Introducing branching: space to iterate and explore freely

Last week, at Config 2021, we announced new ways to bring your teammates together across the design process. Today, we’re introducing branching in beta to better enable collaboration at scale. Designers will have the space to iterate and explore freely, while preserving shared files as a single source of truth. Product Manager Meagan Gamache shares a peek into the 13-month journey to beta and what this means for design system management in Figma.

As Figma CEO Dylan Field shared at Config, design is never a solo act. Rather, it’s bringing together each individual’s unique skillsets—the sum of several efforts. That’s why we’re making it even easier for design teams to come together in Figma. With branching, designers can collaborate freely on shared files, while protecting them from unapproved or unintentional changes.

The (good) problem

Like always, our journey to beta started with the needs of our users, who told us that their design systems were decentralized across multiple teams and platforms. The upside was that they were using design systems, instead of repeatedly building similar components from scratch. And, designers were able to reuse components and work faster and more efficiently. The downside was that these design systems were located in different places, resulting in inconsistencies and requiring designers to break flow between tools.

Design teams needed a way to centralize their design systems while protecting and maintaining them at scale. Let’s take the Netflix Hawkins system, for example. There are over 100 designers that both contribute to and rely on it. With that many contributors, the most recent updates to a file may not always be what’s approved for use. We needed to make space in the product for designers to be inspired and explore new ideas and iterations without auto-saving to shared files. So, we began thinking through ways to bring the branch-merge workflow into Figma.

First principles first

We started by asking ourselves: How can we create a sandbox in Figma without creating more complexity for our users?

Commits felt like extra work. Branches of branches felt complex. So, we decided to revisit fundamental assumptions and take a renewed approach. We landed on two principles: simplicity and consistency. This meant branching needed to be built into the product holistically, prompting us to make branching work within the multiplayer experience. As a result, branches have all of the same multiplayer perks as other Figma files. There is no need for extra actions like committing, because the work on branches is auto-saved. Today, you can create a branch from any file to safely explore new ideas and, when ready, editors can merge updates into the main file.

As we continue to add features, like reviews, we’re also exploring how versioning works across the entire platform. In the spirit of simplicity and consistency, we want to give design teams one way of thinking about versioning that’s inclusive of both branching and multiplayer.

Our team is excited to take this first step in incorporating branching into Figma, and enable our users to centralize design across the entire organization. Branching is now available in beta on our Organization plan, and teams are invited to sign up to request access. We will be adding users gradually, on an ongoing basis.

You are also invited to join us for a deep dive into branching, where we will demo the feature and share ways to improve your workflows. If you’re on a Professional plan and would like to learn more about our Organization plan, we encourage you to contact our sales team.