Figma’s Dylan Field on building design tools that empower collaboration
In a new episode of Overtime, our very own Director of Design Noah Stokes chats with Figma co-founder Dylan Field on all things design process and collaboration. Learn more about Figma’s mission to give everyone—including non-traditional designers—the power to visually communicate and collaborate.
Don’t miss Dylan and Noah talk about using Figma to build design systems, some exciting new features on the platform, and much more!
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Links Mentioned in Overtime
Noah Stokes: Hi. My name is Noah Stokes. I’m filling in for Dan on the podcast. Today, we have Dylan Field, CEO and co-founder of Figma. Figma is really changing the game in the design tool space. Listen in as Dylan shares a bit about what makes Figma so special.
Noah Stokes: Well, hey, thanks for joining me today. I’m a huge fan of Figma and what you guys are doing there.
Dylan Field: Thanks for having me.
Noah Stokes: I’ve got to admit, Figma feels a little bit like black magic to me. I’m kind of blown away, the power of the tool and that it runs in a web browser. Do you ever find yourself looking back in a bit of awe at what you guys have built here?
Dylan Field: Well, first off, thank you. Yeah, I mean, I think yes and no. I’ve now lived in a world where this is possible for the past seven years or so. That was really what made us decide to start Figma in the first place. Going back, I met my co-founder, Evan, at Brown and he was my TA. Evan tried to convince me that we should go build Photoshop in the browser. My first reaction was that that was impossible and what a terrible idea. From there, we kept talking more and more about, would this be possible? Would you do it?
We started looking really deeply into WebGL and kind of convinced ourselves that, yes, it was possible. Then it was, okay, well, Photoshop has all these different use cases, so that doesn’t quite make sense. Meanwhile, I was interning at Flipboard and started to realize that the processes that people use to share files and collaborate are just so broken. Also, it didn’t help that the tool I was using, Fireworks at the time, just crashed every 5 to 10 minutes, and that was after I had upgraded the RAM of my computer.
Noah Stokes: Right.
Dylan Field: And so, we started getting really excited about the idea of, can we make a design tool that’s collaborative, collab-based? We just started to one by one, really tackle each part of the problem to prove that it was possible and realize that it was possible. I think back in 2012, 2013, I think if I could teleport myself from then to now, I’d be like, “Damn, this is awesome,” but after five plus years of seeing it be possible and every time we had a hurdle, knowing that we have prototypes that will solve that, now I’m a little less like, “Oh, gosh,” if that makes sense.
Noah Stokes: No, totally. I totally get it.
Dylan Field: I appreciate you think that.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, I’m super impressed. I’ve built nothing as complex as Figma, but my share of web apps. Figma is just, it’s great. You mentioned it being a collaborative design tool. I’m curious because my initial thought when I first heard about Figma was, “I don’t want that hovering art director watching me do all this design,” but in hindsight, I think I misunderstood the pitch and where we are now, or at least what I’m doing here, Director of Design at Dribbble, I see the collaboration as the other engineers or other engineers I see as PM’s, marketing folks, our leadership team, to all have access to these files, this design work for feedback.
Really, it’s replaced… I was thinking more about this, I think, five tools. It’s a replaced a design tool. Previously, it was Sketch. It replaced Abstract for version control. It replaced InVision for feedback on mocks. It replaced whatever we would do for user testing and the fact that we could create a prototype and just share that link with some users. It replaced Dropbox for storing all the files; all in this one app. To me, that’s really what the collaboration is about. But I’m coming at it from the management side, not the maker side. Were you think collaboration between designers when you first started or were you thinking of that bigger picture of collaboration?
Dylan Field: We were definitely excited about the bigger picture of collaboration. Like I said, I had that experience as an intern on a design team from Flipboard and so I had seen firsthand designer designer collaborations being issued. The more that we really studied and researched how different teams worked, we realized that there was a lot of variance, but at the same time, the thing that … there are sort of two different mega trends that were happening. One of those was that, I think, because software was becoming more important than ever, more people were just trying to build software in the first place.
