Figma: What It Is and What It’s Capable of

Posted on June 16, 2023 | Updated on October 2, 2023

Designers know all too well the number of issues they can encounter while working on user interface (UI) and user experience (UX). Unintended bugs, application crashes, lagging and limited tools stifle creativity and make the process that much harder. Designing a website becomes more about simply getting it done rather than crafting something visitors will love. Is there any solution to the design and collaboration issues desktop applications introduce? Enter Figma — a UI and UX tool that encompasses everything a designer could want.

This excellent application takes all those concerns and allows designers to shorten their timeline, fully express their creativity and make something gorgeous. Its many offerings create multiple avenues to satisfy clients and show potential clients a designer’s capabilities. Such a streamlined process with excellent results could be the key to enticing more customers — for the client and for the business. But what is Figma and how can a designer use it?

What Is Figma?

Figma is a web-based application for website interface and experience design — as well as prototype testing — that allows real-time collaboration. Recently, it released desktop applications for all operating systems to enable offline work. It came from the minds of Dylan Field and Evan Wallace, who formulated the idea for Figma while they attended Brown University.

Field was the chairman of the Computer Science (CS) Departmental Undergraduate Group and Wallace studied graphics while being a teacher assistant in the CS department. In 2011, the two toyed with making a creative tool, though those ideas started with a meme generator and drone software. Eventually, they settled on web-based graphics and started working on the company full time after graduating.

In 2016, the program officially launched, garnering many favorable reviews from professionals. It has since designed a Community feature where businesses can share their design systems and designers can learn from each other. In 2021, the organization released FigJam — a whiteboard feature for collaboration with ease. It is currently exploring the potential of Adobe acquiring it, but users worry the larger corporation could do away with Figma or force integration with the Creative Cloud. The Federal Trade Commission and European Commission are investigating the merger.

Who Is It Meant for?

Figma is for website, application, and logo designers. Anyone who wants to design an interface will likely find the tools they want within this powerful platform. More than 800 reviewers rate Figma 4.7 out of five stars — a high consensus of satisfied users. What other UX and UI creator has that kind of accolade among designers?

Many designers have clung to Adobe, as it is the dominant figure in the world of graphic and digital design. Despite its confusing interface, it remains the industry standard. People worry about the time it will take to learn another program’s features.

However, Noble Desktop says any beginner can start successfully experimenting with Figma in just a few hours and learning the fundamentals takes a few days on average. Additionally, the price point is much more accessible and the free trial has no time limit.

A potentially surprising statistic is that more than one-third of Figma’s weekly active users are developers. It makes sense, then, that one of Figma’s features released in 2023 is a development mode that allows developers and designers to work on the same file simultaneously. Developers do so in a separate interface that gives them access to important information without requiring them to get it from design team members. The dev mode also produces production-ready code snippets.

Overall, Figma is a perfect choice for those just starting out in UX and UI design and professionals in the trade. Those with an in-depth understanding of a designer’s struggles created this application for fuss-free collaboration, more creative options and streamlined workflows. Users say a basic knowledge of Illustrator and XD is helpful, but they aren’t necessary to get Figma up and running.

What Can You Do With Figma?

Figma has many capabilities new and established designers will find incredibly valuable. Here’s just a handful of offerings to get excited about.

1. Collaborate in Real Time

Those working on teams have likely experienced the frustration of trying to communicate with their co-workers on shared projects. Who moved this asset where? Why is the site suddenly crashing? What line of code did someone add that makes the drop-down menu buttons unclickable? Silly errors can quickly turn into hours-long digging to fix the problem.

Real-time collaboration takes all that away. Designers can work with their teams in the moment and address anything that seems to take the design awry. Additionally, the Version History allows them to restore previous iterations of the design if something went catastrophically wrong. These capabilities make the development and editing process much more manageable.

2. Create Prototypes

One of the best features of Figma is the ability to make prototypes. Designers can create interactions and animations without having to code, then test those creations with ease. This prevents having to debug a site routinely and as visitors find problems after the site launches. The developers can address nearly every issue imaginable before going live or sending the final product to their client.

