lot to be desired.
Let’s face it, as much as it would be exciting to see a platform usurp Adobe - it isn’t happening any time soon. However, Figma is the first contender in a long time that may stand a fighting chance.
Figma still has a ways to go to convert the masses, but they are off to an astonishing start. The way the platform has revolutionized the design process has put pressure on Adobe to act. Since Figma’s recent rise, Adobe has released updates for their commenting tool as well as rolling out a new cloud-based save system. Figma’s main downfall is the lack of other programs and resources. Adobe is a one-stop-shop for nearly any creative project and that is hard to beat.
Here at Hierographx - a Michigan website design company - , we hopped on the Figma wave and love it. We converted our web design process from Adobe XD to Figma for many of the reasons discussed above. It has improved our collaboration, increased project turnaround time and has become an integral part of our UX team. With that being said, it is still not enough for us to hang up our Adobe Creative Cloud subscription just yet. The versatility of Adobe still keeps us on board.
However, if Figma expands their tools for different types of projects, Adobe better watch out. If they bring the essence of collaboration to every type of design project, we may have a new industry leader.