Convincing your team to switch to Figma, the collaborative online design platform, isn’t always easy. Open design represents a cultural shift, from design siloes to collaboration.
So, here to offer some pro tips on the transition is James Morris, senior designer at the popular social media management app Buffer. James took a step-by-step approach to moving Buffer to Figma, making sure he had company-wide support for the change. Buffer’s team is entirely remote, so they needed a design tool that simplified communication.
But for James, introducing Figma was about more than just a new tool. It was about shifting design’s role in the engineering-driven organization. “How can you help the design team have a place at the table by default?” he said. “How can you make design part of the discussion?”
It’s not surprising Buffer was drawn to Figma, because a core tenet of its culture is transparency — to the point that the company publishes all its employees’ salaries online. Despite that, its design team struggled to work with other departments, according to James. The tools they used trapped them in a separate world.
Members of other teams had trouble finding the designs they were looking for, since files were often buried deep in Dropbox subfolders. Once they located them, they couldn’t see designs without buying the software that powered them, or upgrading to new versions. Even with the right license, developers and product managers were often afraid to open designs in case they accidentally saved over someone’s work.
“You realize the tool of choice really has a massive effect on the communication. It puts a wall up around the design team as though it has these special files no one can touch,” James said. “Figma promotes the opposite feeling. We’re there just a tap away.”
He explained that because Figma runs in the cloud, the collaboration issues disappear. Anyone can be given access to a design file via its URL, and teams can have unlimited view-only accounts (that are free!), where viewers can leave comments and pull data from designs to code them.
“We have engineers who are using Linux and much of the design software out there doesn’t support this platform,” James said. “One person was prepared to buy a Mac just so he could open design files! At that point, the benefits of Figma were crystal clear.”
Just because Figma’s value seemed obvious to James, that didn’t mean it was clear to the rest of the organization. He knew the best way to rally support was to show, not tell. With a company wide email, he introduced a ‘period of exploration,’ asking teams to experiment with different design and collaboration tools to see what met their needs.
During this time, James took in feedback about Buffer’s workflow challenges and solutions. He lobbied for the ways Figma could fix these issues, including detailing the benefits in the original memo he sent out. Ultimately, James trusted that once people tried Figma, the collaboration features would prove themselves.
During this exploration period, James used creative methods to help teams and individuals explore Figma. Since Buffer is remote, an easy first step was virtual whiteboarding. James is based in England, so he convinced one of Buffer’s Canadian PMs to brainstorm a feature with him.
“We both drew different ideas, like how people would collaborate in a Google Doc, except with shapes instead of words,” James said. “Figma showed itself very quickly, it’s incredibly easy to pick up.”
Because they used Figma to work together in real-time, James didn’t have to sit around waiting for a formal spec sheet from the PM.
To persuade Buffer’s developers to get on board, James left them to their own devices. “I said, ‘Guys, check this out. Here’s the URL, see if you can get the information you need,’” James remembered. “They got really excited by just being able to open it up.”
Developers can use Figma’s free view-only tier to view CSS, iOS (Swift), and Android (XML) data in the design. All they need is a link to the file to open it — a far cry from the Photoshop era of downloading and paying for an unwieldy application.
Engineers got really excited by just being able to open Figma up.
“One of the Figma selling points for them was the source of truth. I could create a URL for a particular design, and that could be easily shared and that URL would stay the same,” James said. “Rather than exporting the designs as images or having to explain where the file is located in Dropbox.”
The final secret sauce for wooing the eng team? Tell them about Figma’s work with WebAssembly. We’ve been pushing the boundaries of browser technology, so you might be surprised how many engineers have already heard of us.
“A few of them loved Figma already because you guys are using WebAssembly,” James said. “You’ve got the best, most kick-ass web-based app. There’s already kudos there from an engineering point of view.”
Sometimes, designers can be the hardest group to woo to Figma. Many fear open, transparent design. Others don’t believe Figma’s web-based application can perform just as quickly as a desktop one. Figma has done a lot of work on performance and in some cases beats its desktop counterparts, but people have to experience it themselves to believe it.
So, to convince designers to give Figma a shot, tempt them with the candy: The vector network, team library + constraints functionalities, desktop app, and sketch import tool. James took the time to jump into Figma files with other Buffer designers and demonstrate the power of these features.
“Our junior designer, Tom, didn’t realise the true power of components and how they can make it easier to work with complex designs,” James said. “After I showed him he was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”
Often, once a designer is excited by the Figma candy, they’ll wind up staying for the Figma carrot — the collaboration functions that make it far easier for them to handoff designs to engineers, or communicate what they’re working on to the leadership team.
After giving Buffer staff ample time to try different design tools, and helping them discover the best of Figma, James didn’t have much more work to do to convince people to make the switch. The benefits were obvious, and everyone was on board. To finalize the decision, he sent out one final memo, summarizing why the company was moving to Figma.
In the email James concluded: “The design tool Figma will help us be more open, collaborative and consistent with our designs and help us bridge the gap with design handover for engineers.”