Last year, we introduced FigJam in beta to give us the flexibility to iterate in response to user needs. Now that FigJam is available to all teams, Product Manager Emily Lin shares the process of bringing FigJam to life, from beta to GA.
You joined Figma two years ago, just as we decided to create an online whiteboard. What drew you to the role?
In many ways, working on FigJam from inception to launch was the perfect intersection of my interests. Ever since the UX design internship I took in college, where I studied computer science and studio art, I’ve straddled the product and design worlds. I’ve always been happiest at work when I get to riff with designers and engineers on interesting problems.
I know that the role of the product manager differs from place to place. At Figma, our operating model is built on the idea that good ideas and good decisions can come from anyone, a philosophy that “nothing great is made alone.” The work here is inherently cross-functional and collaborative, so everyone really listens to each other and builds off conversations and interactions.
I see the role of the PM as less about being a decision-maker, and more about serving as a facilitator, someone who guides collaborative teams towards decisions that benefit everyone.
Take us back to when we were first thinking about building FigJam. Can you give us an overview of how it came to life?
Figma had just started working remotely, and we were all getting used to spending more time in online spaces. As the world adjusted to a new digital-first model, we saw that our users weren’t just using Figma to design, but to connect person to person, beyond work. And honestly the same was true of the team at Figma—we were all hungry for a place to come together, whether that was for brainstorms, team icebreakers, or just to socialize in a time that felt really challenging.
Because there was such a clear and urgent need to enable better collaboration, there was a ton of momentum around FigJam. Yes, there was a lot to work through on a tight timeline. But building a new product was exciting! Since FigJam was a company-wide priority from the outset, we all felt energized to wrestle with big problems. It was all hands on deck.
What felt different about building FigJam, compared to other products you’ve worked on?
Building Figma’s second product was a big deal. We wanted to make sure that even after we shipped it, we’d be able to iterate, evolve, and maintain it with the same care that we give Figma. So in that sense, there was a risk that we’d be perfectionistic about it—so stuck in getting everything right, that it would be tough to move quickly.
Launching in beta allowed us to continuously respond to user needs as they came up, while also mapping to a longer term vision.
How did you manage competing priorities?
We focused on solving problems that might block decisions moving forward. For example, one of the first big questions we wrestled with was the relationship between Figma and FigJam. How would Figma work with FigJam? Would we need a completely separate FigJam app? Beyond those bigger questions, we didn’t take a ton of time to deliberate on every single decision—we just made calls and got feedback from stakeholders and users along the way.
We really mean it when we say that we’re constantly listening to our users about how to improve—and we brought that user-first philosophy to FigJam. The working group started a shared Slack workspace with a few hundred alpha testers who provided a pretty constant stream of insights. Based on their feedback, we prioritized requests into “must fix before initial launch” and “fast follows to ship after initial launch.” For example, we knew that adding authors to sticky notes was a must-have at launch, while timer would be sufficient as a fast follow.
So, once we introduced FigJam in April 2021, how did you decide what to do next?
Even now, every decision we make is rooted in solving user needs. We have a small panel of people who are opted into new features, and we’re proactive about soliciting feedback and acting on it. More than anything, we want to make sure that the people actually using FigJam get exactly what they need out of it.
Where else do you find ideas about what to build?
Ideas can come from anywhere. At Figma, the PM, design, support, sales, and marketing teams all provide input and help us decide what to build. And we’re always listening to user feedback, whether it’s through the shared Slack channel, via support, or even on Twitter.
Maker Week has been such an incredible source of new features for FigJam. Twice a year, we have dedicated time away from our heads-down work so we can ideate on interesting things for the company. Code blocks and widgets both came out of Maker Weeks, and they’re two of our most popular features!
Once you decide what to prioritize, how do you go from idea to ship?
Every quarter, we go through a prioritization process to make sure we’re spending time on the things that will meaningfully improve FigJam for our users. It’s usually a mix of what people need and what will make the biggest impact on their work. Sometimes that’s a functional gap, and other times it’s more about delight—what will make FigJam joyful to use.
From there, we have a kickoff meeting with the working group—including product, design, research, and engineering—responsible for building the feature. We usually discuss the core user motivation and problem we’re trying to solve, then spend some time ideating on how the solution should actually come to life.
Once we start building, we test it out internally and iterate until we think it’s in a good spot. Then we ship! It’s not exactly as simple as that, but that’s the basic idea 🙂.
Did you make any pivots from your initial strategy?
When we started, we really focused on solving designers’ problems because they've always been a core part of Figma's user base. But we soon realized that these weren’t just design problems—finding a way to communicate and collaborate visually is a much more universal need.
And visual collaboration is a central part of the product development process, end to end. Designers need a way to brainstorm and ideate with their cross-functional partners across teams, so we’re thinking more expansively about who we’re building for.
What has been the most challenging part of bringing FigJam to life?
Beyond sheer prioritization, top of mind was making sure that FigJam was built with Figma DNA, which meant that everything—from the checklist feature on up—needed to be both delightful and intuitive.
Many of us in the working group were pleasantly surprised about how much people really connected with FigJam on an emotional level. This realization actually impacted our strategy in a meaningful way. As we observed more of these visceral reactions from users, we started taking more cues from the real world and how people behave and express themselves IRL.
Then, we went back to the beginning and asked ourselves a simple question: why do we like using Figma? We thought about all the magical parts about working together in one space, and that led to building features like cursor chat, stamps, emotes, and high fives. That delightful toolbar in FigJam came from understanding what people loved about Figma in the first place. We wanted to give people an immediate set of reasons to feel the same way about FigJam.
It’s a no-brainer in retrospect, but getting at how it feels to brainstorm and connect in FigJam became a North Star.
What are your core focuses going into 2022 now that the product is GA?
When we first scoped FigJam, we identified brainstorming and diagraming as primary use cases. But what we realized is that teams wanted to connect on a deeper level, especially as hybrid and remote work habits mature.
So, we’re thinking far beyond that, focusing on how to build a product that fosters rapport within teams. How can you as a meeting facilitator get people who might be a little more hesitant or shy to participate? How can we use FigJam to create a safe psychological space to collaborate? What does it look like to bring energy and fun back to meetings with FigJam? Those are all questions we’re thinking about as we continue to improve FigJam.
And, as always, we'll be turning to user feedback to guide the way.