Figma and the future of collaborative design
Welcome back to the all turtles podcasts. A show about the future of work the future of health and entrepreneurs building the future. I'm John Sequence. S Co founder of all turtles today. I'm interviewing show. Komodo the director of product sigma. He's here to talk about how big is allowing for real time collaboration. Even when everyone's working remotely and why that's more important now than ever So we're joined today by Shoko Moto. Who's the director of product at FIG MMA and we talked about Sigma Couple Times on this podcast? We're huge fans of. I Know Phil has gone on and on about But show for anyone who might not be Can you give us an explanation? What does sure so? Figment is a design tool for people. Who want to create user interfaces and so those user interfaces could be a mobile APP or website and it's not just for the designers but it's also for anybody who wants to be part of that process and so It's four stakeholders who maybe care about the design and WanNa give input is for developers who maybe need to build out the design And it's all hosted Online so in the same way as a google docs is online is like the online version of Microsoft word. Figment is like the online version of a number of other designed tools. Sure Yeah So. What are you responsible for? As the director of product. What what Fault Falls New Year? We divide up figment into sort of a couple of large buckets and the bucket. That I focused on is the editor itself. So basically everything that happens after you. Click on a file That sort of my Domi and then a number of other people that I work with in there and we all sort of collaborate on an area cool and company's relatively young right been around a handful of years I actually don't know how old the company itself is I've been there for five years so And when I joined it was before the product launched so it was sort of in stealth mode but I'd But the product have been in development for a number of years before. That's maybe two years before that so it's been around for a little while. Yeah we talked about this a bit earlier prior to the show but we we have a lot of product designers and engineers in the podcast audience. You have a really interesting career path and especially with your education background. Could you just talk a little bit more about your background? I went to school normally up until sixth grade. And then I get a bunch of grades so I went to High School for your after that and then went straight to college. The Catholic when I was thirteen and I studied physics and graduated when I was eighteen and then I went off to purdue for a PhD halfway through my PhD. Decided that I wanted to shift from physics to computers so high level overview. Wow we I have. I have a close friend who has an extremely similar really interesting but we've we've had PhD's Com on our podcast before and talk about how their doctor has been useful in some way or completely starkly different or has always been kind of an interesting journey about how they got the tech world so how does a PhD in physics. Come into play with the work you do now if it does at all. Yeah I mean I don't know for sure that it does But you know definitely going to school you know for more formal kind of education like that gives you a certain way of thinking about problems There was a professor I had. This is an Undergrad Grad school but He had a habit of picking on students. Who would fall asleep in class? And he would. If they'd fall asleep he would like he literally with chocolate. Ben which I I don't know if that's you know a good thing but he chocolate than to wake them up and then He would ask them a question about the material that they missed and of course they would know the answer and then what he would say as well. If you don't know the answer the answer is always zero. One infinity or you can't tell based on the premise. It's it sounds kind of silly actually is like I think about that. Sometimes because you know in business or product design or whatever you're always faced with these situations where you don't know the answer right. You always have to make a decision before you have all the information and the answer is always going to be zero one infinity or you can't tell her whatever the equivalent of that right which I say. There are only a couple of answers that are going to make sense. And you have to sort of figure out based on your gut and based on information that you have like which of these answers and so just to bring it back to figment for a second when I joined sigma. The product hadn't even been released yet and it was in demo form so wasn't You know it didn't look like a shipping product. But I just look at it and it was so fast and so stable and had so many of the nuances right. They just thought about it and I was like well. You know somebody is going to figure this out. Somebody's GonNa get designed tools onto the web because I just looked at this thing. It's obviously possible. I mean this isn't there yet but it's obviously possible and if it is possible then almost certainly it's going to be something that people gravitate towards right because Design is like I think design is like a communication act. It's something that you're doing to explain your thoughts to somebody else to figure something out and put it down and work with people on it and stuff. All of that. Communication stuff happened so much better when you're online and so two just looking at it. I thought well this obviously is going to work like somebody's GonNa figure this out. So maybe you maybe this company will do it. I don't know but let's try. And so in the same way that like the zero one. Infinity kind of thinking was sort of drilled into us in school. It was like how. How do you take these the information that you have and make a really really good educated? Guess I think that's maybe the part that I use the most fascinating and and just as a personal anecdote for you know when I first discovered Sigma I had no probably less crystallized but similar feeling just from a consumer point of view is just like. Wow this is this. Is something like this works way. This is This is going to be huge. And actually let's talk about the company and and maybe even the current climate the the current. You know atomised workforce that everyone is right now stuck at home. Has there been some observable change in behavior for users over the last what two months now? Two and a half months is there have been a spike in users. Is there like a set of features? That's you're