We sit down with Yuhki Yamashita to hear about the road to building FigJam, how things continue to change, and what it means for the future of design and product development.
Since we launched FigJam back in April, teams having been using it to grow all kinds of ideas into great designs. We recently caught up with Figma's VP of Product, Yuhki Yamashita, to hear what it was like to build FigJam and how things have changed since then. Here, he reflects on the evolving role of design and product management, what it means to welcome “non-designers” into the process, and the future of FigJam.
I lead the product team here at Figma, which includes design, product management, and product research. We’re responsible for talking to our users, figuring out which problems to solve, and working with everyone in the company to generate and build the best solutions.
Take us back to when Figma first launched FigJam. Why did the team build an online whiteboarding tool?
When we’re thinking about where to take our product next, we actually take a lot of inspiration from our customers and the Figma Community, to see how they’re stretching our product in interesting or unexpected ways. We saw this happening in the early days of the pandemic. Our users were starting to use Figma for everything from brainstorming ideas to running team warm-up activities, to even putting on social events for people to get to know each other. We saw a lot of use cases that got us thinking.
Of course, we were also transitioning to remote work ourselves and figuring out how to bring offline processes to an online format. There was something about just being in one (virtual) space together that felt like it was really hitting on some deep need that we all had. It validated what we had already observed from our users—that it was important to bring that experience into Figma.
A big driver behind building FigJam was to help designers work with their extended teams. How have you seen design behavior change since you’ve been at Figma?
Design is opening up. Within design teams, people are riffing with each other more. And outside of design, more people across teams are jamming together, too. Whether it’s small copy tweaks or more fundamental changes, we’re seeing Figma and FigJam links being passed around the organization much earlier in the development process.
I think this speaks to a larger trend: that the boundary between engineering, design, and product management is blurring. Some of us used to have a mental model in which roles and responsibilities dictated how things work—that designers do one thing and engineers do another, for example. Increasingly, more people are crossing team lines to problem solve together. It has been validating to hear from our users (and Figmates!) that Figma encourages and facilitates that change in a way that makes everyone feel welcome.
I think the PM and design roles have always had some overlap, but they didn’t always have the tools they needed to explore and collaborate together. I have worked on both design and product teams, so I’ve felt this firsthand. There used to be a sense that designs were sacred—it was kind of offensive when a PM came in and made a change or edited something, because it was the designer’s file. Now, it’s not about who “owns” what—it’s more of a collective endeavor. And the roles have become more interlocked, and I think that’s fundamentally a good thing.
Design is non-linear. At Figma, we often talk about “embracing the mess,” and that really means leaning into the chaos and complexity that makes the design process what it is. Even once you have the seedling of an idea, you need to explore and iterate, then pull back and evaluate to see what’s working and what’s not. Sometimes you’ll scrap an idea after a brainstorm session, and other times you’ll get pretty far with a concept, but still need different perspectives and input to move forward.
It’s important to have spaces that allow you to engage with the work from different altitudes—to both dive in and zoom out, at every part of the design process. With Figma and FigJam, we’re starting to see a lot more fluidity end to end, whether that’s in ideation and brainstorming, or design and development.
FigJam is a great choice when things are a little more nebulous. Maybe you just want to throw around ideas, or get a temperature check for how people are feeling. You can do a lot of the generative brainstorming and mapping in FigJam, while Figma helps you start building towards an interface.
I love the expressiveness of FigJam. Previously, when I ran meetings, I’d circulate a shared doc and ask the team for agenda items. It felt polished and linear in a way that put the focus on project updates and milestones, instead of problem solving and unblocking together. With FigJam, it’s less about “meeting notes” and more about just being in the same space, together.
I also think that video conferencing creates frustrating dynamics—when you unmute, it feels like you need to declare that you have something to say. In FigJam, the cursor chats, emojis, and stickers are all ways that people can express themselves more naturally. The ephemeral nature of all of this is also very important—people just want to emulate a smile or a laugh without feeling like they need to leave a permanent imprint. There are so many human aspects of FigJam that I really like. More than anything, it can change the tone of the meeting, and generally how we work together. I think that’s really meaningful.
People are using FigJam for all kinds of workshops and exercises, and there’s certainly more we can do to help people facilitate those activities better. For example, the timer, which we recently launched, is a huge part of running a workshop. Moving forward, we’re asking ourselves how we can be there to make these activities as effective as possible.
As ever, we want to lean even more into the Figma Community. Just as the community guided us to build FigJam, we’re excited to see the ways they continue to use FigJam. Whether they have ideas on how to run a great brainstorm, retrospective, or crit, or they’ve found a new way to use FigJam, I personally can’t wait to see what they come up with. And whatever that looks like, we want to make sure those resources are as easy to access as possible.
Inside Figma: How our product management team uses FigJam
At Config 2021, Figma’s virtual design conference, we announced FigJam, our new whiteboarding space. Long before we launched FigJam in beta, teams across Figma had been using it for everything from user research to Maker Week projects. Here, Product Manager Emily Lin shares how she and the product management team at Figma use FigJam for everything from brainstorms to retrospectives, along with templates to get started.