But this capability isn’t just for desktop websites — Figma also offers views of the site on mobile. Phone-based searches have exploded since smartphones became commonplace. As of the fourth quarter of 2021, 63% of search engine visits were on mobile, which means sites must optimize to appear normally on phones. Figma knows this and allows designers to prototype their sites on mobile devices, which can help raise traffic and the time a user spends visiting.

Additionally, designers can test the prototypes of apps they design before releasing them on iOS and Android stores. One of the hardest parts of developing an app is ensuring it isn’t buggy upon release, as too many errors can lead to user complaints and scores of negative reviews. The ability to thoroughly vet an app for flaws could help more users discover, love and share it, getting it off the ground faster.

In 2023, Figma released advanced prototyping options, including those that let people work with conditional logic and variables when making prototypes. However, these features are still getting developed and improved, so designers should consider them still in the early stages.

3. Utilize Widgets and Plugins

Are there repetitive tasks within the design workflow that could benefit from automation? Figma can integrate widgets and plugins to make those a thing of the past. Not to mention, it also allows designers to create their own if they cannot find something satisfactory. They can then choose to share the plugin or widget or keep it exclusive to their organization — possibly creating a competitive edge.

4. Manage Projects and Brainstorm

While Figma does not explicitly have project management built into the service, users are already busy designing plugins that make it an all-in-one tool. Adding such a capability to an already robust program allows businesses and freelancers to reduce the number of extra applications they use, cutting down on prices if those services have a subscription fee.

As it’s so easy to use, Figma is a great place to brainstorm ideas for a project and create mind maps with FigJam. Keeping all that information in one place makes it easy to access older thoughts that may now be better options. Plus, since each designer can access the whiteboard or project, everyone can add their ideas and no one has to worry about not being heard.

5. Download Figma Files 

Sometimes, designers need or prefer to use Figma resources that others have made ready to use. Doing that is a straightforward process that can save people time — especially if they’re still learning how to create things in Figma. Fortunately, it’s easy to download and use Figma files. 

The first step is to find files to use. They’re readily available on design marketplaces or shared within communities of designers. Then, you can open those files in Figma and export them to use in other programs. Pay attention to the various file type options, including PDF and JPEG. Choosing the best one for your project will save time and open possibilities. 

You can also choose a name and location for the exported file. Be sure to choose a unique name so it’s easier to find the file later. Consider creating a dedicated folder on your computer to use for the Figma files you find. That’s a handy organization tip, especially if you plan on downloading numerous files over the next several weeks or months. 

6. Rely on Design Tokens

Figma allows users to work with design tokens. These are variables that affect all respective parts of a site at once if altered. For example, if a designer sets up a color-based design token and changes it, that action becomes a global one. It’s easy to see how design tokens can save time and reduce manual work. They also serve as single sources of truth that support site consistency and brand recognition. 

We’ve already mentioned plugins and how helpful they can be to a designer’s process. Many plugins make it even easier to work with design tokens because they offer options that people can start using right away. Some of the tokens facilitate working with third-party tools, too. 

7. Become Acquainted With the Figma Community

People who are just getting started with Figma or interested in increasing what they can do with it will appreciate the dedicated Figma community. This product hub features a huge assortment of content, ranging from templates to plugins. Although you can find Figma-centric content elsewhere on the internet, the official community is an excellent starting point because it can provide users with so much inspiration in one place. 

8. Try Some Integrations

Many tools are even more useful when it’s easy to use other products with them. The same is true for Figma, which offers a wide range of official integrations. For example, there’s a Google Workspace integration, as well as one for Microsoft Teams and GitHub. 

Before you decide to use an integration, take the time to learn how it works and which benefits it’ll bring you. It’s then much easier to determine if the Figma integration will accelerate your workflow and support how you typically use it. The Figma website has detailed breakdowns about how to use each integration and what it can do. Refer to that content to become more familiar with the integrations without going elsewhere online to find the necessary information. 

Make the Most of Figma

The UX and UI design world has been waiting for an application like Figma. It offers a ton of innovative tools designers can use to make their site or app stand out and run as smoothly as possible. Plus, it makes collaboration and streamlining workflows quicker than ever. Consider testing out Figma’s free trial and see if its offerings live up to the hype.

About The Author

Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.

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