Just because a product change is subtle doesn’t mean it won’t make waves. Vice President of Product, Sho Kuwamoto, explains why quality-of-life improvements are at our core.
Celebrating the big wins feels like a no-brainer, but at Figma, we also appreciate the little things. That’s because we know those subtle, quality-of-life changes—changes that get you from point A to point B in fewer clicks, or that fix a bug that’s been bogging you down—can make a major difference. It’s true of any product, but especially so with Figma, where many people (us included) spend hours upon hours each day. Which is why, every year, we set aside time to focus on these fixes and features. We call them Little Big Updates.
We sat down to chat with Vice President of Product, Sho, to talk about how Little Big Updates got started, what it means to center a product on user joy, and the importance of sweating the small stuff.
I think a lot about what we can improve for designers because they spend upwards of 40 hours a week in Figma. Learning Figma has become part of mastering their craft—it’s like getting a degree. Because of their investment in the tool, we have a responsibility to always be improving it on their behalf. And while it can be tempting to focus on big, splashy features that we can announce onstage, sometimes the things that matter most are the small improvements: something the user didn’t know they needed, or a bug fix.
Watch “Why do we build what we build?”—Sho’s talk at Config 2023 taking the audience behind the scenes of Figma’s product decisions.
That’s been our attitude and priority since the earliest days of Figma. We listened to what designers were saying, and we would ship as many updates for them as we could. Our normal rhythm was to ship one each week, but on one occasion we had a batch of four, so we decided to release one every day from Monday through Thursday. People loved it: They told us it felt like unwrapping a new present every day. That’s when Little Big Updates became Little Big Updates.
I don’t want to be at a company that only invests in things that will make headlines. I want to make a product that I feel proud of. The truth is, people do resonate with little changes, and we know that because we pay attention to our users’ individual stories. Plus, when you celebrate the small things and give each one their moment, it gives people a chance to recognize how important each one is.
Most of the time when you’re working on a product, you think about it in terms of adding new capabilities. The iPhone didn’t always have multiple lenses, and now it does. A spreadsheet couldn’t always generate a graph, but now it can. A quality-of-life update, by comparison, is about making the existing capabilities a little bit better. These kinds of changes are hard to prioritize because they can be challenging to market. You don’t get a billboard by the freeway to say, “Hey, we made this function happen with one less click.” But you can make a bigger positive impact by focusing on the little actions users take most often than by adding a seemingly flashy feature that they don’t use.
One of my favorite features that we’ve ever delivered had to do with copy and paste. There was a time when paste would go to a random spot on the screen, and it was frustrating for people every single time they pasted—which is hundreds of times a day. Nobody’s going to give us an award for fixing paste, but I guarantee you it’s been more impactful to users’ workflows than a lot of features people have announced on stages. As another example, we made it easier to select text when switching between frames in Figma, so you don’t have to do a dance of double-clicking. It’s such a small detail, but our users notice.
When it comes to prioritizing features, I think about big features—like AI for FigJam—and little features totally differently. For big features, it’s important to be deliberate and not only talk about what the most important improvements are, but also how they fit together. You may want to hold off on building something because it needs to work in tandem with something else. It’s sort of like packing a car: You have to put the big suitcases in first. But with the small features, it’s almost the opposite. You shouldn’t obsess over which ones you’re going to tackle first, and you want those decisions to be as decentralized as possible. Every team should know how important quality is. They know which features will make the most impact better than anyone else in the company.
For “Lenny’s Newsletter,” Sho wrote about staying attuned to customer needs in a piece called “What working at Figma taught me about customer obsession.”
The restaurateur Danny Meyer has spoken and written about his philosophy on hospitality, and what’s interesting to me is that he doesn’t focus on the decor or menus. Instead, he talks about how to treat people well, and how to make sure you’re doing right by them.
Similarly, making a piece of software that people love is all about treating people well. It’s about noticing—and fixing—the problems that people run into. In this round of Little Big Updates, I’m excited about “select and copy from version history.” That’s an update I’ve wanted forever. Usually, you go into version history because something has gone horribly wrong; maybe you need to retrieve something you deleted. Before, you would duplicate the file in order to copy from it. As it turns out, you could actually right-click on the layer in the layers panel to copy and paste, but most people didn’t know this—including myself. So this update was as simple as putting that function in a more obvious place. It took about 10 lines of code, but it saves people hours of recreating work they thought they had lost. The “component modal and playground” is great, too. Previously, you had to drop an icon into your document and configure it later. Now, there’s a preview window where you can see all the different component configurations and their descriptions before you choose one.
It all goes back to the idea of serving the user. I don’t want people to just think, “Figma is a good product that helps me do my job.” I want them to think, “Figma has my back. They’re trying to help me be successful.” We really feel accountable to users who depend on us.
As Figma grows as a product and a company, we have to fight the urge to make everything bigger. The default may be to say, “Last year we delivered 20 updates, but this year we delivered 30, and we did it while standing on our heads.” Wanting to one-up ourselves can endanger the spirit of Little Big Updates.
At Figma, we care about intuition in addition to metrics. I get much more excited about helping as many people as possible have a good day than trying to drive a number from 0.89 to 0.91. I also find it easier to motivate the team with the individual stories that people tell us as opposed to the collective, diluted version. We have testimonials from teachers using FigJam in classrooms saying that for kids who have trouble relating to other kids, this kind of environment is a whole different ball game. That becomes part of our narrative and helps guide future product decisions. At the end of the day, what we care about is the impact we can have through our work.
Check out all 42 Little Big Updates we released this fall!
Hero illustration by Gustavo Delgado