‘Stay away from my thingy’

We let 32 designers create a music app with Figma in 20 minutes. This is what we learned.

When Hike One learned about Figma - ‘the first interface design tool with real-time collaboration’- we got quite excited. Would it really fix our daily challenges with version control? Could it help us to smoothen long distance design collaborations? Could it make our iterations even shorter? We decided to put it to the test. A really short test.

“Did someone say teams?” — Introduction to the assignment

We gave 32 of our designers the assignment to create a music app in 20 minutes, in teams of 4. Every group was provided with a set of basic music icons and some music related imagery that gave them a head start. What came next were hectic, mad, but most of all fun moments. Colleagues screamed across desks, cursors flew everywhere and designs took shape. Luckily, Figma survived our intense trial and this is what we learned from it.

It’s quite impressive...

Figma is presented in a neat mix of familiar elements from design programs and collaborative online tools. It meets most usage expectations, particularly if you’re a frequent Sketch user. Comments can be easily added. They stay in place and seem to be effective in letting others leave feedback on your work; not in an intrusive way, just right. Designwise, some elements aren’t yet as clearly or intuitively implemented as in for example Sketch. Finding your group or element in the layer list is quite a challenge. Also, when adding an element to your frame it will not automatically become a child of that frame. Nevertheless, we were impressed.

Adding constraints is the tool you will come back for...

Besides the whole collaborative aspect of Figma, the ability to add constraints to your designs sets it apart from other players. Constraining specific aspects of your design is easy to do. One of our designers highlighted it as one of the main reasons to use Figma again: “It allows me to explore and explain responsive design in a very efficient way.”

Using design shortcuts in your browser remains tricky...

Using shortcuts is quintessential for a designer and Figma understands that. The browser version accommodates for a great deal of them. Some are more grafted towards Sketch users, others more towards Illustrator enthusiastics and some correspond surprisingly to the browser you are using… Yes, that’s always a challenge with in-browser tools, but working in ‘the flow’ and then suddenly opening a new browser tab or going back in your browser history could quickly kill your moment. Figma’s browser app will be recommended for that matter. One shortcut that incidentally also ‘lost’ some of its power with Figma is CMD-Z. Quickly undoing something in a multi-player has never evoked more doubt; “I just wanted to delete what you were doing!”

It’s great for pollinating creativity..

Figma truly enforces creative synergy. The ability to instantly see what your colleagues are working on is very inspiring. Especially when you’re trying to tackle a complex design task or exploring styles in the early stages of a project. You could, for example, dedicate a place on your collaborative workspace to collect reference materials.

Some of the results after 20 minutes of Figma fun

Figma is perfect for working simultaneously, but is not yet a team player...

Figma can be used for a lot of different ways of collaboration. Our design teams approached our ’20-minute music app’ assignment quite differently. Some divided their artboards, some assigned element owners and others prepared different phases in parallel (UX, VD). It pointed out that despite all these different ways of working, Figma remained a great facilitator. We also think it could be a great tool for keeping product owners notified of the progress or handing them a useful tool to leave comments on concepts. It does get a bit tricky when someone is working on the same artboard as you. “Stay away from my thingy!”, was probably our most used exclamation. Having four cursors flying over your screen is fun at first, but after a while it’s a distraction.

Besides that, what we are mostly looking for in collaborative tools nowadays is their ability to create shared components, symbols, libraries and style guides. In that sense Figma might facilitate the perfect playground, but it’s not yet a team player.

*Update: Figma just introduced ‘Components’ to their platform, which suggests they are picking up the team spirit :) .

So, would we use it again?

Yes! As a matter of fact, we did. Figma is quite a notable piece of new software out there and it lived up to our expectations. Still, currently it will not beat our most used design programs. For that it needs effective shared elements and further fine tuning of the workflow. It does look like a great contender when designing for short projects under major time pressure or quickly setting up a new project’s direction. Its collaborative aspect could come in handy there. However, we are very curious how this platform will evolve, especially considering its great performance and young age.

Hopefully, to be continued.