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Designers underwhelmed by Adobe-Figma deal

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Team of unhappy designers gathered around a computer
Image Credits: skynesher / Getty Images

When Adobe announced it was buying Figma for $20 billion earlier this month, the news was a bombshell. But what stunned a lot of people wasn’t just the truckload of money — it was that a company whose whole raison d’être seemed to be going after Adobe was suddenly going to be part of Adobe.

Was this about Adobe and Figma building something better together, or was it a case of a big company taking a key competitor off the market? It depends on whom you asked.

Certainly, the consensus on HackerNews was disappointment that a promising startup was being absorbed by a big corporation yet again. Several designers we spoke to had similar feelings.

Andrew Drach and Monika Jociunaite of Solwey, a design consultancy, said they were shocked by the news and felt it represented a step backward for the industry.

“We all saw the marketing battles between Adobe and Figma, and it’s odd to see Figma, an ‘anti-Adobe’ platform, actually joining the Adobe family,” they said in an email. “Figma has always been very clear with its value proposition, differentiating itself far away from legacy Adobe products and design processes. At the end of the day, Figma was created because Adobe couldn’t meet the market needs.”

Ehab Bandar, founder at design consultancy Bigtable.co, believes that Adobe was simply threatened by the upstart, which led it to absorb its smaller rival.

“Adobe surely felt threatened by Figma’s success, not just with designers, but with non-designers, who increasingly relied on it for specifications, demos and collaboration. The threat was not unlike Instagram to Facebook, where an upstart captured a community that was central to its company mission,” he said.

But designer David Hoang, writing in The Proof of Concept blog, could see both sides: the loss of something you hold dear as well as the fact that Figma could possibly thrive at Adobe:

Certainly, you can debate the details of Adobe’s business model, but if there was a company that was going to acquire Figma, I’m glad it’s Adobe. Many beloved tools such as Form and Pixate have been killed off after Google acquired them. It’s in Adobe’s best interest to keep Figma independent and this move sparks thousands of future moments for design tools. Finally, the software with a free offering they haven’t had in the past.

But one of the key reasons users worry about the acquisition is pricing, especially around the free tier. There is widespread concern that Adobe will drop the free tier eventually and force all Figma users to pay or, at the very least, water down the free offering.

Drach and Jociunaite said it will be interesting to see how Adobe incorporates the Figma subscription tiers into their offering, but they expect changes.

“We imagine that they will adjust their pricing. Figma has a very good offer for new users, where they are able to explore the platform for free with access to the best features, whereas the Adobe XD [a competing product from Adobe] free version has limited functionality for new users,” they said. And they believe Adobe and Figma continuing to offer a fully functioning free version could be the difference between new users trying it or not.

“Hard to imagine any new competitors”

Will it make current users ultimately leave the platform? Bandar said that as long as his clients stick with Figma, he will, too. “As a consultant, to collaborate effectively, I will continue to use the platform of choice for my clients. I don’t see Figma going away anytime soon, and it makes no sense to design in one tool personally and another professionally,” he said.

Noah Cuadrado Suárez, a UX/UI designer at design community The Collective Studio, said it’s not an easy question to answer until she sees what Adobe does with the tool.

“Sadly, I can’t answer this question right now as the future is uncertain. But maybe Figma can still be its own product and does not get absorbed,” she said, adding, however, that she’s always looking for new alternatives. But right now, Figma is the only collaborative design tool out there.

Dylan Field, co-founder and CEO at Figma, gets that some people would be upset about the deal, but he said it’s important to note that every deal is different, and his company will remain an independent entity inside Adobe.

“You know, we’re very focused on this lifecycle from white boarding to design to production. And Adobe’s like, hey, there’s a whole creative tools world outside of that that we can help you address while making it so that Figma’s run autonomously,” Field told TechCrunch on the day the deal was announced.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen believes that the two companies will be better together. “The combination of Adobe and Figma will significantly expand our reach and market opportunity while making the creative process more accessible and productive to more people,” Narayen said during the analyst call after announcing the deal.

For now, it seems as though the designers will stick with Figma for lack of a reasonable alternative, which is something that Adobe and Figma can build on, at least until some enterprising founders find a way to build an alternative.

Bandar said without another company pushing for change, most designers will probably maintain the status quo.

“Designers, and especially cross-functional teams, hate to switch software. Any new tool would need to excel at so many things that Figma is currently doing that it’s hard to imagine any new competitors coming out of the woodwork,” he said.

But Hoang, writing in his blog post, pointed out that with all this money from the acquisition could come new investment and, perhaps ironically, that could lead to a competitor developing at some point in the future. “I am excited that a liquidity event like this likely will create future investors who care about design, and that’s a win for everyone. I’m certain this event will spark more innovation in the space of design software. Perhaps it’ll fund the next Figma, and a new disruptor will emerge,” he wrote.

Field knows it’s going to be tough to win these folks over and convince them that there is a positive future for Figma as part of Adobe, but he said he’s going to try.

“People see the headline — as you know, they don’t always read the story. I hope that over time people understand the details and just our commitment to the community, and that really, we’re trying to do the right thing here,” he said.

If these designers are any indication, he has his work cut out for him.

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