Adobe Acquires Community-Led Figma

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September 15, 2022

Yesterday, Figma announced it was being bought by Adobe.

The announcement was shared in Figma's blog directly from its CEOs. It’s a worthy read. It is striking to see the difference in this announcement to Adobe's.

Figma’s announcement is warm, passionate and mission focused. Adobe’s feels corporate, professional and transactional.

If you don't know Figma, Figma is a software to design and prototype. I highly recommend the tool if you're learning design. Figma started as a small start up, but eventually became the go to tool for UX designers.

Personally, when I first entered the field of technology my first job was as a contract designer. The start up I was working with was doing design sprints. A way to innovate new ideas. At the end of the sprint you are meant to design your prototype and out of necessity I was the de facto designer.

My first take was to pick a design software to use. Naturally, the two softwares I was debating between was Adobe XD and Figma.

After doing my research, I picked XD to start. Why? Adobe is a brand I knew and I trusted, its tool seemed the most comprehensive.

Months later, I was changing my mind. We were migrating to Figma. Why? Because Figma was not competing with Adobe, it was changing the game all together.

How so?

  • Cloud Collaboration - This one is the most important. Figma was a tool that was made to design in the cloud on multi-player version. Think powerpoint versus Google slides, but Google slides being as good or better than PowerPoint. That is what it was like to work in Figma as a collaborator. But it doesn’t stop there, since Figma was in the cloud you had direct access to UI kits, templates and other assets versus downloading them onto your computer.
  • Free - For two users at the time I could use it for free, and after that the price point was more accessible.
  • Usability - Figma was more intuitive, and Adobe seemed to be just missing some key features (underline being one of them).
  • Lightweight - I could use the desktop app or the web to access my designs.
  • Mission - “Eliminate the gap between imagination and reality.” They focused one empowering designers to make new possibilities.

Lastly, and most important to this newsletter was the Figma Community.

Figma’s bet on cloud and the browser is fully aligned with community. Why? Because the browser enabled collaboration, transparency and access. All things community provides. Creating a more collaborative software that was accessible by many, allowed creators and designer to come together.

In Dylan Field’s (CEO of Figma) 5 year letter, he hits the nail on the head about the browser based design software:

And it pushes us to embrace working together, especially when we are blocked and our default might be to hide.

I love this quote because it gets to the crux of community. Working together through our struggles instead of hiding alone.

Figma always embraced community.

When Figma launched it actively built relationships with designers and brought them together to talk about the future of design in the browser. Figma got it, they listened to their early evangelists and gave them the autonomy to dream about designing the future.

They also focused on making it fun to try the product instead of shipping a perfect product. Knowing the product wasn’t perfect yet, empowered the members to influence the direction of the product.

Amanda Kleha, Figma’s Chief Customer Officer has a great quote from her community-led growth strategy presentation:

You’re winning hearts, not solving for scale, yet.

Honestly, for me when I was picking Figma in 2019, it felt empowering using the tool, and also felt like I was part of something bigger than myself. I felt the authenticity that Figma was creating among the design community (even as an outsider).

Figma Elevated It’s Community

Figma always stuck close to their mission “making design accessible to all”. Which made their community feel inclusive and inviting to new members.

When they hosted their conference Config in early 2020, they understood that content should be “by the community, for the community”. This is the #1 mistake I see in communities. They centralize content because they feel that they the organization should be the “expert”. Versus empowering the beginners and experts to come together to have diverse discussions.

Figma also released Figma Community. An in-app experience where users could share their designs with anyone in the world. They doubled down on their core promise of access and collaboration as a multi-player browser software, by socially integrating their full community to one another.

Figma community is not some extra add on, it is a core product native to the application. This is clear in the Figma press release when they mentioned their core products: Figma Design, FigJam, Figma Community.

Figma Scaled Its Community Into a Movement

In addition to conferences, and in-app community collaboration, Figma has an impressive community strategy.

Figma has an online community that every member can be a part of. This is a place for all designers to share their work and support each other. Figma has a knack of spotlighting its design creators, and keeping them in the spotlight instead of the tool.

They also have an amazing chapters program called “friends of Figma”, with groups across the world coming together to talk about the future of design and how to better use Figma.

Figma also has a Reddit community, Slack channel and Discord server. They meet their designers where they are at.

Figma recently provided their software for free to high schools, universities and bootcamps. Building relationships with designers when they were just starting out.

The prize? Figma became the most popular design tool in the world. Making a company that is worth $20 billion dollars.

But now what?

Does the soul of Figma die? Does the mission focused startup survive? Or does it eventually get lost?

And if it gets lost, does this breed more opportunity for new community-led startups?

In my opinion, what will drive this is how Adobe impacts Figma’s relationship with its community. Can Figma still stay true to its values of access, transparency and collaboration - being by the community, for the community? Does it put all designers first? Or does it become another corporate product to be monetized and scaled?

Only time will tell. Mental note to myself to write an article on where this shakes out a few years from now.

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