Design agencies work with an endless cast of characters: developers, marketers, designers, sales folk, and project managers galore, spanning both the agency’s own staff and the teams of all their clients.
Collaboration challenges compound in environments like this. There are so many people involved, all using different computers and operating systems, with a rainbow array of software paid for (or none at all). Sharing up-to-date designs and communicating about them is nigh impossible.
Unfold, a 10-person design agency in Florida that works with clients like Squarespace and PayPal, knows these struggles all too well. “We found ourselves overwriting each other’s files, or having conflicting file issues when we had multiple versions open,” founder Eddie Lobanovskiy remembered. “That was really frustrating.”
To solve these challenges, they spent years hacking together an avalanche of plug-ins for simple tasks. Eventually, Lobanovskiy got fed up, went searching for an alternative, and found Figma, an all-in-one design, prototyping, and developer handoff tool. Because it runs in the cloud, teams can share always up-to-date designs, collect comments, and give file attributes to engineers, simply by sending a URL. Any person with any type of computer can access the designs.
“We absolutely fell in love,” Lobanovskiy remembered. “It immediately removed this hassle of versioning, collaboration and feedback. It frees up a ton of time, and time is obviously money.” He estimates Figma saves Unfold at least 30% of time spent on communication alone.
Once the team was convinced Figma was the right choice for them, they then had to persuade clients to make the move. Most of Unfold’s companies had never heard of Figma, but Lobanovskiy said that wasn’t a problem. “It’s an easy sell when we tell them it’s a platform where everything we do lives in one place,” Lobanovskiy told us.
To transition some of their original clients’ projects, the Unfold team used Figma’s Sketch importer feature, which lets you bring Sketch design files right into Figma. For the new clients, the team took advantage of Figma’s multiplayer functionality to brainstorm. Everyone jumped in a file and started sketching out ideas together.
It frees up a ton of time, and time is obviously money.
“It’s amazing to see everyone working at the same time and getting those thoughts out super rapidly,” Lobanovskiy said. “Clients love it, we love it.” It’s not something the team could do before they found Figma, because there was no design program that would let everyone collaborate together in the same document.
After initial brainstorms, the Unfold designers then fill out mood boards or templates, complete with color palettes, font options and visual inspiration. In the past, they’d save images locally on their computers and then manually upload them to prototyping tools.
“Creating mood boards in Figma is a lot faster because you can drag and drop files straight from the web into your document,” Lobanovskiy said. “It’s instant — there’s no wait time for anything, you just keep moving forward.”
When the Unfold team builds out higher fidelity designs in Figma, everyone can access the latest version at the same URL. There’s no need for anyone to export or upload the file, and clients can leave their thoughts whenever they like using Figma’s commenting tool. Comments in Figma are pinned to the design frame they refer to, so feedback appears in context instead of scattered in places like Slack or email.
It’s an easy sell when we tell them it’s a platform where everything we do lives in one place.
Unfold’s least favorite part of the process in the past? Developer handoff. “Before Figma, we had clients with developers who weren’t on Macs, so that would always be a bad conversation,” Lobanovskiy remembered. “We’d have to try to convince them to do things they didn’t want to do, like buy subscriptions to other tools.”
To avoid this, they’d wind up converting design files to PSDs by running them through Illustrator, which would inevitably mess up the layers. “The whole process was insane,” Lobanovskiy said. “We’d have to introduce them to ten new things. Versus now, where we say ‘Hey we’re just on Figma.’”
Figma’s built in code mode allows developers to export assets and grab CSS, Android and iOS data. Those assets are always up to date with the latest design — no syncing necessary — because it’s all part of Figma’s cloud-based platform. And developers can do all that with view only access — meaning Unfold’s clients don’t have to pay for their use of Figma. “It’s a huge plus that it’s cross platform, you don’t have to worry about telling people, ‘You’re not on Mac so you can’t open the files,’” Lobanovskiy said. “We get a lot of compliments.”
Ultimately, Figma simplified Unfold’s process and helped the agency finish projects faster, according to Lobanovskiy. It also minimized the number of challenges the team faced along the way. “Even if it didn’t save time it’s just so pleasant to use because it flows,” Lobanovskiy said. “It feels like we can take on more work with Figma.”