The second was that as they were trying to build software, that was becoming more and more easy. The root way to differentiate is through design. Because people care more and more about design, and design is a differentiator into what makes you win or lose, more people around the design team also want to collaborate with designers. The more that we did this research, the more we realized the sort of narrative, I think, back in 2012, 2013 of the design community was, “If only design could have a seat at the table.” We started to realize that actually different companies are in different stages, but a lot of people actually want a seat at the designer’s table.
Design has actually gained more power gradually in these organizations. We got really excited about the idea of, how do we make it so that more people can collaborate with design? I think even more long term, our hope is that more people become designers and actually create assets in the first place. I see no reason why using a design system, an engineer, or a product manager can’t also express themselves visually rather than write us back.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, that’s great. I mean, you know, it’s got simple tools. You guys have simplified the pen tool to where somebody like me was always baffled by it in Illustrator can actually use it now and feel like I’m somewhat decent with it. I feel like you guys have done that. So, the goal is to enable anybody, not just the traditional designer to go after it?
Dylan Field: Yeah, exactly. We did a lot of research with the pen tool, too. It is a trade off there because if you want to make it truly intuitive, you have to sacrifice power. The most intuitive version of the pen tool is one where you’re basically using a pencil tool. If you show your mom … I’m using your mom as an example because my mom is not as technical, although, she’s recently learned Figma. Plenty of mothers out there that are deeply technical. That’s not the plan for me. If you show someone who is not technical, like my mother, how to use the pen tool, the first thing that they’ll try to do is to drag it across the screen.
They will then … If you show them, “Okay, actually to use more power, here’s how you actually click twice to create a curve or a line,” they’ll eventually get it. For us, we’re trying to go for that intersection of, “Okay, we do know the core user that’s going to be our target customer is a power designer.” At the same time, we want to make it so that these tools behave in more intuitive ways. As we researched the pen tool, one thing that was interesting too was that even professional designers were not using the pen tool all the time. A lot of times they were doing shape construction either through operations as a way to create icons or they were actually using a complex masking operations in Photoshop. Because we did that research, we realized very quickly that the pencil was not even intuitive for professional designers. It seemed to be an opportunity as well.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, definitely. It’s interesting because you and Evan, your co-founder, both engineering backgrounds. It’s interesting to hear that you’re actually putting in the research and the effort to kind of understand how designers use it because, would it be correct to say that it’s not your first passion or first strongest skill set?
Dylan Field: I definitely wouldn’t call engineering or design my strongest skill set at this point. Having had the privilege of working with people who are absolutely incredible engineers and designers, and in some cases for our team, many of our designers are actually both. Yeah, I think someone like Evan or many other engineers on our team are just so incredible when it comes to the engineering side. It’s an amazing team that we get to work with. For me, personally, I had pretty deep interest in design growing up. I didn’t necessarily have the words to express that and I didn’t know UI design was a thing until I was in college. At that point, I was already doing a CS Math degree.
I found design, I think, and started to realize that interface design, interaction design was something that I was really interested in exploring. Actually, through data visualization. From there, kind of got it more into UI design and that’s why I took a semester off from college was to try to figure out if I wanted to go down the route of being a designer, an engineer, or a product person. What was the difference between design and product? I didn’t really know. That’s when I started getting really exposed to design tools for the first time deeply. I mean, I had used Photoshop and Illustrator before more, but not a day to day setting.
Noah Stokes: Yeah. That’s rad. I have an engineering background, too. I’m doing design stuff now, obviously, and have been for the past decade or so, but that argument, should designers code? I think somebody with an engineering background or a passion for design, I think you get a really well-rounded product person in general when they understand both sides of the playing field there. It seems to show in what you guys are doing at Figma. It’s really impressive.
Dylan Field: Thank you.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, we use Figma in kind of the traditional, we’re a remote team so Figma is what our designers use to design and then our front-enders get in there, export assets, just kind of the traditional way. Have you got any interesting use cases you could share that you’ve heard of, of people using Figma?
Dylan Field: Yeah, I mean, it’s been pretty interesting to see across different companies how people are using it. I mean, I think we were really shocked at first a few years back when we started companies like Uber, for example, starting to move their entire company over to Figma. That was one that started to really shock me. They’re now doing, I think, over 90 percent of their product design work in Figma, if not 100 percent.
