On Sept. 15, Adobe announced a deal to buy the design platform Figma for $20 billion — Adobe's largest acquisition to date.
According to company officials the new asset will expand their product portfolio with Figma’s web-based, multiplayer capabilities and accelerate the delivery of Adobe’s Creative Cloud technologies on the web.
In a statement, Chairman and CEO of Adobe Shantanu Narayen, said, “The combination of Adobe and Figma is transformational and will accelerate our vision for collaborative creativity.”
However, the acquisition comes with several layers, including intent questions of collaboration of an acquired tool vs. market elimination, learning curves for UX designers and what, if any software suites, will fade into the sunset.
Figma Had What Adobe Didn't
Sheila Mahoutchian, Forrester senior analyst, said when it comes to enabling real-time, full-featured, browser-based collaboration, Adobe was simply “late to the game.”
By comparison, Figma, with its real-time collaboration and rapid prototyping capabilities, was far ahead — having already penetrated markets at companies like Airbnb, BP, Kimberly-Clark, Microsoft and Salesforce.
“Figma's best-in-class collaboration workflow platform has changed the landscape for design tools, moving the world of design from individual contributors to collaboration-based team enablement,” Mahoutchian said. “We're looking forward to learning more on how Adobe will integrate these trends and learnings into its expansive suite of design tools.”
In the past, designers would be assigned a deliverable or an asset to create. They would go off and create it, then bring it back as a final deliverable. However, she said, since a lot of that work was print and early web experiences, they didn’t have dynamic, changing needs to respond to — just an objective and a resulting asset that endeavored to meet that objective.
Digital experience assets in service to a refined and constantly evolving customer experience are the primary deliverables needed from designers, according to Mahoutchian. They want to drive most of a brand’s customer interaction, which moves quickly due to rapid market evolution, increased customer digital literacy and value-based differentiation, she added, as opposed to commoditized price differentiations.
“Inherent in the shift is an expansion toward more input, in shorter timeframes, from diverse stakeholders toward the creation and deployment of those assets," Mahoutchian said.
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Collaboration or Elimination Play?
The Figma acquisition is all about getting rid of the competition, said Darren Hood, experience design manager at Arity.
“From a business perspective, Adobe has, once again, eliminated a major competitor,” Hood said. “There are reports they will allow Figma to operate independently, but even the most novice of businesspeople knows that wouldn't be smart or savvy.”
Oen Michael Hammonds, IBM distinguished design executive, said these acquisitions happen a lot and, on the surface, it can appear as if Adobe taking out the competition.
“Back in the early 2000's Adobe acquired Macromedia and slowly took features from Freehand, Fireworks and other products and integrated them into their core offerings,” Hammonds said. “My hypothesis is that this is what they will do with Figma. I would not be surprised though if Figma becomes a core product and XD (Adobe's design tool) actually gets sunset.”
Tony Brinton, founder and principal at Brinton Design and director of digital at OTTO Brand Lab said at the end of the day Adobe decided it’s a better path to acquire Figma, than to chase them for years.
“It seems to me that Adobe recognized that Figma delivers a collaborative design experience that UX/UI professionals on the product side and marketing side have been wanting,” Brinton said. “Figma took a modern approach to technologically architecting the platform with that goal in mind — it’s a true cloud-based platform, where Adobe products are sort of a hybrid model — they had the challenge of backing their legacy products into that model, so there were compromises and limitations.”
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In Align With Design
What's the back story on Figma? Figma came out of nowhere in 2016 to become "the operating system" for designers, said Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer at Recorded Future.
“Designers love Figma for its speed and simplicity," he added. "But they have a more complicated relationship with the Adobe Creative Cloud, leaving Adobe quite vulnerable. That's why Adobe needs Figma to solidify its base of creative users and was willing to pay a massive premium for access to that audience.”
Brian Nemhauser, vice president of product at Propel, Inc., said Adobe has been dedicated to serving the creative professional user for decades, and as the core of its business, it will always look to bring the best tools in the industry for critical creative work under one roof so that users get everything they need from Creative Cloud.
“Figma has become the clear standard for screen design, and this move allows Adobe to continue to be the one-stop shop for creative pros and for users to get everything they need for one price,” Nemhauser said. “Acquisition has been a crucial component of Adobe's business from the days of Photoshop and After Effects to Macromedia and now Figma. Each of those moves brought new expertise and capabilities to Adobe and resulted in significant new value for users and the company.”
Since Adobe is primarily a desktop-first application company, Nemhauser said the acquisition of Figma and its web-first application will allow Adobe to have a proven web platform that delivers more fully on the promise of Creative Cloud.
“In this space, creative work can happen anywhere, and the Adobe funnel will be improved by simplifying and accelerating the time needed to go from awareness to active use of a tool,” he said. "In other words — no need to wait for a 2GB download.”
What It Means for Adobe Users
Hood believes that the answer to what’s ahead remains to be seen because Adobe's history is chock full of instances where it sunset the least popular, or the least robust of competing tools, even if it meant doing so to its own product like Dreamweaver vs. GoLive and Flash vs. LiveMotion.
