Figma x Adobe

On September 15, 2022, Figma “has entered into an agreement to be acquired by Adobe.”

The initial shock sent me into a whirlwind of Adobe – capitalism – monopoly – subscription services – walled-up knowledge – losing access – what does this mean?

But now, a couple of days removed from the event, I believe it is important to take a step back and analyze this strong reaction. My first step was to look at Figma, specifically at their about page.

As an educator in graphic design, I am well aware of the nuance that is placed in the crafting of a brand’s about page. This semester, I am teaching a digital media course where I focus on UX/UI, basic coding, and graphic design. Therefore, I was able to revisit some readings, theories, and ideas about experience design, digital experiences themselves, and interface design.

The main book I use to teach this class is “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug. On pages 155 – 159, the author talks about key attributes of usability: delightful, learnable, and memorable. Delightful websites/apps do cool things which in turn create an engaging experience. Learnable websites/apps are easy to understand, and memorable websites/apps allow for a seamless return to use.

But anyways… Let’s go back to Figma’s about page.

I have three words for it: I love it. It is such a fun experience scrolling down on it. I believe seeing it on a desktop/laptop delivers the best experience. The colors are fun, the animations are smooth and “juicy,” and it tells their story cohesively while delivering their vision, mission, and values. As an experience, it has hit the mark for me.

As a product, my experience with Figma has been much more positive than my experience with Adobe xD. I’ve found it delightful, learnable, and memorable. Whereas, Adobe XD failed to check those boxes in my experience using and teaching it.

Adobe is to the design industry as wheels are to cars. If you watch the documentary Graphic Means (which I’ve just done with my graphic design I classes) you will see Paul Brainerd mentioning how the digital revolution in the industry stood on a “three-legged stool: Aldus, Apple, and Adobe.” So it isn’t wrong to say that Adobe has been the design industry standard.

I have been studying graphic design since 2012, so I was there when Adobe XD launched. I started using it as soon as it was available. At that time (2014-2015), Adobe had started to shift the design of their interface for the first time in quite a while and XD was one of the first programs that got the “new” look.

Adobe Photoshop from the aughts.
Adobe Photoshop today – – not much has changed.
Adobe XD – light mode, a simplified interface, and a contextual properties panel.

Another thing that Adobe and other services were doing at the time was releasing “under development” products. Meaning, that they relied on community feedback to improve the products. There is a lot to be talked about that in itself, but, for the sake of this discussion, I want to focus on my experience using a product like that.

Adobe XD was not on my top 5 used Adobe products (the list goes: Illustrator, Illustrator, Illustrator, Photoshop, and AfterEffects). Since I didn’t have to use it so often, every time I opened XD it looked different. Every time there was a new feature, a change of panels, or even how to save the files changed. All these changes made me relearn the app every time I used it.

If we remember the attributes of usability, memorability is one of them. If users don’t remember how to use something and have to relearn it, they lose their good faith in your product. At least that is what happened to me. Even though I had already heard of Figma, I had chosen to stick with XD because of my perceived familiarity with Adobe products. But given how it did not meet my expectations I just avoided using it as much as I could.

A couple of months ago I needed to prototype an interface and sticking with my XD-avoidance, I decided to give Figma a try. As the kids say: I was shook! On my first time using Figma I was able to create a prototype that looked professional in an easy-to-use way and it did not take five hours. Of course, it had been years since that first time using XD, but I had to teach it in 2020 and 2021, and those were not good experiences either.

Figma was a breath of fresh air. It knows what it is and what it has to offer and delivers that experience. It is no surprise that it has become so successful. So let’s talk about Figma, the product.

“In 2015, the first design tool that combined the accessibility of the web with the functionality of a native app was born.” It was one of the first times people could work on the same design project at the same time. Of course, other tools existed for online collaboration, but none that was so robust in terms of graphic design capabilities. Add to it how, five years later, this type of collaboration was made more relevant than ever with the Covid-19 pandemic. Working-from-home measures forced technology and people to collaborate online. Here, I would like to offer an anecdote to exemplify this new mentality of digital, seamless collaboration.

During the spring semester of 2022, I gave students a project to make a booklet using Adobe inDesign as the tool. One of my main complaints was how difficult it was to collaborate. Students that have used OneDrive or Google Drive tools for years were expecting a similar experience, but were hit with a door of version control and navigating collaboration in a way that seemed archaic.

I am sure that Adobe has been aware of these issues in their programs. It is part of the design of these programs to be closed. Adobe started by selling specific software (remember physical software?); closed-up products. They were not programmed with interconnection in mind. From a programming perspective, I can’t even imagine what the code for those programs looks like, let alone reprograming them for these new functions. To do such things, one needs to disturb the core structure of these programs and, basically reimagine them.

All of this brings us back to September 15, 2022 – Figma and Adobe. Adobe purchasing Figma; a product already focused on seamless digital collaboration. Now what?

Personally, I hope that Adobe acquiring Figma works for the best. Figma is a great tool that has further democratized access to graphic design tools. But it is difficult to keep up hope when Adobe has been known as the expensive/pay-to-use tool that has kept creators from accessing tools under the shroud of capitalism.

The future I want is one where access, sustainability, and collaboration are at the center (I see some of this in the promises of Web 3.0). If Adobe wants to be part of that future and remain relevant (not that my hot take would lower Adobe’s relevance…) I would like to see a good faith move in this purchase. Or at the least, not close Figma up or prune its capabilities. If anything they could add the sound-playing capabilities that XD has that Figma lacks.

And while we are at it, there are other software out there that strive for openness and collaboration – Affinity Programs, DaVinci Resolve, GoDot, Blender, and more. Regardless, that’s all my opinion and point of view. Leave a comment and let’s start a conversation.

Published by Vitoria, no C

Instructional Assistant Professor at Illinois State University BFA in Graphic Design and New Art Media from the University of North Dakota MFA in Graphic Design from Iowa State University

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