Noah Stokes: Wow.
Dylan Field: A lot of that was empowered, too, by their design system. Square is another one where they migrated to Figma, just like 100 designers working on I think over 25 products over to Figma in a very short period of time. They now have 60 unique design systems that’s made in IOS, Android, and web, all in Figma. I think I also get excited when people have, not just like these big tech companies, but also some of the smaller, individual use cases. I love hearing about when people are able to pay for freelance work and pay their medical bills because they have access to Figma; even if they’re sort of a more junior or beginner designers.
I’ve enjoyed hearing sort of use cases that are atypical and not necessarily interface design. I’ve had friends tell me about how they made their family tree in Figma. One time I went to the office of one of our first customer and the CEO’s EA, who’s a wonderful woman, came up to me and she showed me how she had built out their entire seating chart using Figma and told me how it was so helpful. These are the typical cases that we’re designing for, but it’s really exciting for me whenever I can see people use Figma as a general tool for visual communication as well.
Noah Stokes: Definitely, definitely. You just reminded me. I just made a decision tree the other day.
Dylan Field: That’s awesome.
Noah Stokes: I kind of started searching around the web, and you’re looking like, “Oh, okay. These apps are dedicated for this type of work,” and then I was like, “I’m just going to do it in Figma,” and boom, I had it done and it’s great.
Noah Stokes: Okay, I had a question for you because one of our designers just shared with me a link to some plug-ins for Figma. I feel like it’s one … it’s kind of a hangup for some people switching from other design tools to Figma because a lot of people have a flow that depends heavily on third party plug-ins. I haven’t done any homework on this so I apologize if it’s out there somewhere on the site, but does Figma have like a plug-in API or is this kind of like a rogue effort and they’re kind of trying to keep up with changes that you guys are doing or do you have plans for a plug-in API if you don’t have one now?
Dylan Field: When is this podcast coming out?
Noah Stokes: I don’t know. I don’t know, honestly. Maybe the end of the month, maybe the beginning of next month.
Dylan Field: Yeah, so we actually have a plug-in development effort going underway.
Noah Stokes: Okay.
Dylan Field: Which I’m really excited to share.
Noah Stokes: Yeah.
Dylan Field: But, if you’re interested in building plug-ins with us, please do reach out. Actually, last week … sorry, two weeks ago, we had a maker week where we all did … it was like three days, it wasn’t quite a week. We all basically did internal development and I was so excited because I got to code a little bit. At this point, I’m pretty rusty. I’m not like a great engineer. I was able to make some plug-ins that I was super excited by. I showed them to the company and it got oohs and ahhs and it felt really good.
Noah Stokes: Yeah. That’s rad. I can understand the engineering feat and the idea of, you know, almost in a way a poorly coded plug-in that kind of brings things to a grinding halt. It could reflect poorly on Figma so that the amount of effort to like … I don’t know what you do if you sandbox each of these, you know, I wonder how many maker Apple would approve the apps on the phone because it could be a representation of their device if it performs poorly, right? People could misconstrue that.
Dylan Field: Exactly.
Noah Stokes: That’s very rad to hear. I think my team will be pumped. Right now all I know is that they’re enabling some type of dark mode, which is true to form for all designers. Love the dark mode. That’s very cool, very exciting. I’d love to chat with you for a little bit about design systems.
Dylan Field: Absolutely.
Noah Stokes: They seem to be more and more commonplace. Figma’s built in tools make it dead simple to create a design system, I think. In fact, we just finished ours here so we have the design system, not in code yet, but we have it in components inside of Figma. It’s kind of ridiculous how drag and drop easy it is to recreate pages on Dribbble for the team to riff off of. I just saw that Framer introduced kind of a code view into their tool. I think it was just earlier this week, which is very interesting because design systems like, “We’ve done our part, but now our front-end team needs to take all those components and bring them to life,” and that’s an entirely different tool set, right? The idea that Framer kind of took for this combining of code and design into one tool is really interesting to me. I know that Figma kind of has a code … you could view the CSS. Is this something that you guys would be interested in getting into as well? Is that something you see as part of the future for Figma?
