There’s seemingly a new design tool out every week, but Figma has some unique features that put it above the rest, and make it a particularly good fit given the restrictions of the public sector.
When I say public sector, I’m thinking mainly of the national and local government offices I’ve worked in, but I’m sure most of this applies to any large enterprise company too.
Let’s start with the most obvious.
It’s (pretty much) free
It’s tough to get permission to pay for anything new and unfamiliar, especially a tool with a purpose that can be hard to describe and which hasn’t necessarily been vetted to death by enterprise IT processes.
So, Figma’s free tier immediately puts it above Sketch, which retails for about $99 a person.
Despite using it on some pretty big projects, I’ve never had a need for the paid features, which include:
- More than 2 named editors. I just set the doc to “anyone can view” or “anyone can edit” and share the link with those I want to edit it.
- More than 30 days of version history. 30 days is plenty to experiment with new ideas and roll back. I’ve gotten into a habit of making multiple canvases and prefixing them with a version number for anything I desperately want to keep.
I’ve used Figma for about 9 months now, and I find it a pain to go back to Sketch. The choice of tools is simple and elegant (unlike Sketch) but the precise control is still there if you need it (unlike XD).
You can learn Figma in 10 minutes.
The automatic guides and helpers for lining things up on the page save a ton of time — they’re just pushy enough to be helpful but not aggressive enough to feel restrictive.
It works in the browser!
It’s often valuable to share a design as it really is with stakeholders and non-designers on your team. In the past, the nearest we could get was with email attachments, or bending over to stare at Sketch on the designer’s macbook.
Figma works in the browser, and it’s surprisingly fast and responsive there. Not having fancy macbooks or permission to install software on your work computer no longer needs to slow you down.
There are still installable Mac and Windows apps if you really want them.
It allows true collaboration
Passing work onto developers, getting comments from stakeholders or sharing clickable prototypes for user research often needs an entire ecosystem of extras if you’re using Sketch or XD.
For instance, Abstract brings version control to Sketch files, but it’s far from perfect: anyone who doesn’t already understand the arcane language of “commits”, “branches” and “repositories” is going to have trouble understanding Abstract.
By comparison, the Google Docs-style collaboration possible within a Figma doc is ridiculously simple.
You can see your colleagues cursors in real time. That’s it.
You can also stick comment pins anywhere on the document and have threaded discussions. Perfect for sharing usability testing feedback.
Figma has plenty more to recommend it, but these four problems are the big ones I normally have on public sector design projects, and having them all basically solved now means I can focus on the more important stuff and stop worrying about how to share the most recent screens with Stakeholder X.