Learnings from Figma’s business domination

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How Figma defeated other design tools even after entering the market late

It is safe to say that the entire design and product community is excited about Figma. But how did Figma make itself a dominant tool for every designer and, more importantly, the tech giants that employ hundreds of designers for their product features? Let’s dig into this topic and understand how Figma applied the same variables to other tools to make their mark in their respective industries.

History 👴

  • Figma had its first public release on September 27, 2016. On October 22, 2019, Figma launched Figma Community, allowing designers to publish their work for others to view and remix their work.
  • On the other hand, Sketch was launched on 7 September 2010 for only macOS.
  • Unlike Sketch, Figma is also a vector graphics tool. But it is entirely web-based and works on both Windows and Mac or even a tablet device at a similar level. It means companies or individuals that cannot afford a Mac device can still work on cutting-edge interface design software.

Figma taking over 🚗

Design tool stack sample

Figma’s research and marketing teams would have looked at all the tools that designers at the time were using. Designers were endlessly jumping from one design-tool to another to bridge the gap and ship the final deliverables. For example, a typical flow would be something like,

  1. Designers/Researchers do their brainstorming in Miro ✅.
  2. Conduct interviews on Google Meet/Zoom/Microsoft Teams ✅.
  3. Document their discoveries in Confluence ✅.
  4. Tracks bugs and tickets in JIRA ✅.
  5. Wireframes on Whimsical/Balsamiq .
  6. File management and version control on Abstract .
  7. Designs in Sketch .
  8. Designs micro-interactions in Framer❌/Marvel❌/Principle ✅.
  9. Presents the completed screens as flow to developers and product managers in Overflow ❌.
  10. Hands over design in Zeplin/InVision ❌.
  11. Communicate over Slack ✅.

As a designer working in a team, you cannot cut down all these collaboration tools. But let’s add up the cost of all the “design” only tools that Figma replaced —

Sketch (99$/year and license) + Abstract (180$/year per license) + Zeplin (130$/year per license) + Invision (100$/year per license) +Framer (240$/year per license) + Whimsical (144$/year per license) + Overflow (144$/year per license)= 1037$/year per license

Tools that Figma couldn’t disrupt —

Principle (129$/year per license) + Miro (192$/year per license)+ Also adding , Figma (540$/year per license) = 861$/year per license

It creates a significant business cost-saving case, especially for tools like Zeplin that got organizations to pay for view-only users.

Still Irreplaceable

It is worth noting that some things are irreplaceable currently, but designers can continue to survive without them. For example —

  1. Abstract offers a superior version control which Figma doesn’t have yet.
  2. Principle offers control over micro-interactions and helps create sophisticated prototypes with fancy animations that Figma cannot yet.
  3. Whimsical offers wireframe, user flow creation support vital for early-stage UX work that Figma comes close to replacing but still far away.
  4. Miro offers ideation supports and makes workshop facilitation easy. Figma nowhere close to it.

Real Reason for the shift

The real reason small startups and big organizations decided to shift to Figma was that,

  1. It is free for individuals and small organization that doesn’t require a lot. This way, even bigger organizations gave it a try and tested the waters before going all in.
  2. It provided real collaboration. It brought stakeholders together and facilitated cross-functional communication.
  3. It helps big organizations across the globe to make a move. Then these organizations became ambassadors of Figma. I am assuming that Figma set up a technical support team that helped the large organizations make the big move and provided help with training and documentation.
  4. Figma cut down the need for jumping from one design boat to another. In Figma, designers could see umm🤔… design, prototype, gather feedback, and hand-off to the engineering team.
  5. Platform independence. No more Abstract and Sketch eating your battery. Work from any OS, any tablet. Plus, everything’s on the cloud.
  6. The company employed a design-centric leadership, for example, Yuhki Yamashita (VP of Product). They have a competitive edge because of their design focus.
  7. Figma understood the user’s needs and built a holistic monster of a tool.

Ominipresent Documentation 📔

Figma knew that if it had to take over. Then designers need to start feeling comfortable with the tool. Designers need to adopt it, recommend it, and be willing to contribute to it. And the first step to build a strong familiarity loop is by providing users with in-depth documentation — in every form and manner.

Figma provided its tool support on Blog, YouTube, Medium, Help Center, FB, Instagram, and Twitter. It feels as if you can connect with them where you feel comfortable.

Though, I would have loved to see an in-app help like Miro’s Learn & Inspire. Available anytime, anywhere.

Screenshot of Miro app — Help

The Community Effect 🌍

When Sketch launched in 2010, it supported building custom plugins using Cocoascript — a coding language that bridges the gap between Objective-C/Cocoa code and Javascript. But it could never provide a platform where designers could contribute or sell resources. And hence, platforms like Sketch App Sources or UI8 came into being.