Dylan Field: Yeah. I mean, there’s a lot of really interesting work happening across the board on design to code. I think that it’s sort of been the mythical place that everyone’s trying to reach over the past few decades is, can we make it so that we have a visual interface design tool and then from there you’re able to create code? To me, the challenge is not only to figure out how to do that, but also figure out how to make it so that you’re able to really seamlessly get your ideas out of your head. There are ways that you can easily make it so that there’s constraints in the tool, which make it so that if you always nest frames, for example, and you have to really make sure that everything’s perfectly nested, that really helps establish few hierarchies and make it so that you’re able to translate to code much easier.
However, it does impair the ability for someone to just get into the tool and really rapidly ideate and work. For us, I think that as we think about design systems and things that are well structured, we’re really here to make sure that that stuff can map to code; especially if it’s easier to find. We’re going to do it in a way that is across platforms and across languages, rather than betting on React, for example. Because, you know, these things change all the time. You don’t really want to be Dream Weaver and be stuck with HTML before CSS.
Noah Stokes: Right.
Dylan Field: At the same time, we don’t want to do that at the expense of everyone that can come into the tool and wants to be able to visually express themselves and ideas out of their head onto the canvas really quickly. It’s sort of a non-answer, but I think that’s sort of the framework of how we’re thinking about it and the problem.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, that’s spot on. That’s really great to think about. I think you’re absolutely right, we’re not building our design system on React. It’s actually kind of interesting because there’s very little … A lot of people talk about design systems, how to sell them to leadership from all the way to like, “Here’s a framework for all the components you might want to consider building.” But, I’m finding very few people talking about actually implementing these things into existing code bases and that’s where the paths diverge a lot with a lot of people that I’ve talked to.
Dylan Field: Yeah. I think there’s just such interesting problems, though, for design systems overall. You know, both in terms of like, how do you think about design systems more holistically? Not just about its components and styles, but more than that. I think also thinking through, how do you get to a design system in the first place? A lot of people that are sort of one person shops or one person teams, they don’t think about design systems, but they can still be super valuable in terms of reuse and how fast you can work, even for individual designers.
One problem that we think a lot about is like, how can you go from a file where you don’t have a design system, you’ve just been kind of like working as you go and end up with a design system really fast? That’s one framing of the problem that I like a lot, too. In addition to that, we’re trying to make sure that people can find the right components on a large team and make sure that people are able to work effectively across design systems and update them. Also, how do you share your design system with the community? I think that the wider world … There will become a time when the wider world is interested in contributing and consuming from design systems from all sorts of digital products. I think that design systems might pass through that permeable membrane of the organization. That’s something that we’re thinking about as well, is how to enable that more.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, that’s kind of in line with … I listened to a podcast in prep for this with you. You were talking about this idea of open source design.
Dylan Field: Mm-hmm.
Noah Stokes: Is that kind of what you’re getting at here is that you could create a design system that could potentially be reused by other people outside of you or entirely?
Dylan Field: Potentially. Yeah, it’s something that we’re very interested in exploring the mechanics of how that could work.
Noah Stokes: Right. That’s very cool. I dig it. What about other like future of design, in general? How do you see Figma evolving? I don’t even know. What are you guys thinking about that’s beyond what we’re currently facing right now?
Dylan Field: Yeah. A lot. I’m trying to think of what’s okay for me to share. I think one thing that we can talk about a little bit is I think a lot of people think of collaboration as multiplayer. That is definitely a great component of it and I’m really proud of the multiplayer work we’ve done. I really see that as just a start. While I’m excited about improving things like comments in Figma, etc, what I’m really excited about is trying to get to the point where everyone in the organization has a way to push out design work to other people and people that are outside of the design team are able to better consume design work.
Again, going back to that sort of like mega trend of, design is becoming this power house inside of organizations. At a lot of companies, design is really what’s going to drive the product forward and make the company win or lose. More and more people care about what the design team is doing and because the future of their product is the future of their organization. How do we make it so that more people can understand what’s going on and consume that information? Also, to contribute to the design process more and get involved.
Noah Stokes: Yeah.