discovering is being used in a different way or anything like that. Yeah for sure. plumbing I definitely noticeable increasing usage. It's not I heard some stats. Zoom zoom is just like crazy. It's not crazy like that but definitely if you look at the grass you can see this is when everybody started saying home and you can see the usage go up and what I'm finding interesting is is the features that people ask for or or that they talk about like. There's a lot of sort of chatter on twitter about that sort of pay attention to right. It's not the things that you would think because I think if you think about collaboration you would think. Oh it's probably like commenting like people are GonNa ask about like can I have better notifications from my comments or some. But I think what people gravitate towards more is features around presence if that makes sense. So you know you'll be a figment file and the only way you can collaborate with another designer right now or if you're in engineering. You're collaborating with designer. Or what have you is electronially? Because before you just go to their desk and say hey you know can. Can we talk about this thing and you can't do that anymore? And I think people are finding that a space like Them to sort of you know work with each other in more of this collaborative way. It's sort of like like looking over. Somebody's shoulder and talking and sort of if there's sort of doing something that's a little off from what you were saying. You might draw something directly on the on the screen to show them rant and so on and so people ask for even like really really odd features like they say things like I really want to be able to to wiggle my cursor and half people like notice that I'm here and then like you know or somebody asks for a feature that they call booming. I WANNA be able to somebody's cursor and give him a high five and so those might seem frivolous or silly but I think what it is is that you know being remote and being a digital digitally connected I think people have sort of missed some of the nuance of what it feels like to work together. And when you're in space like a document it feels a little bit more like you're in the same place. People are creating even more of that if that makes sense. Yeah absolutely I mean. We adult turtles. We have a number of projects that touches on that that very sentiment. Oh there's new product or it seems like it. I saw an announcement what's what's figure for education. Oh there's nothing new products per se. I think it's We're just thinking how we Price our offerings for Before the new channel. Yeah well I mean we. We've always had a free education and matures pretty restricted. We had a list of domains that was no. They came from a company. That knows how to do this. And if you if you weren't from one of those domains you can have access the program and we just extended it to a much broader set of users so for example if you're in a boot camp or if you are you know so there's a number of different ways that people learn now and so we're just expanding it to be a much wider group of people who can participate cool. Can we bring it back to like the design process a bit and maybe even some some of this twitter listening is really interesting? Yeah I mean for the Community of users that you have designers engineers. I imagine imagine these people have some strong opinions with what makes good design with. What's a good feature? Where does the impetus for building? Something new come in. Does it start with user research as start with you? Know listening to this chatter online and saying hey that sounds like a good idea and just kind of running with it or is there like a process specific rubric. You guys follow yeah. That's a really good question. I've actually been meaning to write this up but It's sort of like a formal part of it and as an informal part of it In the formal part is basically on quarterly basis. We we take our teams and we go to this exercise really trying to understand. What is it we're trying to do with this team? Do we think the biggest opportunities are then we crystallize into a narrative? So we say it's not just sort of like a stack rank list of features. But were we try to say well if we're successful with a protected features for example than the world? Looks like this people uses for these kinds of things in these kinds of people now can be successful in someone and then we try to connect that to sort of business story so we say if this happens then more people will blanco whatever so. That's sort of the formal part. And you know we get the entire company involved We get input from the sales team and support and we have to the product teams including engineering design and marketing and research. They all sort of get together and participate in this process that sort of the formal sort of structure. But I would say the informal part is at the end of the day. You have to guess as to to build right. What's going to have the biggest impact and not only did to guess what the bill you have to guess how much effort we put in trying to do something you here and so for certain features. You really just don't want to spend any time trying to do something like you know people say. Hey you know it really bugs me that you know the permissions on prototypes are like this. Since I can't share them this way or whatever it is you just sort of understand the thing as fast as possible and just build it right and then there's other things like we released this feature called Smart Selection about a year ago and the idea of smart selection. Is that when you're doing a design a lot of times you'll find that objects are placed in a regular pattern so you'll have things that are ten pixels apart and a human being can look at that and say well that obviously is a list of things that are ten pixels apart and I would love to sort of you know be able to sort of squish them together or reorder them or whatever and you know why. Can't computers know that those objects are in a list and give you the power to be able to do that and so that was more out there idea and so that took a little while to figure out? How do we do this in a way? That feels natural at that Doesn't require you to specify upfront. Hey the stuff inside this boxes a list or whatever you know but we thought the investment was worth it because it just a pattern that we see a lot of people's working. We thought that if we could make the tool smart enough to be able to help you with that that it would really resonate and so we did that. I love the features. A