Not a Figma of Your Imagination: It’s Still the Number One Design Software

hey reliable - Brian Checkovich by Brian Checkovich
September 12, 2022
Not a Figma of Your Imagination: It’s Still the Number One Design Software

The people have spoken…and spoken…

For the past several years, the always interesting UX Tool’s Design Tools Survey has shown the inexorable rise of Figma as the UI design tool of choice. The 2021 data found that fully 77% of all respondents used Figma for UI design. That’s a huge dub.

In 2017, however, only 11% reported using Figma, compared to 71% who went for Sketch. Clearly, the world of design software has undergone something like a seismic shift over the past three or four years. Sketch has sunk to a rate of 29%, falling faster than your 401(k) balance (thanks, Putin).

What happened?

A Failure to…

What we have here is…what exactly? In the 1967 classic Cool Hand Luke, the cruel captain announced, “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” and that led Paul Newman into getting some serious beatdowns. Assuming Cool Hand Luke is a veritable font of eternal wisdom, then let’s try to understand how Figma has ascended to its current position using the Captain’s memorable (and meme-able) phrase to guide us.

The fact is, Figma is straight whoopin’ the booty of the competition. Not just as the primary UI design tool but also as the most preferred tool for UI Prototyping, Developer Hand-Off, Design Systems, and Versioning. This is literally a bull-in-the-china-shop situation, a market dominance so pervasive that once stalwart platforms like InVision and Sketch seem like they’re headed to oblivion as a Wikipedia footnote.

Is communication the key to the drubbing being handed out by Figma?

Anywhere, Anytime

In today’s chaotic, wired, messy world, many users of technology (called “people,” for short) want to be able to access information without having to really lift a finger or thumb. They want to be able to message other people, often in clumped groups, and to see the history of the messages by scrolling.

They want to be able to work in huts by the beach. They want responses in real-time.

And they don’t want too many barriers getting in the way.

As a design tool, Figma delivers what its users demand. In that proverbial hut on the beach, you can access your files because Figma doesn’t require an app. Best of all, if your engineers are a world away, they can also access your files and work on them at the same time you are because Figma is cloud-based and offers unmatched live collaboration.

Sketch doesn’t natively offer live collaboration, but the Picnic plug-in is trying to fill the gap. As for prototyping, InVision, once the industry standard, has seen its market share crumble, and one reason undoubtedly is its failure to onboard a live commenting feature.

The Price Is Right

Another way that Figma effectively communicates is through its pricing structure. As behavioral economists have long known, there is tremendous power in the word “FREE.” The human brain seeks out ways to maximize resources, and getting something for nothing ranks high on the motivation scale.

Figma offers its services for free (though with limitations), and not just free, but free “forever.” So users who go to their pricing page will see that magical word, FREE, and be anchored to it even as they explore other pricing plans. It’s as if Nobel Prize Winners have designed their page to target certain brain structures. It’s marketing genius.

One look at Adobe’s pricing page, which also features the word “free,” shows a different approach. Adobe has a “free 7-day trial,” which too many users might not be worth the time of inputting data to get the service. The power of free only comes with no strings attached, again which Figma understands at a profound level.

The lesson: good communication involves using words to produce desired results, which might not have a rational basis.

Those Who Know

Another communication caveat harkens back to ancient Taoism: “Those who talk don’t know, those who know don’t talk.”

Communication is more than broadcasting a message. Design is a collaboration, and building tools for designers is no less collaborative. That means software companies need to understand the users of their products and then figure out ways of debuting features that will keep users coming back.

Figma knows that its users are designers, and thus they work hard to understand what it is these users need and want.

Figma takes a holistic approach, based on the context that users interact with their product. It’s telling that they dominate so many spaces in the UX Tools Survey, from UI Design to Hand-Off. That’s not an accident or some technological fluke. Figma’s goal has been to recontour the design ecosystem so that designers aren’t jumping from app to app as they proceed through the process.

The bedrock principle of “cross-functional collaboration” rests on the idea that many stakeholders need to be included in design. Figma’s cloud-based platform allows for everyone to see the same things at the same time. Other companies (like Adobe) are catching up, and the “no-code” world of AI dominance promises further disruption. In two years, we might see Figma’s market share where Sketch’s is now.

No Rest

Everyone who works in tech must understand how disruptive innovations can be. The entire point of the mega-seller Freakonomics is to remind us that we understand current problems much better than future solutions. Figma took off by using the cloud in new and exciting ways, even as InVision stalled and failed to respond.

In tech, there is no resting on your laurels. The failure to communicate, at the bottom, is what allowed Figma to soar. You need to enrich yourself daily, keep things fresh, and never think you’ve learned enough.

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