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Q & A with Yuhki Yamashita

We spoke with Yuhki Yamashita, the Chief Product Officer at Figma, about collaboration, AI-driven design, and how Figma helps teams transform imagination into reality.

Earlier this year, Dev Mode, a new workspace for developers within Figma, moved out of beta. We discussed Figma’s goal of bringing design and development closer together and how AI has changed user expectations.

Breaking news from Config 2024: Sabine Danek reports live from San Francisco

Portrait Yuhki Figma

Q: How does Figma leverage artificial intelligence to enhance the design process for its users, and what are some specific AI-driven features that designers can benefit from?

A: We see AI as something that can supercharge the entire product development process, not just design. One way to think about it is the total space of design having a ceiling and a floor: The ceiling is how good a designer can be at designing, which is constrained by the available tooling; the floor is the minimum skill required for someone to participate in design. AI will lift this ceiling, leading to more creative outputs made possible by more powerful tools; it will also lower the floor, making it easier for anyone to design and visually collaborate.
Figma already introduced templates and diagrams from a text prompt in FigJam as well as the ability to sort and summarize, there’s so much more we can do. Our ultimate goal is to help teams go from imagination to reality.

Everyone in a company that develops a product should be involved in a meaningful way

I firmly believe that everyone in a company that develops a product should be involved in a meaningful way. AI helps immensely and not only saves a lot of time, but also lowers the barrieres for many people.

Q: Can you discuss some successful examples where Figma has been instrumental in streamlining the design-to-development workflow, particularly in large-scale projects or enterprise settings?
A: Yes, two examples:

Sure. N26, which as you know is a German neo-bank, is a company that moves quite quickly. In fact, speed is a defining quality: They aim to release new features every two weeks. The open collaboration that Figma enables helps make that possible. Their team of designers, developers, PMs and other folks involved in product building use Figma to keep everyone on the same page (literally) across the product development workflow.

Another example is Atlassian, which leverages Figma’s Design System features to manage designs across multiple products across multiple surfaces and modes, e.g. dark mode. Variables, which we released in General Availability, have been super valuable to Atlassian. Variables are essentially stored values that save designers a ton of time recreating designs for multiple modes and surfaces. What used to take hours, literally now takes seconds.

Q: Collaboration and co-creation are key aspects of Figma’s platform. Can you share some insights into how Figma promotes effective collaboration among team members / designers, developers, and other stakeholders?

A: To take a step back, I think it’s important to ask why is collaboration important in product development? And our view is that better collaboration leads to better-designed and better-built products, in large part because there are so many people involved in creating software across multiple phases of development:

  • Brainstorm
  • Wireframe
  • Mockup
  • Prototype
  • Code
  • Ship

We like to simplify this process as brainstorm → design → build, and we have built products for each one of these phases: FigJam for brainstorming and meeting; Figma for design and prototyping; and Dev Mode for the build phase. By having these steps all in one place, we promote better, more seamless collaboration.
And what makes this possible is Figma’s web-based platform. It makes building products more open and collaborative, because all it takes to access a file is a link. In fact, this easier collaboration has resulted in ⅔ of our users identifying as something other than designer, f.e. developer.

Q: As Chief Product Officer, what strategies do you employ to ensure that Figma continues to innovate and meet the evolving needs of designers and project managers?
A: We foster a culture of innovation and promote »Play« as a value. Also we care for a close relationships with the community, e.g. Framework and Config. I think different design cultures are important. There’s one culture which is very loosed and experimental, and there’s another culture which is very structured and careful. We take the perspective of there’s some parts of a product that we should be experimental and there’s some product parts where if you change it too much, users get confused. Or, if you start introducing new features and people start relying on them and you’re like: oh, actually never mind – that’s very disruptive.

Q: Accessibility is an increasingly important consideration in design. How does Figma support designers in creating accessible designs, and what steps is Figma taking to prioritize accessibility in its own platform?

A: Accessibility is something we care deeply about at Figma; our vision is to make design accessible to all; yet as of 2022, only 3% of the internet was accessible to people with disabilities. So we still have a lot of work to do, but some ways we’re working to chip away at this important problem include: Accessibility plugins. A lot of third-party developers build plugins for Figma, many of which are focused on accessibility. One that comes to mind is Stark, which product teams can use to identify accessibility issues in a design before it goes into production Design systems. By promoting consistency, design systems provide the perfect scaffolding for implementing accessibility best practices across an entire product ecosystem. They also make it much easier to roll out changes at scale and variables can be a powerful tool here.

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