Dylan Field: I think that there’s sort of the lines between strategic work of where it should be going and pixel work are starting to blur a bit. There’s a lot we can do to enable more people to contribute to design process that way.
Noah Stokes: Oh, very cool. You’re suited for it because it’s not … Probably my favorite thing about Figma is that this is available in the browser and it’s just a link and people have access to everything right there so you’re already set up for that. It’s interesting to see the competition kind of come along and go, “Hey, we may start doing multiplayer or stuff in the browser,” and you guys are kind of, light years isn’t the word, but you’re definitely several steps ahead of that. I’ve got to ask you this question because as a product builder, and even as we’ve talked just briefly on a couple of future ideas or things, you guys, I’m so impressed with how fast you ship features.
Dylan Field: Thank you.
Noah Stokes: You get stuff out the door so quickly. What’s that like? Is everybody there just wicked smart? Which I’m sure they are, but you know, how do you guys move so quickly? They’re not like little, tiny features. They’re significant updates, it feels like, every month.
Dylan Field: Yeah. Everyone at Figma is really humble and it’s one of things I appreciate most, but I will brag for them a little bit. I think the team is just absolutely incredible. I feel so privileged to work with this group of people. It’s so exciting for me everyday to come into work and to see what the team is building and to collaborate with them. I think it’s a huge part of it, honestly. I think another big part is we’re not perfect. If you ever have no tech debt, you’re a dead product. However, I think that we consistently pay back our tech debt, and design debt, and product debt. There’s lots of different forms of debt, but we try to make sure that we’re able to move quickly.
Again, we’re not perfect. There’s products right now we have and there’s products upcoming where we’ll pay down more debt. It’s something that we do invest in. We make sure that our development process doesn’t slow down, which is the natural course of things over time. I think we’ve been good at trying to make sure that we keep our staff modern and make sure that we don’t over rely on things that served us once, but no longer serve.
Noah Stokes: Right. You guys do a good job. I’ve seen you … I forget who it was. It was on Twitter and somebody gave you a suggestion for a feature or something like that. You had replied and said that you liked it, or you know, “Great idea,” or, “Yeah, we’ll work on getting that in.” How do you kind of balance your road map with the feedback that you’re getting because it seemed like you were open to it and I can image the amount of feedback you probably do get from folks because designers, as we both know, can be an opinionated bunch.
Dylan Field: Totally.
Noah Stokes: How do you balance that feedback with your roadmap?
Dylan Field: Yeah, I mean, I think that we have pretty active Slack channels internally where we talk about thing that come in through support requests, through Twitter, through in person conversations, and other channels as well like Spectrum. We’re always talking about different ideas that people have brought up or riffing on things and talking about problems that customers are having. I think we’re pretty customer centric and we really try to make it so that we’re able to quickly reply to people when the task is actually pretty trivial sometimes to actually implement.
One thing we’ve done internally that I’ve really appreciated is we have sort of a bucket of tasks that are flagged in small wins. These are things that the team can really just jump in on and fix very quickly. By fixing those things, we know people will be happy, it will fix someone’s workflow, or make someone’s life a little bit easier, but it’s actually not a big task for us. We try to make room for us and also, we occasionally have quality weeks as well where there’s always bugs that come up and we try to make sure that we’re paying down that bug backlog to make sure that we are always addressing the most urgent work flow issues and making sure that working at Figma is as seamless as possible.
We hold ourselves to a high standard, so I’m not saying that we’re perfect. I think there’s always a debate. When we are working on a lot of small things, we’re pushing ourselves to go bigger. When we’re working on a big things, it’s like, “Oh man, we’re not working on enough small stuff. We should be iterating faster in a more local way.” I think we’re sort of a pendulum that goes back and forth and we’re always debating ourselves internally on sort of where that exact track should be. We really like to find ways to really quickly iterate with our community because we have an amazing community of designers, and we’ve known that from the beginning. I mean, even from the start, we had people sending us 10 page docs of feedback and really engage in this deep way, and give us advice, and participate in research studies. I don’t think that I would like this job a tenth as much if it wasn’t for the people around us. Designers are kind of the idea customer base, to be honest.
