Panic, Diagrams, Hats! What I learned running an on online pair-designing event in Figma

George Longwill
6 min readJul 6, 2022
Figma logo on black background
Photo by Shubham Dhage on Unsplash

In May I had the idea for an online workshop that I thought would be fun. A casual event where people could design together in Figma, get to know each other, network and learn to use the software better. My ‘vision’ for this event was that you would go in with a cup of coffee, do some design work and have a chat. Then through osmosis mostly, learn a bit more about prototyping and using Figma.

It appealed to me because it was was the type of Meetup I‘d like to go to, and a bit different to other ones I had seen. My meetup group “UX Talks” regularly hosts presentations and Q&A sessions. I wanted this workshop to have a more interactive element for participants, to enjoy spending time designing and working on a project together.

With this in mind I kept the pitch for the event informal to capture the spirit of the type of session I had envisioned:

Brew a coffee, fire up your Figma and spend an hour and a bit on a Sunday in the company of fellow designers..

After that I setup the event and thought: I’ll iron out the details later.

Fast-forward to a week or so before the event. I have 40 people signed up, yikes! How will I organise them into teams? I hadn’t really checked how Figma licences for this many editors would work. Will I be charged hundreds of euros for this just-for-fun session? I had no idea what format I should use to organise this many, and still keep an eye on them as a facilitator. I needed to make sure people would interact, have a partner and understand whats going on.

I considered going back to a workshop framework I was familiar with. There are quite a few ones used for design sprints and ideation sessions for example, that I have used successfully in the past. People generally quite enjoy these exercises and they have a clear format (Crazy Eights, Solution Sketching, How-might-we, Dot voting). However they didn’t fit with what I had in mind for the session.

Unlike the majority of the time in real life product design, I didn’t want the focus to be on breaking apart the problem and disambiguation. This was going to be all about collaboration, chat and designing in Figma. I later realised, this meant more of a visual design focus too.

The approach I went with

With this in mind, I realised what I wanted to do was facilitate a mass design-pairing session. People would be continuously designing together, really get to know their partner and work with them on one project for the duration of the workshop.

Based on this approach I got stuck into planning, increasingly worried about the prospective 40 attendees. The workshop was only 2 days away now and we had also started potty training my daughter (I won’t go into details there!). I made plans: at one point I thought everyone should be assigned a special hat — see the diagram below. I checked Figma licenses, got Slack running, figured out some early format and timing ideas. I realised this was going to be stretching the limits of what I could do with a free or basic version of all the collaborative software tools I had.

Diagram of workshop plan
Workshop agenda: Fail to plan and plan to fail!

My plan for splitting the groups was pretty convoluted, it was essentially:-

  • Break the 40 people into teams of 4 in a breakout room
  • Split the team into 2 pairs where they communicate in a Slack huddle
  • Split into driver and non-driver in each pair
  • Each pair has a driver and after a certain time limit they switch, then in the second session they switch partners

Divided this way, I thought everyone would get a chance to ‘drive’ the design work. I hoped that having the groups in teams of fours would help facilitation and give participants a larger team to talk with as well as their design partner.

You know your workshop is over-complicated when something like this happens!

I had two projects prepared, which I realised afterwards were too general for the type of workshop I wanted, and invited many more questions and problems to explore — they would have suited the sprint-style format better.

There were two project briefs:
1) An app for a museum where you could point and click at a piece to get more information
2) A streaming service to upload videos of Pets (I stand by the name PetFlix!)

Other than the complicated group setup, there were also the technology requirements of Slack, Google Meet and Figma. The format itself was straightforward, it was just these two briefs split into two sessions. The first one for explorations and ideation, and the second for more finished work focused in on one area of the design.

The Sunday came and I was pretty nervous. I had just about got everything ready. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get the full 40 people but I had prepared for it just in case.

I logged into Google Meet did one last check of my Figma files, Slack workspace and so on and waited, a couple of people joined early, shortly after a couple more. This is good I thought, a small group so far — I even said as much on the chat “This is great not too many people so far will, make things easier — haha”. After a few more minutes I realised this was actually all the people who were coming! There was only going to be six people in total for the whole workshop.

This was admittedly a bit of a disappointment but also a relief . Although I had been hoping for a few more than six people, I now knew that I had needlessly driven myself into a state of quite intense stress beforehand! This did make things much easier to organise and from the start the facilitation then went pretty smoothly.

In some respects once it got going, the session was exactly what I had hoped for. People were chatting and designing together happily, I was there if needed for any technical help or clarification but the conversation and collaboration was happening nicely without my interference. I was actually surprised at this aspect, one of my fears had been ‘dead air’ from strangers essentially meeting each other for the first time and in smaller groups. I think the shared purpose of designing something helps to keep conversation flowing.

Technically there were less problems than I had anticipated, everyone got into the file, Figma’s pricing model worked in my favour (unlimited editors on free projects phew!). No-one really used Slack huddles or Slack at all but it was a very small group so that ended up being overkill really. Participants really dug into the projects as well and asked a lot of interesting questions and had some great ideas.

I think there is still a lot to do to improve the workshop for the next session and there were some aspects that didn’t work. I need to get a better handle on the numbers coming beforehand to avoid another last minute panic! For this type of pair design, I think a much more specific brief or a defined initial concept would work better. Because people spent a lot of time brainstorming and picking apart the problem there was much less time for critique and presentation at the end as well. I think this would be a really important part to extend next time and allow the group to meet again at the end and share what they came up with.

Plans for the next one!

With this in mind I have lots of ideas to bring to the next one and despite the moments of panic, I am looking forward to running one again in July and iterating on the format and seeing where it goes! Many thanks to the people who came to the first one and I hope they didn’t suffer too much from being the ‘first pancake’ for this idea. If the new and improved session or the idea generally sounds like something you might enjoy — why not join us for the next one? Keep an eye on Meetup or Linkedin for the next event!