But this changed with Figma. The tool integrated plugin as well as an endless array of free Figma-based templates. I am assuming that the community would have imported many of the older templates from Sketch since Figma build Sketch import support from the start.

Design Applause 👏

It is good to have big ideas. But following up your ideas with intuitive execution results in widespread success.

In many ways, Figma bridged the gap. It allowed for designers to adopt the tool more quickly as compared to Sketch. One of the significant moves Figma made was to make the tool-free to use for individuals and paid only for companies that require tons of collaboration and huge project repositories. It brought smiles to many people’s faces, and it drove adoption. But above, it gave people a reason to provide the tool with an honest try.

What followed after this was an endless sea of content where designs, product folks, entrepreneurs all gave the tool positive feedback and drew interesting comparisons. It built an immeasurable stream of support for Figma through free influencers.

If someone likes you, they will do anything for you.

Check out some of the interesting ones below:

Frequent Releases 🚀

If you look at the timestamps of all the past Figma releases, you will realize that the tool gets something fixed or gets an added functionalities every 7–10 days. I can imagine that the once-in-seven-day release cycle keeps designers, developers, and product managers on their toes all day long 😆. It also results in happy customers. The frequency also builds trust and more hands raised 🙌 for Beta signups. And we all know that more testing leads to more bugs squashed and the release of a stable version.

Figma Releases

🤫 Some designers even say that Figma’s team has ears everywhere. As soon as a designer thinks there is a gap in the product, Figma fixes the break in their subsequent releases.

Design Tooling Landscape ✏️

The design tools landscape is filled with fair, reasonable, and great options. There is something wrong with every tool, and one tool's mistake is another tool's market opportunity here. For example, everyone knew that version control is a problem in Sketch, and designer-led organizations are obsessed with maintaining versions. I have personally met designers who would back up their previous design copies in Google Drive. In this instance, Abstract was born and was able to form a tight-knit integration with Sketch to provide design-friendly branching, conflict management, and version control.

Prototyping tools –

👆Check out some of the prototyping tools that Vytautas Alech compared. You can add a lot more to the design tool landscape if you reach each part of the design journey like wireframe (like Balsamiq), ideation & brainstorming (like Miro), developer hand-off (like Zeplin), presentation (like Keynote), and more.

Learnings from Figma

If you run a Saas product and would like to take your user-adoption through the roof, then take into account these moves and see success coming your way.

  1. Listen to your customers. Find out instances where the experience is broken, and you can be the first to bridge them better than anyone else.
  2. Learn about your competitors and make it easy for your customers to make a move.
  3. Don’t go for petty cash 💰. Chase the big 🦈 Sharks. If you can, let customers use or try your product for free with all of the advanced features reserved for the paying customers. People tend to convert more often when the cost of entry is low.
  4. Provide documentation, tutorials, customer support to your consumers. If your users do not happen, then your product won’t exist for long.
  5. Be outward-facing. If your customers cannot find you on every significant social platform, you will miss building organic social loops and instances where your product can go viral. Outward-facing means you regularly take time to connect with your customers through social media by conducting live webinars and interactive in-person sessions. Increase your surface of contact.
  6. Supercharge your tool with plugins/integrations, templates, and more freebies. Invite early developers and incentivize them to build functionalities that would take you years to prioritize and ship. You can’t make everything, and you can’t replace every tool out there. But you can open your APIs and build meaningful connections with other apps.
  7. Build an organic influencer network. It will make your product 10x more viral and go places.
  8. Provide robust support. Please don’t allow your customers to complain about your product without you ever following up with them and fixing the issues.

Together all these tactics can deliver a solid punch to your target market.

Being Relevant

To be relevant as a business, we can learn from Figma and do the following things.

  1. Have a product focus and strategy. Don’t focus just on minting money. Focus on providing value to the users. You can stay in the game only when your users’ needs are fulfilled.
  2. Innovate. Spend the time and the effort to supercharge your innovation engines. Don’t focus on merely marketing your products — keep pushing your teams to build something useful for them.
  3. Iterate. Don’t let negative feedback sit in the corner till it becomes a devouring monster 👹. All feedback is good feedback. Create a system around converting feedback into features and iteration cycles. Your product will thank you for it.
  4. Increase the speed of execution. The faster your teams can develop, the quicker you will ship, the better your turnaround time will become.
  5. Focus on the outcome, not features. The only way you can uncover unmet needs and workaround is by connecting with your users on the grass-roots level and brainstorming with them like real stakeholders.

I hope you enjoyed this quick read, and it gave you some knowledge to apply some of the observations as the guiding principles.

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Thank you for reading this far! 😁 Let me know if you have any questions or comments on my design — or — If you’d like to have a chat about anything design-related, I’d love to hear from you!

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