Why Figma?

Going from static files, private work, and image-based output to a collaborative, real-time component-oriented tool changes everything about the design workflow.

What you will learn in this lesson#

  • Have a broad understanding of computer-based design tools from the last decades

  • Understand what conceptual models have underpinned design software and what its effects have been

  • Understand how Figma differentiates itself and why it's the best tool today to support continuous design

A picture does not tell a developer a thousand words#

If you've worked with designers, or if you are a designer, it's highly probable that you've heard about—and maybe even used—tools like Photoshop or Sketch.

Let's get the flame war on at once: The principal issue with traditional design software is that they were just never intended to be used for the problems we need to solve in digital design and when developing software. With the advent of the personal computer came what is known as "desktop publishing"—the use of computers to create documents through layout software. These documents can nowadays be interactive, like web pages. You can maybe spot a pain point already: the primary driving concept is the "page."

In the days of the early web, this was a much smaller thorn in the side because the semantics and ways of reasoning about the web were, at the time—you guessed it—page-oriented. Only a rudimentary dimension of styling and reuse was possible. However, today, with highly complex concepts like single-page applications and component-driven design, the helpful mental models and workflows of the '90s and early '00s are no longer valid for current problem domains.

If we over-simplify, we can think of a primitive way of designing as being to illustrate an image of what something—digital or otherwise—is intended to look like. The output would be rasterized, heavy, static images that, for some magic reason, tend to get names like Website design_final_002 final 2 Copy.psd. If you’ve made the transition in the last decade to online documents instead of offline Excel files and .docx files, you already know what I am getting at: static files are a pain to keep up to date and in sync with your colleagues. It was really hard to work asynchronously (in a decent, painless way) during this period.

The entire package that Photoshop—perhaps the primary tool used for designing at that point in time—brought forward was, in fact, a specialized set of tools to work with photographs. Photoshop on its own is an extremely capable tool for working with photographs, but it does not lend itself to design work. People did work around this, and Adobe even made certain changes to enhance this experience, but it was not and probably never will be the prime place to work with the design. That's also why Adobe had to make new products like XD, which were entirely about catering to the needs of web designers and UXers. All in all, it should be fairly obvious that some key ingredients were missing from this bigger picture.

First and foremost, software is interactive and dynamic. It has concerns such as behavior, state, and conditions. Software is displayed on a variety of devices of different sizes and sometimes across multiple media and modalities. So, that first idea of just providing an actual image of what something should look like is doing nothing that a napkin sketch cannot convey. That's not a total invalidation of visual sketching–quite the opposite. It's just that that particular way of trying to bridge design—which becomes static and only visual—does not cover all of the needs for software. Using Photoshop for the final design deliveries was always bound to reach its expiry date, considering the ways in which technology and the web were growing.

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