Stop Using Figma For Everything

I conducted five interviews today and several others in the past few months. These interviews were conducted with design system engineers from companies of all sizes.

You know what they all have in common? Two things:

1. Design tokens are HARD

2. Keeping in-sync with the designers' Figma file is impossible

As someone trying to bring developers and designers closer together in the creation process, this is really frustrating to hear! Figma is a tool to produce design prototypes. That's it. It is NOT designed to be a source of truth for anything.

I get it—it's your organization's design tool of choice™. That does NOT mean every design decision should live there. To everyone else on your team, Figma is an inaccessible black box, impossible to keep track of, and simply a mess to others not familiar with your orchestration of chaotic good.

Just because it can store this information, doesn't mean it should.

Screenshot of Figma interface with complex design system
Screenshot of Figma interface with complex design system

Look at this screenshot. Look at the abundance of text and information on this screen. Now imagine you're an engineer that has to find a certain color for a certain state. Do you see the problem?

For a simple task of finding a color, it may take an engineer 5 or 10 minutes to find what they're looking for. Scale that to every front-end engineer on your team, several times a day, every day per week. That's a lot of money.

(Actually, I did the math: if it takes an engineer making $150k/yr a total of 5 minutes per day to find what they're looking for (conservative estimate!), and let's say there's a team of 10 engineers... that's costing $267.50 per week!)

And for everyone else in the organization? Forget it. Good luck finding anything in here, or even finding the link to the Figma file.

So let's fix this: for those teams that are using Figma as a home for your design system or design tokens, or in the process of making that so, stop. Your engineers, your marketing team, your project managers, and pretty much everyone else in your organization will thank you.

To clarify, I have nothing against designers or Figma. Designers do be designin' and that's alright. But Figma as a solution for brand decisions is a great way to make those decisions inaccessible to the rest of your team.

The lack of structure will only lead to scaling issues, documentation issues, knowledge-sharing issues, developer-designer synchronization issues, etc etc etc.

Think about the goal of a design system: to have a modular, cohesive design language for your entire organization. Figma is not for an organization. It's for a designer.

An alternate solution? Communicate. Stop operating solely within the confines of your Figma canvas. Talk to your engineers. Make decisions together. Instill a process for this decision making process and document it. Fuck it, print something! Make a little reference card for your teams! Make your work visible and accessible to everyone! MAKE YOUR DECISIONS KNOWN!

In short, teams need to be brought together. Based on the interviews I've conducted, teams are struggling to maintain cohesion at the very infancy of their design system. Think that'll scale?

So designers: please stop living in Figma. It's not designed to do what you want it to do. No matter how many plugins you throw at it. Instead, make your work visible to everyone. Make your work accessible. Find the right tool for the job.

Yeah, I'm gonna catch some flak for this, but someone had to say it.