There were mixed reactions on Thursday morning when Adobe announced that it had acquired Figma.
Exciting press releases extolling the benefits of “collaboration” followed the news. Dylan Field, founder and CEO of Figma said: “There is a tremendous opportunity for us to accelerate the growth and innovation of the Figma platform with access to Adobe technology…”
The reaction from the design community was little less enthusiastic.
The problem for the design industry is that we’ve been here before. After the acquisition of Macromedia a period in which Adobe tried to compete, failed to update its legacy code, lost the battle, and bought the victory. You only need to look at the number of Macromedia products that previously existed in the Adobe stable (zero) to see which Figma title.
Figma has grown faster than any of its competitors over the past eight years. It is, of course, easier to grow when you start from zero. But Figma is undeniably a well-run business and probably a good investment – if not worth the $20bn Adobe paid.
Figma’s technology will support Adobe in the collaborative design stakes, where it is clearly lacking. And Adobe resources will iron out some of the kinks in Figma, especially around typography, which, if we’re being honest, is a bit hacky in places.
Adobe will (hopefully) provide a good home for the Figma team, who will have the opportunity for career advancement in a much wider pool of development teams.
And, of course, Figma’s annual revenue will start to trickle into Adobe’s vault – although it may take a while before it makes a dent in that $20bn hole.
But Adobe didn’t buy Figma for its business model, its collaborative technology, its team or its revenue stream. Adobe bought Figma users, all four million of them.
Adobe’s approach to design software is superb. It draws you in with free apps, and once you’re hooked, it integrates them with other parts of its ecosystem until you suddenly, meaninglessly, agree to a Creative Cloud subscription.
Adobe was losing customers to a competitor. And more importantly, because of Figma’s free-to-use approach for individuals, it was losing young customers to a competitor. If it hadn’t bought Figma, Adobe would have had to invest heavily in its own products and provide them for free to freelancers; that is not viable for a company with as much commitment as Adobe.
Yes, it’s completely accurate to say that competition drives innovation, and with fewer competing apps, there’s less need for companies like Adobe to build quality and reliable products. However, it is also true to say that lack of competition creates opportunities for new apps.
Somewhere out there, in a dorm room, or basement, or on a kitchen table, someone is working on Adobe’s next big acquisition. It’s probably an AR design app; we need a few more of those.
For Figma, the next 12 months will be great as Adobe works to retain the customers it bought. Within five years, you’ll probably need an Adobe Fonts subscription and a Photoshop plug-in to use Figma. In ten years, it will be stored in a code archive next to Freehand.
Some designers turn to Sketching; others will convert to Affiliation; some will shrug and continue using Figma; others will shrug and continue using XD.
If an app is intrinsic to your design work, it’s probably time to change apps. Your skills are transferable. I have changed apps many times; part I liked, part I needed. I’ve never found an app that improved my work, although it definitely improved my mood while working.
Figma took a great approach and will continue to be great until it isn’t. Tools come and go, Adobe’s acquisition team seems eternal.
The led image uses photos by Afrika ufundi, Andrea Piacquadio, Andrea Piacquadio, Anna Tarazevich, cottonbro, fauxels, Ketut Subiyanto, Mikhail Nilov, Moose Photos, Pavel Danilyuk, Pavel Danilyuk, Polina Tankilevitch, Tima Miroshnichenko.