Thanks to Google Docs and Office 365, much of your work likely has shifted to the cloud, where you can easily collaborate with colleagues on shared documents. Designers, meanwhile, have largely been left out of this workflow revolution.
Their projects tend to go like this: Use a number of tools to create a design mockup, export it to file, save it on Dropbox, and then send the file link via email for review. There's a lot of back and forth, and the risk of winding up with multiple versions of the same file along the way is high.
This is the problem co-founders Dylan Field and Evan Wallace set out to solve with Figma, a tool that lets designers collaborate in real time in a web browser. Figma, which launched in 2016, is primarily for people who design web-based applications as well as diagrams and illustrations. As with Google Docs, multiple users can work on a design at the same time. Sharing a mock-up to people outside the team is easy too--you just send a link rather than exporting a file and emailing it.
Field, 27, and Wallace, 29, have zeroed in on a problem a lot of people need solved. Within four years of launching, Figma has collected over a million sign-ups and a customer roster that includes Slack, Twitter, Uber, Dropbox, the New York Times, and Microsoft. The San Francisco-based startup has raised $82.9 million to date from investors including Sequoia Capital and Greylock Partners.
The idea for Figma was just one of many Field and Wallace brainstormed back in 2011 as college students at Brown University. They made a list of the technology that was changing the world, considering everything from game engines to drones. With prior experience in designing software as interns for companies like Flipboard, Pixar, and Microsoft, they thought about how web-based design tools did not exist yet.
"Across the productivity space, everyone is realizing they want to work together more and be more open and transparent," says Field. They decided that was the idea they should pursue.
In 2012, Wallace graduated and Field dropped out of Brown to accept a Thiel fellowship, which came with $100,000 to pursue a startup idea. So the pair moved to San Francisco to work on Figma full-time. By shadowing designers at tech firms they knew from their network of friends, families, and colleagues, they learned exactly what kind of cloud tools to build: designers needed something that would let them create prototypes, make illustrations, and incorporate code snippets--all in one place. In 2013, they raised a seed round of $4 million, and two years later Figma launched to the public.
The startup, which has 85 employees, offers three basic software-as-a-service plans. The Starter plan is free for up to two individuals, and the Professional and Organization plans start at $12 and $45, respectively, per user per month. The company declined to disclose revenue.
The first customer to sign up with Figma, during its beta phase in 2015, was fellow San Francisco-based startup Coda. Coda makes a collaboration app that's like an interactive document, spreadsheet, and task list rolled into one. Co-founder and CEO Shishir Mehrotra says the quality of Figma's tools and its speed won him over. He says Figma is the backbone of the design team at his 50-person company. Mehrotra believes in the company so much that he also decided to invest.
"There are a number of desktop-centric competitors who are trying to migrate to the web, but Figma started there," says Mehrotra. "This is a Herculean effort--building a browser-based design tool that performs as well as the desktop equivalents is not easy."
He adds, "Over time, this leads to a fundamental shift in the design process--fairly similar to how big a shift Google Docs was to the Office productivity suite."
Indeed, other companies are trying to catch up and give designers tools in the cloud. Adobe has moved its design tools to a cloud-based subscription model, though they don't allow real-time collaboration. (The wireframing and prototyping tool Adobe XD, launched in 2016, plans to offer live collaboration capabilities this year, according to the company.) Startups like InVision and Sketch present competition too: Sketch will be bringing its tool to a browser this year, reported Techcrunch.
In the future, Field says Figma will work on expanding its features, such as giving non-designers more options to participate in the design process. He notes that 80 percent of Figma's users are spread outside the United States, which he says shows how easy it is even for remote teams to collaborate using the tool.
"The world of design-engineering is bridging quite a lot now--people are becoming more collaborative and finding ways to accompany each other," says Field.