customers seem to feature to. And that's the kind of thing where you just have to have this gut for this feels like something that's worth investing in even even when we didn't exactly know what the solution is going to be. My next question was just kind of glowing. It's know the the products from the on boarding expect from someone. Who's not a designer? I have account because we make much products and it's nice to be able to see them in process. It's it's just such a cohesive product that allows for so much customization and you can do so much like. It's such a multi functional tool I have. I have two questions. Why one is how you maintain the thing as as so cohesive and still so focused and still directed at such a specific audience when it allows for so much to do. There's so many features on but still feels cohesive and then I guess another question is what's been a really surprising use case apart from the boo pink or the the the wiggling of the curse has has anything come out like an a customer story or in a team internally that people are just like randomly using for something that was a total unintentional consequence like every company You know when you're in the company and you see the sausage be made. It doesn't look quite so cohesive like we look at the product and we're like Oh man. I can't believe we did this in this thing. That's totally not the same as this so but I I appreciate that you know you know we got enough right. That feels feels okay. It's really interesting working on a product that is broad fecta most of the products that our customers design that our customers used four. Tend to be ones where? There's a more narrow path that they expect us to go down right so you might have a mobile APP. And there's like three or four or five things you want people to be able to do and you just ran. The whole goal is to make it is obvious and efficient as possible for them to do those five things and within my. It's a little bit the opposite where there's like two hundred features and you just never know like one day. Sony might come into the tool and they us you know feature one feature thirty five and sixty eight or whatever and they all have to sort of work together as you as you point out and so it's really it can be a little challenging to figure this out and so I think what we try to do. Is We try to break things down into as atomic Pieces as possible that means and we try to figure out how how we can sort of make principles for those things that allow us to think about it. So as an example. I'll give two examples. So there's a components and styles are two features that has that allow for us and components are objects that you draw that you you duplicate. And then when you change the master the duplicates will also change so the classic uses for this would be things like you create a button and then used you know everybody in the companies that button if later you change something about the like James Quarter Radius Then everybody will see the corner radius. Change and another similar features styles in styles are properties that you apply to object so for example it can like a textile like a heading style or body style but styles can also be used for things like colors and things like that so for both of these features. You know there's some principles that we came up with for how they work that are just pretty deep and fundamental to how we think about them and how we write the code for them so for components you know it's things like components can have other components inside them and any property component can be overridden by somebody who's using that component Except for a few that we think are dangerous or we're going to be confusing etcetera and then for styles we had sort of a different way of thinking about it which is like components are like one thing you know. There's there's not like five different kinds of components for button components versus dialog box components or whatever right so components or just one mechanism whereas for styles we decided to break it up into lots of small different styles so you can have a color style or you can have a textile where you can have a like an effect style and the reason we did that was because we looked at how people were using were using styles in the wild and what they would do is they would have to take these combinations of styles make a separate style for each combination so for example for texting. They might say. Here's my style for a headline that's to the left. And here's my style headline that's to the right and here's myself headline that center and by the way here's my style for the headline the left but is green. And here's my style for the headline you know and if you take the combination of those things you end up with like literally would have two hundred three hundred textiles to manage all the combinations of them and so you know looking at that. We decided to break up into smaller things. And then there's this question of well if you don't have any rules for how you're going to break it up than it's sort of like wild west and how are you going to make this work over number so we came up with rules for how to break it up and you know. I could get into that but but the point is that we looked at how people are using it. We came up with principles for how we wanted to construct the feature. And then you know those principles I think help us figure out how to put those features together into something that people can then plugging and play around with in different ways and and have the whole system. Still make sense that make sense to me. I see like a big spreadsheet with with Just way more than two vectors like a third dimension a fourth dimension of categories of things. Well that's really cool and then my other question was what what's weird thing. People are using for that. You just had no idea. That's what that's what they do right right well first of all like like. I'm just so thankful that people are using DNA at the rate that they're using it. You know because you know. I'm sure you've had a lot of people on your podcast. We have people in your friends network and you know no matter how good your ideas. No matter how good your execution is you know you can make something and instill a crapshoot as whether people will resonate with that thing and find it interesting right so so we built this thing and people are using it for all sorts of things which. I still pinch myself that like so many people are using it but but in terms of the what they use it for. It is kind of what we expected them to use. A for