Adobe’s ownership may not be the death sentence you assume it to be
The world of creative technology was rocked last week by news that industry giant Adobe had acquired Figma, makers of a hugely popular suite of UI and UX design tools, for a whopping $20 billion. The response from designers was immediate — and for the most part, extremely negative.
Figma has been hailed as an underdog success story, having been designed from the bottom up with approachability and teamwork in mind. It offers premium features such as real-time collaboration on a free-to-use basis and browser-based accessibility that allows entire teams of people to work together across platforms from potentially any device. It’s also one of the strongest rivals to Adobe XD, Adobe’s own UX / UI design application, which hasn’t been able to keep pace with Figma’s innovations.
Pair this with other ongoing gripes about Adobe — some fair, some not — and it’s easy to see why Figma fans aren’t too enthused by its new parent company taking the reins.
Designers’ biggest fears appear to be that Adobe will ruin or even terminate the product. “There’s a lot of concern here that they’ll harvest Figma for some cool ideas, integrate those into their existing products in a half-assed way, then bury Figma to gain back the subscriptions they lost when it was free,” says Jared Spool, an analyst who studies user experience design strategy at Center Centre.
Spool isn’t alone in his poor view of Adobe and its services. “Every time I need to dive into Photoshop I’m blown away by how bloated and slow Creative Cloud is,” says Juan Buis, an independent UX designer who has previously worked with Spotify and Minecraft. By comparison, he states that “Figma loads quickly, is incredibly easy to use, and has character to boot — in a lot of ways the opposite of many Adobe tools.” Greg Lewis, a self-confessed ex-Adobe XD fanboy has made similar observations regarding Adobe’s lackluster offerings. “As each slow and disappointing release came out I started to worry that Adobe XD’s release strategy had changed,” he writes in a blog post.
Adobe XD appears to have lost the community spirit on which Figma now thrives. Lewis notes that XD users could previously vote on which improvements should be implemented in UserVoice forums and that the XD product team would interact directly with customers. This kind of interaction has since disappeared, leaving users “shouting into the abyss,” according to Lewis. As updates for Adobe XD have seemingly slowed, new features have failed to be as accessible or consequential as updates rolled out by Figma, and the consumers are less likely to be thrilled when the few new innovations that are released are kept behind subscription paywalls.
Figma wasn’t the first to offer a rival service to Adobe’s own tools, but it has blown most of its competition out of the water thanks to its in-browser real-time collaboration tools, superior vector manipulation, and that all-important free membership tier. It quickly became the favored tool of UX / UI designers thanks to regular updates and new features that the community wanted from Adobe XD. “Up until 2020 I would still be able to make a confident argument that XD was on par,” Lewis writes. “But by 2021 it had just fallen too far behind. Having built design systems in Sketch and then Figma I could not see XD catching up with them anytime soon.”
Figma has encroached so much into Adobe XD’s market that when it had to make a choice between the two services, Microsoft chose Figma. “Figma spread across the company so fast that I don’t think Adobe was even able to catch up,” Václav Vančura, a former design lead for developer tools at Microsoft, told CNBC.
It’s “like air and water for us” Jon Friedman, corporate vice president of design and research at Microsoft, told CNBC. “Figma’s become, I would say, sort of the No. 1 common tool we use to collaborate across all of the design community in the community and beyond.” Smaller users also recognize its benefits. A 2021 survey from UX Tools shows that Figma dominated a whopping 77 percent of the UI design market across the board, from independent developers to large teams, revealing just how much of a threat Figma was to Adobe.
“Adobe’s products are okay. But they’ve stopped innovating,” Spool says. “Figma was created out of the frustration of Adobe’s lack of innovation. It was built by designers for designers. It not only matched what Adobe did well; it took it much farther.”
Figma’s pricing model is also more attractive. While its paid subscription tiers start at $12 a month, compared to Adobe XD’s $9.99 a month, Figma has a huge advantage over Adobe Creative Cloud by including a free-to-use membership that retains many of its best features, helping to introduce the service to those who are new to the world of UI / UX design. By contrast, the Adobe XD starter edition (also available for free) limits you to one active shared document, two editors, and one active shared link, rendering it useless for team use.
There are concerns within the design community that Adobe’s acquisition could result in Figma slowly shutting down its free membership, alongside losing the freedom to develop independently from Adobe. Or worse: adopting the Adobe playbook of berating users with a litany of in-app messages designed to upsell subscribers to more expensive tiers.
Both Adobe and Figma are trying their best to ease those concerns. “Adobe is deeply committed to keeping Figma operating autonomously and I will continue to serve as CEO,” writes Dylan Field, Figma’s co-founder. Field also says that there are no plans to change Figma pricing (for now), though for some in the Figma community, these reassurances simply aren’t enough; association with Adobe alone is enough to drive them to look for alternative services such as Sketch or Penpot.
Plenty of previous Adobe acquisitions haven’t resulted in the demise of the acquired product. When Adobe evolved TypeKit (another acquisition) into Adobe Fonts, sync limits and restrictive “web-only” fonts were scrapped, as were web font page view and domain limits. The service has arguably flourished under Adobe’s watch.
In addition, despite purchasing e-commerce giant Magento back in 2018, Adobe simply changed the name of Magento Commerce Edition (the premium version of the service) to Adobe Commerce, while continuing to support Magento Open Source as a free-to-use alternative. Adobe even integrated new features such as Magento Page Builder into Magento’s free model last year in a show of commitment to nurturing the platform and its community.
“Acquisitions of our beloved tools can cause some distress and panic, but looking historically it’s not as bad as you might think,” UX designer Chuck Rice writes in a blog post. “The login experience may change, but otherwise many of these tools remain the same or simply become even better.”
There’s also a potential upside to the acquisition. While Figma has plenty of integrations via community plug-ins, Adobe’s expertise could help to introduce features such as native support for 3D, photo editing, and advanced illustration. So the developmental relationship is far from one-sided.
Providing both Figma and Adobe remain true to their word, there’s hope that very little will actually change for the worse as both Figma and Adobe XD stand to gain new features and new expertise. While it may be unpleasant to imagine using Figma via the Creative Cloud, it’s just another doorway to accessing an already beloved product. As Buis laments, “I’m happy for the Figma team that they’ve been so successful, but I just hope Adobe won’t lose track of what makes the product so great.”