The New-ish Design Tool Giving Adobe a Run for the Money

It’s only been about five years since Figma first made its debut in the world of design, and three years since I begrudgingly agreed to adopt it as a design collaboration tool for my team. Mastering the full Adobe Creative Suite (while also staying up to date on its constant evolution) is already an arduous undertaking. When faced with a request to shift my team’s limited resources towards learning something brand new and not yet proven in the market, I couldn’t help but be doubtful. Adobe is the gold standard for design after all, and as they saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong, and when it comes to my apprehension about Figma, I was so wrong. In five short years, Figma has become a household name in design circles. To borrow some words from the prestigious School of Visual Concepts, “now UX designers, visual designers, UX writers, product managers, presentation designers, Mac users, PC users, your cat, and just about everybody else has jumped on the Figma train. ”

To remain relevant in a world where 91 percent of audiences demand visual content as their primary form of information delivery, it’s imperative that organizations of all sizes leverage the latest and greatest tools. What began as a tool for UX design has evolved into a powerful content design platform that everyone (yes, even non-designers) in your organization can benefit from. So whether you’re a designer, marketer, business leader, or the company cat, it’s time to learn Figma. Here are three reasons to master this new platform.

1. Figma is an Easier to Use, Browser-Based Alternative to Adobe Products

In 2013, Adobe made waves in the design community with its initial release of the Adobe Creative Cloud. By moving their industry-leading design, animation, and development software to the cloud for a low monthly fee, their tools became far more accessible and affordable for all. But building a cloud-based solution from a legacy software suite came with its own hurdles. Users still need to download native apps to their device to use Adobe’s products, making real-time collaboration from multiple, disparate users at once impossible to achieve.

Figma, on the other hand, provides a solution to these roadblocks. By developing a new, entirely browser-based design tool, the founders of Figma were able to reimagine the ways in which we create content. For example,

  • Designers can maintain quality control while getting real-time input from stakeholders around the world.

  • Unlike Adobe products where anyone collaborating on a project needs to have their own Creative Cloud account to view and comment on projects, stakeholders do not need to have a paid Figma account to access content.
  • For novice designers and non-designers alike, learning Figma is easier than Adobe simply because it was developed with all user types in mind. Adobe products are extremely powerful, but built specifically to serve the needs of the professional designer, developer, or animator.

I am not suggesting that Figma can simply replace Adobe products, and Figma doesn’t suggest it either. In fact, they proudly state “if you’re photo-editing, choose Adobe Photoshop. If you’re doing detailed illustrations, Adobe Illustrator is a no-brainer.” But Figma was initially created as a UX design tool that easily surpasses Adobe XD. And as more designers have taken to the tool, it has continued to cater to them. Today designers can edit and create vector artwork in Figma, import SVG code, export Lottie animations, and so much more.

2. Figma’s Open-Source Framework Allows for Infinite Community-Based Enhancements

While you can purchase extensions to increase the potential of the Adobe suite, installing and using them can be cumbersome. Figma’s open-source framework, however, is built to power up your workflow with plugins, integrations, and templates developed by a community of avid users. Some examples include,

  • Connecting Figma to Unsplash to quickly source high-quality stock images as you are designing.
  • Creating an organization-wide data visualization system through Figma’s data viz plugins. Once ready, anyone on your team can simply enter data and watch the charts and graphs populate accordingly.
  • Importing a variety of icon families into your Figma account to quickly pull iconography into your designs.
  • Connecting with Slack or Teams to make project collaboration even easier.
  • Leveraging FigJam to bring remote teams together through powerful online whiteboarding and brainstorming tools, which is unlike anything else you’ll find online.

There are thousands of extensions already available, and the list keeps growing. With so many options out there, one can easily get lost exploring what’s possible. To combat this and control quality, Figma just instituted their first annual Community Awards in which they ask users to help identify the best of the best. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, narrow your options by reviewing the award recipients list first.

3. Create Foolproof Design Systems to Power Your Entire Organization

While everything covered prior to this should be enough to validate the many benefits of Figma, I must admit that it’s this last point that made me a convert. Figma provides the ability to create codified design systems for your organization to work within. After a skilled designer has first laid the right foundation within the tool, any non-designer in your organization can quickly produce highly designed content without sacrificing quality.

This benefit doesn’t come as easily as some of the other features within Figma because it requires careful planning and a skilled design eye to realize. Once that investment has been made though, the non-designers on your team will be able to use Figma much like they would use a tool like Canva, but with one key difference. With Canva and other template-based design tools, all customers work with the same library of assets. This makes priorities like adhering to brand guidelines, creating something unique to your organization, and controlling quality extremely hard. With Figma, on the other hand, any design system created would be unique to your organization.

Figma makes it easy to place guardrails around this system that essentially templatizes myriad types of content. Various teams in your organization can then design within these guardrails, ensuring the brand is adhered to, the content remains unique, and quality isn’t sacrificed. In essence, within Figma you can give your team the simplicity of a tool like Canva within a far more controlled and powerful environment.

Just the Beginning of What’s Possible

Professional fields of all kinds are often challenged by new innovations they must master to remain relevant, but the design field has remained fairly untouched by this, thanks to the dominance of Adobe. While plenty of tools have sought to compete with Adobe, none have captured enough users to force an industry-wide shift. But in just five short years, Figma has risen above the rest and proven itself a worthy adversary of the longtime gold standard. Organizations and design professionals unwilling to expand beyond Adobe will find themselves at a disadvantage in this new world–a world where Adobe has finally met its match.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

Leave a Comment