for the most part except for some of these more out there use cases so people use it to design applications right and then people use the visually communicate. More broadly so they'll use a for diagramming or they'll use it for slides and someone and that's a use case where I think we haven't spent as much time really optimizing or making making better but But it's still something that sort of in the in the general area of stuff that we think people should use it very. There's a lot of tools for that and a lot of people have tried to our point Keno Often offend where it starts. Getting unusual. I think is in some of the more esoteric kinds of use cases rate. And you know we. We talked about in these covid times like people anymore connection and so people will do things like you pricing this but the somebody created a a model of San Francisco and people are starting to buildings in there and say hey this where I am and so on and so now. People are sort of collaborating in ways that bring a little bit of finding joy a playfulness to their lives. Y'All just a little bit of that in sort of the brainstorming kind of use case where you start with people just sort of moving sticking notes around but eventually than he ended up with sort of more playful ways of interacting with each other in that space. Because it's sort of a more free form kind of activity committed you know. You're turning kneel down the designed for something so you know I. I do think I mentioned this before about the immediacy or sort of the physicality of people being in the same place and I think that is for me. Probably the biggest kind of surprised his. I thought literally when we when we did the multiplayer feature. We did it because we felt like we had to because it was the only way that you could make sure that has people were looking at the documents that they wouldn't be two different versions of the document so it was really more about the integrity of the information. Churn but I think what we found is. People are actually connecting with each other because of that feature in a way that I didn't expect right just like hanging out and figure something really cool And maybe to touch on that the you know just the raw number of people using this product and of course not asking to disclose that but congrats on raising another round and other cash infusion somewhat recently in a time where you know it's difficult for a lot of products are a lot of startups to do that. What's next for the company? Is that a on on the path to public kind of thing or is this just another infusion to add features and add users and just to keep it going you know I? I don't think I get into that but The way that I think about it is Well I'll start personal but then we'll we'll go to the company in a second so the way I think about work is I kind of don't want work on something Unless it's going to be personally fun or rewarding remains you know. I've actually have turned out jobs that would have been more like bigger titles more lucrative or whatever in order to work on things that I personally gravitate towards and the company's full of people like that so we're all at big because we like working on this thing and if what's really nice is sometimes you find the thing you want to work on. But you don't find that market. We don't find them. You know the revenue or whatever like I was at medium before means great priority. Yeah grades a company but it's a really tough space it's hard money in publishing rate so so with FIG might like. I feel like we've got this like magic. Communists company a full of people who love work on this thing and it happens to be doing pretty well in the market. And so you know we're GONNA keep that going. You know as long as we can and you know the the good news is is I think there's plenty of headroom in just the product that we have now in that if you look at what people in the broader world outside of Silicon Valley and so on are using design you know people are still using all sorts of things. People are still using photoshop to design websites for example. So there's just a lot of headroom there for us to just keep doing what we're doing and grow as a business and then there's a bunch of Jason things that we'd like to explore at some point and so you know who's to say exactly which direction and went but but I feel like there's a lot of different ways we awesome. Can you and just to close. Can you share anything about any new features? That are coming out and figure can can. Et's one of the biggest Requests Right now is we have a called auto way out which is It's sort of like having a flex box inside of your design and for those listeners. Who Know what fuck boxes and we. Purposefully Limited the set of properties that that thing could have because we didn't WANNA make too complex but I think what we're finding is that it's not quite enough for people to be able to lands. They want to be able to do so. We're adding a more flexibility there and then in doing that. We're really trying to make sure that we're rethinking how that works in such a way that it doesn't get overly complex and so you know we've actually done like three or four or five different iterations of this you. I now to try to get right. That's a that's one. I'm pretty excited about and then we also are working on something around states And with states you know. Were also doing this thing where we're really trying to rethink like wider people. Really want this. And what can we do with it? And how how can we make? It really fit in with men. So were maybe taking a little bit more time with that one then Then we might if we're just doing it in more straightforward way. But but we're trying to. We're trying to make it really flexible and really feel like the core really cool. We'll show that's all I have. Thanks thanks so much for coming on the show. We we really appreciate it. Thanks it was fun. This podcast is a production of the all turtles worldwide media empire. We recorded this episode at the Rainy Union Street Studio in San Francisco California. Thanks to show for joining us this episode. If you have any questions comments or suggestions for future episodes sent an email to hello at all dash turtles dot Com marites every message. Thanks to everyone. Who made this episode possible including Jim Medicine Door for Editing Thompson for Producing Chris? Plug for his audio expertise Mike Rivera for our artwork and Armand for our theme music on behalf of Jessica a Phil Liban and yours truly. Johnny says and the rest of the all turtles team. Thanks for listening.