Noah Stokes: Yeah. That’s great. It sounds like you’ve got a nice balance, I think. From this side, from the outside, everything has always just come across as wonderful, regardless whether it was a small thing or something larger. Even the way you guys are kind of innovating, too, with the … I don’t know when smart selections came out, but when I saw that-
Dylan Field: Last year, yeah.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, it was just one of those things where you go, “Where has this been all my life?” I mean, I started in Photoshop, in Dreameaver. You mentioned Dreamweaver. I wish that I had a tool like Figma, or one existed 15 years ago. That would be incredible.
Dylan Field: Yeah, I think we talk to a lot of people who say things like that, like, “I wish that I got started in design now instead of 15 years ago, instead of 30 years ago.” It’s so much different now for new designers and my hope is that the design industry just becomes a lot larger and there’s more and more people that call themselves designers out there, and that corporations are hiring designers for a lot of different roles. It’s really exciting to see how to like change as the tools become easier to use, but also more intuitive and more collaborative for everybody.
On the smart selection side, that sort of class of features is something that I’m really excited about. I’ve also made a lot of iterations since then as well. I think one thing that’s kind of been interesting from the product development standpoint is that, that stuff doesn’t come from me or top down at all. It all comes from the team and I find that those kind of breakthroughs happen when designers and engineers are just kind of able to jam together and have some time to really explore. It’s really interesting because we’ve got this super long roadmap of all the things we want to do, but at the same time, you have to make that room for people to play and to collaborate as well. I don’t know if that’s applicable to people listening, but it’s one thing I would encourage everyone to try, is just to make that room to play and to not be as scripted as you might usually be.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, definitely. Do you guys … I mean, I don’t know if they’ll cut this out or not, but I’m curious, do you run with cross functional teams building certain parts of the product? How is your work set up like that?
Dylan Field: Yeah. We have a few different groups. Right now, the design team is together, but they’re often working collaboratively. We have a lot of break out spaces in the office where people can kind of just jam together at different times. We also encourage people to work cross functionally, especially during sort of like maker weeks or times where people are able to be more free form. I think also we have a culture where we really encourage people to grab lunch together, even if they’re not working together. One of my favorite Slack apps that I use is Donut. I don’t know if you use this at Dribbble, but it basically pairs people in the company to go meet each other.
Noah Stokes: Yeah. Somebody just pitched that like last week here.
Dylan Field: Yeah. It’s one of my favorite things because it makes it so that these sort of cross functional relationships happen. I find that basically every time that somebody, maybe it’s someone from sales and someone from design, or somebody who’s on the growth team and someone who’s doing infrastructure. Whatever it is, these people connecting and talking about the problems they’re facing, often sparks new ideas that otherwise wouldn’t happen. It’s one thing that I think is really exciting and I hope to preserve as the company gets bigger.
Noah Stokes: I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you a couple of feature requests.
Dylan Field: Okay, go for it.
Noah Stokes: I asked the designers; negative spread on shadows is a request, multiple borders is a request, and then any type of animation tool or motion kind of stuff. I had to make a gif. Our CEO, Zack, asked me for something to be animated. It did play nice with Principle for Mac and I was able to kind of import the frame that I was working on.
Dylan Field: I love Principle.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, in animation tools, it could be cool, too.
Dylan Field: What were you trying to do for animation?
Noah Stokes: It was just simple movement, point A to point B, transition over time. Old school flash stuff.
Dylan Field: Got it. I will bring that back to the team, thank you.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, those are what they’re looking for. We’re all loving it here. I want to be respectful of your time. I don’t have any more questions. I don’t know if you have questions for me. That’s not usually how podcasts work.
Dylan Field: Well, I’m curious to hear more about like sort of what your experience was like transitioning over to Figma.
Noah Stokes: Okay, like I said earlier, I was in Photoshop for a very long time. I went to Sketch kind of kicking and screaming, but really understanding that in order to build a proper design system, I needed to use a more modern tool. At the time, Sketch was the choice, went there. Well, that wasn’t my first taste of it. I did some open source collaboration with a few designers in Figma prior. My biggest fear was working in the browser, that I would lose the tab, that I would accidentally close it, or something along those lines, and that it would feel sluggish and not very responsive, like a native app would.
