Adobe set to acquire Figma collaborative design tool, developers fret about future

Web design tools

Adobe plans to acquire Figma, a popular web-based collaborative design tool for around $20 billion.

A post from Figma co-founder and CEO Dylan Field states that “today, we’re announcing that Figma has entered into an agreement to be acquired by Adobe … while this is not the end of the story, it is the closing of a chapter.”

The transaction is divided into roughly half cash, half stock, and is expected to close in 2023, subject to regulatory approval.

According to Field, Adobe aims to “keep Figma operating autonomously” and he plans to continue as CEO. He also states that “currently we have no plan to change Figma’s pricing,” including offering Figma free for education.

Field will report to Adobe’s David Wadhwani, President Digital Media Business, who said in a release that “by bringing powerful capabilities from Adobe’s imaging, photography, illustration, video, 3D and font technologies into the Figma platform, we can benefit all customers involved in the product design process, from designers to product managers to developers.”

The first public release of Figma was in 2016 and it was always a browser-based service, unlike Adobe’s core Creative Cloud products, such as Photoshop and Illustrator, which remain primarily desktop applications for Windows and Mac, despite cloud integration. Wadhwani recognises this in his post, saying of the Figma team that “they’ve proven that the browser can be a rich design surface.”

Wadhwani said “the productivity tools of the future will be web-based, multi-player,” but added that “this is the mission we’re on with Adobe Express.” Adobe Express, formerly Adobe Spark, is an application for browser and mobile platforms for simplified graphics and multimedia creation aimed at social media. Wadhwani seems particularly enthused by FigJam, a whiteboarding tool introduced in April 2021, and said that post-acquisition Adobe will “bring together capabilities for brainstorming, content creation and collaboration.”

“Dylan will continue running the business with autonomy,” said Wadhani, though the exact meaning of “with autonomy” is hard to pin down. Companies do not in general acquire other companies in order to leave them alone.

Figma has made waves not only for its design capability and ease of use, without having to install a desktop application, but also for its developer focus. According to a slide in Adobe’s investor presentation, the Figma userbase has almost equal numbers of developers as designers. Adobe said in the presentation that “this will dramatically increase Adobe’s reach and addressable market opportunity,” while also praising Figma’s “efficient business model, with gross margins of ~90 percent.”

DevClass spoke last month to Noah Levin, Figma Director of Product Design. He said that “where Figma excels is as a design tool allowing companies to use FigJam and Figmas to brainstorm and build out prototypes quickly.” However, he added, work is underway to improve it as a developer tool where designs are integrated into production. “We have an entire team we brought it, we acquired a company last year that focuses on this kind of stuff, but we’re not quite ready to talk about the details of that,” he told us.

Even today though, there are examples of Figma being used as a user interface development tool, like Microsoft’s Create Apps from Figma tool for automatically converting Figma designs into apps for the company’s Power Platform. Similarly, AWS has a tool for converting a Figma design to a React web application as part of its Amplify Studio. Developers therefore have a special interest in Figma.

The initial reaction from users though is mixed at best. One called it “a bad day for designers that were looking for a way to escape from Adobe. I don’t think that in the long term this will give Figma as an ecosystem any benefit.” Another feared that “Adobe is where software goes to die. Which is big shame because Figma has been great, and had serious potential to turn into the first WYSIWYG tool that would actually generate code you’d want to use. But Macromedia software was also great, and now it’s mostly non-existent.”

Macromedia was acquired by Adobe in 2005, and its products included the Flash multimedia player, Fireworks web graphics tool, Dreamweaver HTML editor, and ColdFusion application server.