After working as both a designer and developer in digital agencies over the last 10 years for world class brands like Nike and Honda, I've seen the massive amounts of wasted time and inefficiencies caused by doing things a certain way, just because that’s the way we did them yesterday.
If the endless meetings, stand-ups, retros, Slack channels, emails and everything else in between that distract us from doing what we were hired for wasn't enough; our workflows in general, and how we think about design and development specifically, are not working properly. Even if you can't really explain why, just like being in The Matrix or The Truman Show, you've probably felt that something isn't quite right, just as I have.
We are constantly bombarded with the propaganda that “things are moving so fast” and “we can't even keep up with all the rapid technological progress”, but this is actually a lie that we tell ourselves, because it’s simply not true. Certainly, when it comes to the design and development process, things have actually not changed very much at all. Stemming from using photo editing software to design things for the web, the “handover” process between designers and developers has remained largely unchanged for over 20 years. We desperately need to get back to the future, but I think things are moving way too slowly. Worse still, very few people seem to mind or even be thinking about it.
When I co-founded the DesignOps Melbourne meetup in 2018, I wanted to find more people who shared my belief that we are not at the end of history, despite evidence to the contrary, demonstrated by how comfortable most people have become with the way we do things today. The widely accepted way of designing and building things still revolves around nudging static pixels and fake content around an arbitrarily fixed size “art board” to try and emulate a totally different medium/production environment that is dynamic and fluid by its very nature.
Because of this status quo, where the source of truth for designers is pixels and the source of truth for developers is code, most people believe that we need to “bridge the gap” between design and development; but I believe that the distance between design and development should be zero.
Adding to that, there’s also a strange paradox where the people who can help solve these problems (developers/engineers) are almost always not interested in the problems to be solved, and if they are, they usually don't have any free time to work on them; this is certainly the case in a normal (chaotic) agency environment. The truth is that many designers don't want to think about code, and many developers don't want to think about design; so you end up with a Reservoir Dogs type stand-off where nobody does anything and not much actually gets solved.
Almost 2 years ago, I found out about a design tool called “Figma”. While its multiplayer mode and everything else about it was very impressive and clearly ahead of the competition, the thing that really stood out to me was the fact that it had been built with web technologies; unlike Photoshop, Sketch or any other desktop software common in teams for doing design work. This is (by far) the most underrated “feature” of Figma.
My interest was elevated when I tried the Figma API in 2018. It was the first time I was able to read all of the design data from a project immediately, just by using code to request it. I started to build some software on my weekends at home to start automating common tasks in my agency, like building production ready eDMs and HTML banners from Figma designs with a single click. What used to take hours, now took seconds. It literally made our old workflow 1000x faster, and it instantly became unimaginable to go back to how we thought about doing things before.
When I was invited to the Figma Plugins BETA in 2019, it planted the seed in my thoughts of going “all-in” on Figma as the platform I wanted to built on, in order to start solving some of the perennial issues faced in all other design teams. I started to port what I built with the Figma API over to native Figma Plugins, which could be run inside any Figma design project. Being able to distribute these outside of my own agency for the first time, I saw the potential to bring my own 1000x workflow gains to other people working in design teams suffering from the same problems — at scale.
Based on everything they have consistently promised (and delivered on) so far, I believe that Figma is committed to building a new future where the design and development process will look radically different than it has for the last 20 years; combined with my belief that we are not at the end of history and that there’s far more we could be doing to start doing things better, I want to be a part of building that future.
On December 20th, 2019, I ended my decade long career in digital agencies and left my day job as a lead front end developer behind to focus all of my time on solving these problems. With that, “Figmatic” was born as a bootstrapped startup focused on building premium plugins exclusively for Figma.
As Peter Thiel wrote in his brilliant book, “Zero To One” — “Positively defined, a startup is the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.” — Currently, that group consists of one person (myself), but I'm optimistic that over time, I will be able to convince more people of my plan to build a different future for doing things in design teams (and beyond).
Figmatic will start off by releasing automation plugins which solve some common time wasting tasks faced inside any design team, followed by solving much bigger and more complex problems beyond those. I am very optimistic that a much needed new future can be achieved, and I'm excited about the years ahead as we work towards the mission of getting the distance between design and production to zero.
In the end, I hope we can help to free up more of people’s time for much greater achievements, instead of it being wasted on doing the tasks in a way that we assume are “necessary” today, only because that may (or may not) have been true yesterday.
I won't be saving anything for the swim back.