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Why Professors at Stanford and UC Berkeley Use Figma to Teach Design

Carmel DeAmicis
Carmel DeAmicis, Editor at Figma
Why Professors at Stanford and UC Berkeley Use Figma to Teach Design

Interface design may be taking over Silicon Valley, but it’s still far outside the mainstream curriculum on college campuses. The few courses on the subject are squeezed between majors, as interdisciplinary one-offs.

As a result, the professors who teach them face an uphill battle. They cover loads of technical concepts, in a limited amount of time, with design tools that take a Ph.D. to learn.

At collaborative design company Figma, we believe design should be accessible to anyone who wants to learn, and we’ve built our product around that mission. We’re free for students, run on any type of computer, and CRAZY easy to use. People pick it up and create designs in minutes. Just ask professors at Berkeley and Stanford, who use Figma to teach CS 160 (Introduction to Human Computer Interaction) and DESINST 270 (Visual Design Fundamentals).

If you’re a TA or professor, Figma will empower you to teach design principles, instead of spending all your time training students on the design tool. Here’s how:

1. Figma works on every kind of computer…even Chromebooks

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Figma runs in the cloud, so people can use it with any kind of computer by opening files from the web browser. Are you shepherding a class of PC owners? No problem. Are your programming students hooked on Linux? Not an issue. Even Chromebooks, the most affordable of the bunch, run Figma. Students who don’t own personal computers can finish assignments wherever, because Figma works anywhere there’s web access. No need to download bulky software to get started.

2. Figma is free!

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If you’re assuming the catch is Figma costs a year’s salary, NOPE. Our key mission is design accessibility, and the premium version of our tool is free for educational institutions. That means there’s no barrier to entry for low income students and no need to negotiate major university contracts. Start using Figma in your classroom immediately.

3. It takes less than an hour to learn Figma

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We stripped Figma down so it only provides the functionality digital designers need. Teachers at UC Berkeley called it “lightweight,” “simple,” and “intuitive.” One student without any design experience said it took him under an hour to figure it out.

That means:

  • Professors and TAs can focus on fundamental design principles in class, instead of teaching the technical ins and outs of the tool
  • Students can spend their energy putting those design principles into practice, instead of struggling with the complexity of the tool

4. Figma’s support team is here to help

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Low budgets and big class sizes stretch professors and TAs’ time to the limits. At Figma, we’re happy to cut down on some of that burden. Our support team is on call via a chat box in the Figma app itself, and we have a 24–48 hour response time on weekdays. That means students can turn to us with technical issues, and save the more important questions for you.

5. Figma’s always up-to-date designs can be shared with anyone

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Since Figma runs in the browser, there’s no need for students to save or export designs to share them with you. You can always see the latest version of whatever they’re working on, simply by opening their design file URL. You can review work, or even watch them design in real time in their file. The result is more focus on design, and less time wrangling tools to communicate.

6. Feedback and version history is easy

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Need to offer some guidance or critique a student’s work? Use the comment tool to leave notes pinned to individual design frames, so students know exactly what your suggestions refer to. No need to email them the file back — they can see you leaving the critiques in real time by visiting the same URL! Students then have more opportunities to incorporate feedback and iterate by removing the constraint of in-person meetings. If you’re curious how their design evolved (or who did the most work in the case of a group project) you can check out revision history to quickly get up to speed on the answers to these questions.

7. Students can work in the same file at the same time

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Because Figma runs in the cloud it’s way easier for students to work together on group projects. They can jump into design files at the same time, without fear of corrupting the file or accidentally saving over each other’s work. They won’t need to email each other the latest version of the project or take turns on who does the work.

8. The developer handoff is seamless

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If you’re teaching a class where students are expected to build actual apps or websites from their designs, have no fear. It’s a cinch to get attributes and other assets for coding out of Figma with our code mode sidebar. And the students always know they are coding the most up-to-date version of the design.

9. Students can prototype in the same tool they design in

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Are your students expected to show off their app design to the rest of the class or run tests with potential users? Figma’s prototyping mode will make it easy for them to create an interactive presentation. They can turn different elements — like a home button — into a hotspot, so when those elements are clicked they take the viewer to the appropriate next screen. It’s intuitive to create (and critique!) the prototype because you can see an overview of the full flow. If your students want to run user tests on mobile phones, they can open the file in our Android or iPhone Mirror app to do just that.

10. Figma works for online lessons

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If you’re dealing with a remote class, have no fear. All of Figma’s functionality — from sharing design files with a link to our commenting functionality — will make it way easier to teach. Our observation mode allows you to click a user’s avatar in a file and follow along with their design activity. That means that you can sit in Paris and watch a student work in real-time in Albuquerque, offering suggestions on their process without ever meeting them face to face.

We hope this has been helpful, and we’ve piqued your interest enough to try Figma in the classroom. Has Figma made teaching design easier for you? Share your story by emailing us at support@figma.com or tweeting us @figmadesign!