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  • Jimi Wikman
    Jimi Wikman

    Figma's selling points - just for isolated design teams?

    Figma has been in the news for designers for a while and it is in many ways praised as the one tool that will save us all. I am still skeptical because to me Figma is a generalist tool, and I am used to working with specialist tools. I will go over the selling points that Figma have listed as to why people make the switch from Sketch to Figma.

    On the Figma website they list 3 main selling points for making the switch: Less is more, Faster in the cloud and Better Teamwork. The collaboration aspect has been their biggest selling point so far as far as I am concerned, but let us go over them one by one and see how they appeal to certain groups.

    I will look at these selling points from two points of view. The Isolated design team, which would be where most design studios and larger companies with dedicated design teams would fit. The included design team which is where the team is working alongside the requirements and development team members.

     

    Less is more

    I could not agree more. Having to juggle multiple tools at once is a bad experience for everyone. The design tool is just one tool and it must connect to the overall flow of the build phases. That means that the design should be connected to the code and the requirements. As far as I know there is no design tool that have that today, so we still need to have that as separate tools.

    Abstract for release management

    When it comes to both requirements and development, which are the two adjacent disciplines to design, then version management is very important. Abstract is by far the best tool right now for maintaining a controlled version management, which also can follow the same flow as the code. This allows for locking a design, while also continue working on it in a controlled way.

    While Figma have a version history built in, it is just that. Version management of single assets with no connection outside the design flow. It is not what is needed for collaboration outside the design discipline, even if it is nice to see who did what when.

    InVision for prototyping

    I do not do a lot of prototyping and usually the built-in functions in Sketch works fine to illustrate a flow. If I need to do a full prototype I would either use InVision or Axure depending on the situation. Are the functions in Figma as advanced as InVision or Axure? I don't think so, but then again I have not seen any reason to dig into it too much. I doubt it is something that will make or break a decision for a designer.

    Zeplin / Avocode for design handover

    While design handovers are less common when working with proper pattern libraries, a lot of people still do not have that workflow in their organization. Having tools like Zeplin or Avocode to allow developers to match colors, fonts, margins and paddings becomes important in that case.

    For the isolated design teams this is a lifesaver as it reduce the need to communicate with the build team. For the included teams it is simply an additional feature, like a nice-to-have. This is because the included teams will of course collaborate directly with the rest of the team, which makes static information less important.

    Overall it is not bad that Figma have the basic tools for prototyping and design handover, quite the opposite. The missing part for me is that they do not have the features to replace Abstract and the features for prototyping and design handover are not exceeding the features of the specialized tools.

    I would argue that Figma would best fit small, isolated teams that need a generalist tool over specialized ones or due to cost.

     

    Faster in the cloud

    One selling point for Figma is that it works everywhere. This is good news if you are forced to work in an organization that only allow PC computers or if you prefer to work on a Linux for whatever reason. Personally I fail to see the importance of this because you should choose the tools that make you most efficient. If you are limited because the organization prioritize hardware over people, then leave right away. Never work for companies that don't care about its people.

    The only reason why this is good for Figma is because they want to bring everyone into Figma and as such it must be available on all systems. It does not make the design process more efficient and collaboration of multiple disciplines inside a design tool is far from problem free.

    I would say this is only needed if you have the design handover in the design tool or if your workflow is based on passive collaboration.

     

    Better Teamwork

    This is Figma's biggest selling point in my opinion and it is one they promote a lot. Collaboration is an interesting thing though and it clearly means different things to different people. Figma define collaboration as getting passive feedback through comments and the ability to work on the same designs together.

    Comments are passive collaboration

    The ability to add comments is the very lowest form of collaboration. It is a passive form of communication and while it is nice to not having to email people to get a comment on a design suggestion, it is best suited for isolated teams that do not have access to the people that they need to communicate with.

    For included teams this might at best be something you use when you are not working or to get feedback from people that are not part of the build stream that you are working in. Included teams would get far better results directly communicating with developers and stakeholders than asking for comments.

    Adding Notes to your design

    While it is sometimes useful to add notes in the design, for example during a workshop, I do not see this as a big selling point as I could just as easily get something like Sketch Notebook to do the same thing.

    So while we all want better collaboration, I fail to see how passive communication with external sources will be helpful in most situations. Unless you are an isolated team with little to no access to the people you need to collaborate with. Figma has the same type of collaboration like many other tools that also cater to the same working conditions where you work apart from the people you need to collaborate with.

    Is this something that is crucial for a modern designer today? In some cases it might be, but for people who work in an agile and included way this would never be an important feature. It should also be noted that Sketch are also adding these type of features in a near future and if they are similar, then this would not be a big selling point in the future.

     

    Design System (not listed as a selling point)

    Figma also promote their design system as an important feature, but not as a reason why people move from Sketch to Figma. I bring it up because design systems are used a bit carelessly these days and sometimes seem to be interchangeable with pattern libraries.

    In both Sketch and Figma a design system is just design asset management. It is not connected to code in any way, other than that certain values can be seen using the inspect tools in Figma. You would need something like Invision DSM to actually connect code to assets, but usually you will still have a manual step between design and code.

     

    Should you make the switch?

    This is the big question, just like it was some years ago when Sketch challenged Adobe. Back then it depended on your workflow and your finances mostly, but also what UI you preferred. To some it was also about small company vs big company or just to have the latest hot tool on the market. Here are some the reasons I see.

    Figma is the latest hot tool

    There is no denying this fact ever since WordPress announced they would go for Figma as the official tool back in 2018. It is now the talk of the town and many are looking at Figma to replace Sketch. If you are one of those that follow the crowd, then Figma is probably pretty attractive right now for this reason alone.

    Many designers still work in isolation

    Sadly this is still true, even if designers are slowly moving into the build teams. When you are cut off from the daily interactions of the build teams, then you have no choice but to work with passive communication. Having that inside your design tool is a good option if you are crippled when it comes to good communication. Sketch will get similar features so this may not be the selling point it once was.

    One cheaper general tool

    Money always define the tools we use and the possibility to reduce cost by using one general tool rather that several specialist tools is not a bad thing. If you rarely use the full features on the specialist tools, or if you are struggling with the cost for multiple tools, then Figma is not a bad alternative. It probably has most of the feature you use every day already built in.

    Everyone can use Figma

    This is something that should not be underestimated. Many companies suffer from low trust and as such managers have the need to control the work even if they should not. In such situations it is very nice to have a tool that is accessible everywhere and the commenting function is also a big bonus.

     

    The only drawbacks with Figma as I see it, is that it is an isolated design tool and it is not an offline tool. It has no connection to the build flow and it really needs Abstract as a plugin or a similar product that also have design release flows. The fact that it require Internet also put some limits on where I can or can not work. There are of course plugins to both Figma and Sketch that require Internet connection as well, so the limitations are not only in Figma.

    My conclusion when it comes to Figma is that for me there is nothing that make me want to make the switch. The tools are roughly the same and when I need it I will bring in another tool to supplement for example prototyping. It does not fit into my workflow of direct communication where design follows the same cadence as development and test. At least not for the moment.

    For isolated design teams, or smaller design teams that do not need additional features I would say this is a great fit due to it's acessibility, indirect collaboration features and price.

    For included design teams I would still suggest Sketch + Abstract as the most efficient and collaborative way of working.


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