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Figma is proving to be the essential design tool of COVID-19

Our 2020 Innovation by Design honoree created a prototyping tool that was vital for businesses during the pandemic.

Figma is proving to be the essential design tool of COVID-19

As COVID-19 spread across the country, U.S. businesses closed their doors, and working from home became the new order. In May, Twitter went so far as to say its work-from-home employees never had to return to the office if they didn’t want to.

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How is that possible? At least part of the credit goes to a piece of cloud-based, collaborative creation software called Figma–used widely at companies including Microsoft, Spotify, and Airbnb. Our 2020 Innovation by Design winner in User Experience, Figma allows designers to rapidly prototype apps and websites. Choices they make, from wireframes to drop shadows, can become instant standards baked into Figma’s UI, shared across their company to keep a consistent design language and even audited to ensure the language is being used. Figma’s project files can easily be shared outside the design team, too, with engineers, product managers, and members of the marketing team able to offer feedback from the early stages of the production process.

Figma has been around since 2016. In 2019, Figma’s development was largely about ensuring that just anything you want to build in Figma, you could build in Figma. The company also launched a plug-in library, allowing designers to freely share their core UI components with others. “I’d say probably 2019 was very much about getting to a point where we are [functionally] credible on one tool,” says Yuhki Yamashita, VP of product at Figma. “We had a lot of investments in prototyping, such that, any UI you’re building, you can quickly prototype within Figma as well.”

A workflow image from a Herman Miller Design Within Reach redesign project.[Image: courtesy Figma]
Figma’s approach scales well to large companies where dozens of people might be weighing in on a project across continents. And that design made it perfectly poised for the even more remote, work-from-home era. Whereas Zoom has become essential for face-to-face meetings, Figma has become the virtual whiteboard of the pandemic.

Dantley Davis, chief design officer at Twitter, is among Figma’s zealots. After using the product for years, he believes it has reached the point of absolute essentiality in 2020, thanks largely to that whiteboard-cloning “Observation Mode” which allows one person to work on a project while several can look on with a high fidelity experience.

“On a canvas with multiple people, you follow their cursor . . . there’s no trying to figure out where it is. It feels like magic, it’s rare for me to experience products these days that make me go ‘wow,'” says Davis. “Figma has allowed our whole team to be more effective . . . its superpower is facilitating collaborative discussions around design, which is especially helpful for decentralized companies. I suspect more companies will see the benefits as decentralization expands for product teams.”

See more honorees from the 2020 Innovation by Design Awards here.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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