I’ve had a love affair with Sketch since beta. It was the breath of fresh air from the ominous cloud that is/was Adobe. It scratched my itch to be smart, relevant, modern for our profession as software designers. For the last few years, I’ve been a Sketch only kind of guy. I’ve moved entire design teams away from Adobe and into the welcoming arms of Sketch.
I would also include Invision with all my praises. It’s a fantastic product. With their powers combined, they ruled my design world.
Sadly, my love affair with Sketch + Invision has come to an end.
When Figma was announced I was invited to the beta. I jumped in and was sorely disappointed. I expected “real-time” collaboration, at least an attempt at feature parity to existing editors, but alas it was left wanting. So much so, that I dogged on it for awhile.
But they have been hard at work, they have put in the time, focused on the right features, and have built something amazing.
I was wrong in my early judgement of Figma. They are the future of design software.
A little context.
- Day gig is my team of 6 remote designers working on an enterprise mobile application across 3 platforms.
- Teams work in an agile env.
- Teams work with PM’s, Dev’s, Clients, and Exec’s.
- Too many personal side hustles with global, non-Mac devs.
- Lots of travel while working in airports and on benches.
What makes it special.
First, and it’s a big first for my team.
Real-Time F’ing Collaboration. Google docs for design.
No kidding, last week my co-designer was changing type styles on an component as I was moving it around in a layout. What!? Why would you do that on the regular? You won’t, but what does this say about file sharing between teams, versioning, passing shared docs.
This is a huge feature for my teams and my side hustles. I can jump on an chat or call and work out a design feature, bug, or flow in real-time while observers chime in or help out. With a team that communicates and collaborates well, this is a heaven sent feature.
My teams are all remote, travel too much, and occasionally are RV’ing across the country. #vanlife Because Figma is web-based my team can work on any platform, in any configuration they choose. (oddly, most of my designers are contemplating a Surface now that they don’t “need” a mac). Lighter > pretty when you travel.
We design in the open. We are fast, agile, and willing to include anyone who is interested in our design process along they way. Just don’t slow the train. We pair design with each other, and with PM’s or Dev’s as features mature. With the ability to share the design file in a read-only view we can include our team members at anytime. If we wanted to have a quick chat and look at the designs, no webex or gotomeeting horse shit, just call me and open the link on your own browser.
With more than 5 collaborators we are forced into the “enterprise” price bracket on Invision, ugh. It’s $$$$ a month. Yes, 4 digits a month for my team. Figma is all free right now, when they open pricing I will gladly pay $12/mth per designer. I would hope that isn’t per team, more of a “paid so I can join teams” rather than “per team”. I would want to be part of Org A team and Org B team under 1 price. But not a deal breaker.
Fifth, platform agnostic & mobile.
Traveling sucks, so does carrying devices around. A laptop, iPad, android tablet, windows tablet, and phone really add up in weight. Figma is browser based, so we don’t need a full blown laptop to design. I’ve tested on every mobile browser in any app store and literally they are all, sans one, missing the mark. The only 1 that stands up is the Surface chrome browser. Works well with the pen, touch, and keyboard. Moving to a Surface would free us from a laptop and a separate windows tablet. I will gladly trade-in 2 devices for 1 that is smaller & lighter.
Figma could easily support the safari browser as well though, “it’s never really been a top request”- according to Jason from Figma.
Sketch will never become mobile, Invision will not support mobile “designing” anytime soon. Figma is two small feature updates to have full mobile support. I don’t want to be tethered to a laptop just for a design program.
Sixth, image sharing.
One of the larger needs for my workflow was InvisionSync. Great tool. Hit save on your doc, it would grab any artboard or asset, upload it to the project and then anyone with access can access the image or asset. I kept waiting for Google docs to support “live images”, but it’s not coming anytime soon.
However, with Figma all I need to do is share a view link and anyone can grab any image they need. Eliminating the need for Invision to be the middle man on sharing or holding any images or assets.
Seventh, the weeds.
I could go deeper into each feature like how much nicer the alignment guides are with the quaint little x’s on the marks, or how much thought they put into the components. But this just gets into the weeds and more subjectivity on personal design processes. I’ll just leave a short list of features I was surprised and pleased with their subtle differences.
- Constraints *dang, just wow
- Alignment guides
- Intelligent importing
- File view
- The existence of teams & projects
- User roles
- Frames v Artboards
- Component cascading
- Frame/object alignment
- Img masking
- Stroke organization
- Pathfinding algorithms *super better nicer than anywhere else
- Team components *buggy as hell, but potential is great
- Open file tabs
- Follow/observing user
I honestly had a little heart break when I used Figma over a weekend side hustle and realized I was going to leave Sketch + Invision. I talked with a few fellow designers who helped me through my grief.
A few items that made me realize I couldn’t stay with Sketch + Invision:
- They will never be mobile friendly to extent I would be happy.
- They can’t support real-time collab.
- Sketch is stuck on a Mac only laptop only platform.
- I don’t need or create ‘prototypes’ nearly as much as I think I do.
- I don’t use the full suite of features on Invision enough to justify tool.
- Sketch will not be able to easily solve the file sharing problems.
A New Hope.
Let me be one to say, cause I can’t be first, Figma is not bug free. There are some hiccups here and there. But honestly, Sketch has enough bugs as well, and Invision has left me hanging from outages in a demo twice this year already. So let there be bugs, I’ll get along regardless.
Figma is fundamentally different than previous attempts. They are leveraging the power of modern browsers, and are poised to go further than our design software could have previously.
This isn’t bleeding edge, it’s not too early. Try Figma out on a real project, then decide if it’s right for you. It’s free right now, even for teams, so there’s no reason not to check it out.
As for me and my team…
Hello my new love, Figma.