Note: It feels really strange to write about an event that feels so far removed from the global health pandemic we’re experiencing now… I debated whether it was still okay to publish this article, but I reflected back on how I felt at the conference: welcomed, creative, and part of a larger, warm community. And I realized we could use a little more of that, especially now. So I hope this article brings some delight and can transport you back to a time when we were enjoying each other’s company and geeking out over our favorite design tool. Stay safe.
A life-changing experience: Figma IRL 🎉
When Config 2020 was first announced, I can’t tell you how stoked I was. Not only would it be my first design conference, it’s hosted by my favorite design tool! Figma being built for the browser, I have always felt that they were internet-first:
- Figma’s Designer Advocates writing best practices, actively participating in Twitter discussions, and recently, hosting livestreams
- Introducing Plugins which allowed creators everywhere to build upon Figma
- Introducing Figma Community that further champions the idea of open-source design, effectively becoming the design counterpart to Github
- Amplifying creators that use Figma in ways that even exceeds CEO Dylan Field’s expectations (Like literally creating music… What?!)
With such a strong online presence, I was excited to see what kind of in-person experience they would come up with.
SPOILER ALERT: It was freakin’ awesome.
And the crowd goes wild
The conference started with Figma CEO, Dylan Fields, presenting a collection of new features they released (psst… Figma just made Selection Color even better). When he announced that Stretch will be added to Auto Layout, I was ecstatic and people cheered (It’s me, I’m people). It was as if the new iPhone was just announced at Apple’s WWDC! But the release was such a thrill because it was proof of Figma’s dedication to user feedback. I was so happy because I wanted these features, and they listened! 🎉
Highlighting my favorite talks 🎤
The rest of the day was filled with keynote speeches, talks, and workshops but I want to highlight two talks in particular. Although they’re not directly related to Figma as a design tool, they truly made an impression on me as a designer and creator. If you’re feeling up for some creative inspiration, I highly recommend watching the full videos. Find the complete list of recordings from Config here.
Adding Scaffolding to Collaboration for Deep Work
We are living in a hyper digital age and we, as designers and developers, are fully immersed in it. So much that it’s dangerously easy to get lost in the massive amount of work we are constantly pumping out. As Craig pointed out, a folder with one item and a folder with a billion looks and feels exactly the same. To combat this, Craig’s personal form of therapy is to create books or, in other words, turning the digital into physical.
He shared the story from his time building Flipboard for iPhone in 2011. As it often goes in Silicon Valley, startup teams work tirelessly to launch 1.0 of their idea and then, after a quick celebration, it’s back on the grind to 1.1 or even 2.0. Our digital products make it difficult to capture the totality of effort and collaboration required to arrive there. To gain perspective, Craig extracted the process out of its digital realm into a tangible object you can feel: a 276-page, 1-foot-by-1-foot, 8lb monolith of a book that displayed every single design iteration and every single commit that the team pushed. This book documenting the journey to the first Flipboard for iPhone effectively became a physical relic that can never be overwritten.
My awesome team of indies at Two’s Complement is currently running at full speed to launch a client’s product and designing it in Figma has been a game changer for our remote collaboration. But I realized that one of Figma’s strongest features — the ability to always work in the latest version — could exacerbate this type of exhaustion caused by the ephemeral nature of technology. We don’t even have lists of files similarly named
MasterDesign_v16_Final.sketch to call attention to every design iteration we endured. Though I probably won’t print a 300-pager, Craig’s talk reminded me to take some time to dig through our
💀 Graveyard page and relish in the history of our designs. Every update to the iconography, new menu design, revised flow — we made that. And that’s something to be damn proud of.
Joyfully Subverting the Status Quo
How often do we hear that life is a series of accomplishments that we should check off: graduate, get a job, marriage, promotion, and so on. I don’t deny that this is a great life — I’m eager to achieve these things as well! However, May-Li encouraged us to courageously take actions against the status quo. Because that is when the community comes together in the most beautiful ways.
My favorite story shared was of an incident from 2018: a white woman, unaffectionately named “BBQ Becky”, called the police on two black men barbecuing at Lake Merritt in Oakland. This news story sparked a nationwide conversation about the ongoing racial injustice in America. May-Li mentions that people could have chosen to react in anger, and rightfully so. However, Logan McWilliams and Jhamel Robinson instead organized BBQ’n While Black, a creative protest that brings thousands of families back to Lake Merritt to celebrate black culture.
Logan explains, “This whole thing was birthed out of my discomfort with my comfort. How things have become so normalized…So when the BBQ Becky situation happened, I almost was a little numb. And I was uncomfortable with that feeling.” (Source) In the face of deep-rooted racial adversity, she chose to make some friends, start some shit, and joyfully subvert the status quo.
Socially distant designing
Fast forward to now, in this strange time we find ourselves in. I am extremely fortunate and privileged to be in a place of security right now, but I still face a lot of anxiety. Being a part of a remote agency, I thought I would be used to working from home and yet this all feels different. Whatever anxieties you may be feeling, please know that you’re not alone.
But what I love about the design community is that we are natural problem solvers. Just like many of us are building adorable islands in Animal Crossing, we’ve also invented creative ways to hang out digitally! A key player to all this is Figma’s multiplayer capabilities. The feature that’s saved my work life for collaborating with my teammates in Colorado, Spain, and Costa Rica is now saving my personal life for social distance playing!
Here are some of my favorites from the community:
I’ll answer that for you: Yes, people definitely wanted to build a town and it was wild. Check out the beautiful mayhem that ensued here.
I love that this team was able to continue their weekly tradition while at home! I feel like having a gang of people draw together in Figma encourages some really fun, chaotic energy that you may not get in an in-person meeting… Perfect 😈
Chatting in Figma
I have been loving Miguel’s work that he’s doing since teaching from home! He’s come up with a number of creative ways to engage with his students using Figma, like taking attendance and chatting in file.
Blokma: A strategy game
Inspired by the design community, I recreated one of my favorite strategy board games, Blokus! I’ve been playing with friends who have never used Figma before and am always impressed with how quickly everyone learns the ropes. It also doesn’t take long until we’re doodling all over the board 😂 Duplicate the file here and play with your friends!
And that’s it! I hope you were able to take something away from this and maybe schedule a night to play on Figma with your friends or family 🙌 Stay safe, everyone. We’ll get through this together.