I do run Figma with the Mac, with the desktop app, which I assume is just a wrapper around kind of a browser. You know, I’m not making nearly as much as I used to, but it really has become intuitive for me. I still have some of the Photoshop keyboard shortcut memory stuff, but Figma is closing in on that in terms of not really having to look for the tool that I want to use or what I want to do. Just knowing where it is or knowing the shortcut and moving around.
I was thinking about that this morning actually. It’s really kind of grown on me and would be my go-to tool over Photoshop, which is saying a lot for all the people who made grumpy old guy, get off my lawn, “I want my Photoshop.” The move from Sketch to Figma actually felt like an improvement. No offense to the Sketch crew over there, but it felt snappier and it felt easier to use for me.
Dylan Field: How are you all collaborating in Figma?
Noah Stokes: We run a couple of cross functional teams that focus on different areas of Dribbble. Each team has one designer on it, front end developers, back end developers, a PM. Our designers will get in and do the initial work, riff on it with their PM or with their cross functional peers, and then they’ll start asking for feedback outside of that circle. That’s where the rest of the team starts to jump in and leave comments and feedback. Actually, a downside to it, when I first joined, I actually had to ask some folks on the leadership team to stop commenting so much because the work was available to them at any point that they wanted to look and see, “Oh, how’s progress going on this project?”
They could hop in and they would leave comments. At times, it could derail the designer who maybe wasn’t ready for feedback yet or was still kind of mid-idea, was mid-iteration, and wasn’t ready to really show off the work. I had designers telling me, “I’ve got it, but I’m kind of keeping it in my drafts because I don’t want feedback on it yet.” We ended up just devising a system with the pages using emoji, just kind of like a blue dot or a red dot to denote like, “Okay, any art board in this page is open for critique. If it’s red, then no, we’re not ready for it yet.” That helped smooth things along.
Dylan Field: Something I’ve seen a lot of people do is use emoji to kind of indicate state for something.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, and so that was really helpful. It helped kind of draw lines between when things were ready to be previewed or not, but what I love about it is that everybody knows where to go. Everybody who’s not an IC knows where to go to find the files to look at them. Honestly, that was such a bear using previous processes at different jobs. “Do you have Dropbox synced? Which final? Which version is that?” All of that stuff is gone. It’s so seamless for us that you don’t even realize, oh, there’s no file. Everything’s right here. That’s pretty handy. It makes, for me especially being on the management side of things, it makes it very, very nice to kind of just keep a high level overview of everything that’s going on. At the end of the day, I basically take all of my Figma emails that come in that are comments and then at the end of the day, I go through and run through all of that and just leave feedback for the team via the comments and that’s kind of how I do my non-hovering art director stuff.
Dylan Field: How are you all using design systems?
Noah Stokes: Right now, I mean, this was my number one task joining the team was to get us a design system. Dribbble is almost 10 years old. It didn’t have a design system. It kind of looked like it didn’t have a design system. There’s a lot of sprawl across the site of different styles over time. You know, the goal was to build a design system based on the current aesthetic and then the plan was to be able to push Dribbble into the future building it off of the design system that we create. Right now, we don’t have it done in code yet. We do have all the components built in Figma and that’s been super handy for the team, but we don’t have a proper design system yet, but it’s coming. I hope in the next four to six months it should be completed.
Dylan Field: That’s cool to hear. Thanks for sharing that.
Noah Stokes: Yeah, definitely. That’s for building a tool that we all love. It wasn’t hard to sell anybody on it, especially when I said, “Hey, you can drop all these other products,” which are friends of ours and I love them, but shoot, I look like a hero going, “We can do it all in Figma.” I’m really happy that this is the tool and that you guys are building it because it’s really kind of … I know the term “unicorn” is used a lot with startups and whatnot, but it feels like it does everything we need and does it so well so I’m stoked to be using it for sure.
Dylan Field: Thanks so much. I mean, we have lots of work ahead so we’re excited to keep building for you and to making the best tool possible.
Noah Stokes: Yeah. Thanks, Dylan. Thanks for your time today.
Dylan Field: Absolutely.