“Based on this history, we have seen that Adobe is not averse to placing an acquired product on center stage,” Hood said. “Between Figma and XD, Figma appears to be more popular. For this reason, I think it would be wise for XD users to get acquainted with Figma.”
Brinton agrees and said the real question should be what this deal means for Adobe XD users.
“Since Adobe will no longer be developing or supporting XD, designers should move over to Figma as soon as possible,” Brinton said. “There will be a learning curve which will be easier or harder depending on the individual, but the two share enough of the same conceptual paradigms that it shouldn’t be too heavy a burden.”
Nemhauser said the rise of Figma reinvigorated a space that was somewhat stagnant.
“Every new business needs a website, and many need an app," he said. "The pandemic has accelerated the move of many businesses online and led to greater demand for UX design. It's a great time to be a UX designer, and this move by Adobe demonstrates just how critical they see those users and their needs are to the future of creative work.”
He believes the acquisition of Figma will provide several advantages for Adobe users including:
- More value for the same price
- Greater integration between Adobe's flagship tools and the Figma platform that will simplify workflows and save time
- More web-based tools in the future, likely built on the Figma codebase
“In time it will mean smoother and easier workflows in working with Adobe flagship tools,” Nemhauser said. “It will also likely mean that the Figma roadmap will be accelerated and expanded as Adobe will bring their toolset to the Figma codebase instead of vice versa.”
And, he added, don't be surprised to see things like stock photography, fonts and other valuable assets from Adobe made available to Figma users.
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What It Means for Figma Users
Adobe's takeover may mean nothing at first, according to Brinton. But as for the future, it’s a “wait and see” scenario.
“Many designers that have been around a while," he said. "Remember Adobe’s acquisition of Macromedia, which most of us old timers agree was a travesty because Adobe arrogantly gutted some of their competitive products which were frankly better. Macromedia understood design for screens/digital from the jump whereas Adobe did not. Adobe could argue that Photoshop’s market share as the interactive designer’s tool of choice for many years would prove that statement wrong, but it doesn’t. It was always a bad tool for that kind of work, and it was never the intent of the software. So many designers just put up with it for way too long.”
Hood once again emphasized that Figma users who are not already familiar with the Adobe universe should begin acquainting themselves.
“If Figma supplants XD, it could be included with an Adobe Creative Suite subscription,” Hood said. “Adobe is also not hesitant to market its most popular products outside the scope of its suites."
In other words, he wouldn't be surprised to see Figma included with the Adobe Creative Suite and offered as a solo product, such as they do today with Photoshop, Lightroom and other applications.
Dylan Field, Figma’s co-founder and CEO, will continue to lead the Figma team, reporting to David Wadhwani, president of Adobe’s Digital Media business. And in a blog post addressing the sale, he noted the merger was an opportunity for Figma “to accelerate the growth and innovation of the Figma platform with access to Adobe’s technology, expertise and resources in the creative space.”
Each company will continue to operate independently until the transaction closes in 2023 — but Field emphasized that Figma will retain a certain level of autonomy.
“The entire Figma team will report to me,” he stated. “We plan to continue to run Figma the way we have always run Figma — continuing to do what we believe is best for our community, our culture and our business.”
However, for Figma fans, the changes may take some getting used to.
“It will be scary at first, as many have seen Figma as an alternative to Adobe tools,” Nemhauser said. “Adobe will likely do the wise thing here and take steps to reassure Figma users that the tool will be exactly the same product they have come to love and there should be additional value added for free.”
Hammonds agrees there will be a slight pain period for users of both products as they figure out integrations across products. He added, “The hope is that Adobe is listening to all the core users of these products and also remember lessons learned from the Macromedia acquisition.”
What It Means for the UX Design Space
Hammonds doesn’t think the Figma acquisition will have as big an impact on the UX design space as people seem to think.
“Designers need to be resourceful, and growth minded when these tooling shifts happen,” Hammonds said. “They happen a lot. Either next week, next month, or a year from now, someone else will come out with the next best UX thing and this cycle will start over again.”
According to Brinton, the fact that this is news at all is testament to the continued rise of UX Design over many years, which he believes is a wonderful thing.
“Consolidation like Adobe’s acquisition of Figma often stifles innovation," Brinton said. "There’s a chance that Figma will not continue to develop at the rate that it has been, or that Adobe will force-fit it into their ecosystem like a square peg in a round hole. Let’s hope not. Since it was such a big deal, Adobe no doubt has a strong vision for the future. It would be interesting if Adobe looked to Figma’s technical foundation as the new ground zero for Adobe’s ecosystem. A fresh start perhaps?”
Hood admits he is known for stressing that pure UX is a tool-agnostic discipline and while many are taken aback by the recent acquisition news, he believes it should be known and understood that Adobe's purchase of Figma actually has zero impact on the UX design world.
“The pillars of UX and its many methods and methodologies are still in place and haven't moved one iota,” he said. “If a tool dictated our state, we would be in grave danger as a discipline.”