Nearly ten years ago, Dylan Field and Evan Wallace turned a Thiel Fellowship into a solution to the ‘single source of truth’ problem for design systems.
Their interest in design collaboration and WebGL laid the foundation for the origin story of Figma, today’s ubiquitous browser-based design tool — and rapidly-growing company.
“The more (we) pulled this thread, the more we learned there’s so much to do in terms of making design better, and in making it so more people can access design within the organization,” says Dylan of their early pursuis. (Spoiler: drone technology was a runner up in their technology explorations).
The latest episode of the Distributed podcast pairs Dylan, Figma’s CEO and Co-founder, and guest host Connie Yang, Head of Payments Design at Stripe, with past design leadership posts at Coinbase and Facebook.
Connie’s passion — uncovering the bits of magic surrounding us in everyday life — guides their friendly dialogue from design to remote culture and much more. Early in the show, Dylan shares what he’s learned about instilling culture in a rapidly-growing company, especially amid the changes brought on by the pandemic. “The main thing that changes once you go from in-person to remote is you can no longer rely on physical context to instill culture,” says Dylan. “It matters even more to elevate the role of design, and elevate anything you think is really important in that digital context.”
Dylan also builds on a recurring Distributed podcast theme over the past year, adding “It’s really important to be intentional about creating serendipitous moments.” Figma’s playful approach to collaboration influenced its recently-launched FigJam, a digital whiteboard that can help fill the need for serendipity.
Dylan speaks with the unique authority of a tech leader who has not only prioritized design but, with his team and products, greatly influenced it in a way that seems to have happened just in time for distributed collaboration.
“We’ve gone from a physical economy to a digital economy. I don’t think these are new trends or new things that happen but now, all of a sudden it happened all at once, and accelerated massively,” he says, echoing Matt’s May 2020 post Gradually, Then Suddenly.
“I think that we’re seeing every part of the economy shape around design,” says Dylan, noting how Figma has even observed collaboration in the product, beyond design, on days when other workplace chat tools were down.
Why does it matter? Because now, Dylan says, “Design leads to winning.”
Thank you to both of our guests for this latest episode of Distributed. We hope you enjoy it.
The full episode transcript is below.
CONNIE YANG: Hey everyone, welcome to the Distributed Podcast. I’m your host for today, Connie Yang. I am the Head of Payments Design at Stripe and I want to give a huge thanks to Matt Mullenweg for allowing me the opportunity to host this podcast.
I am super excited to have an opportunity to talk to one of the leaders in advancing design technology and changing how we all in the industry work together. Dylan Field is not only co-founder and CEO of Figma, a collaborative design tool used by some of the biggest design teams in the space, he is also a leading advocate for bringing more designers into companies and the importance of the role of design in building successful products. He is also a huge proponent of community and an open source approach to design.
Dylan, thank you so much for joining us today.
DYLAN FIELD: Thanks, Connie. It’s really good to see you.
CONNIE: Good to see you too. Dylan, before we even get into Figma and all the momentum you’ve built let’s start by talking about design itself.
CONNIE: It seems like you had some amazing insight nearly ten years ago now on the importance of designers on teams, the way we work with one another and how we work with even non-designers. What did you discover about design in those early days that motivated you to dive into this world of design and creativity?
DYLAN: Yeah so I’ve always been interested in design and excited about design product. But I think I started getting really excited about and interested in how do we make design tools better when I started working full-time as a design intern at Flipboard. And at the time I was kind of watching how the tools worked, we were in Fireworks pretty much every single day and collaborating through a Dropbox folder.
We kind of had attempts to do a blog where we could post work in progress but honestly all the collaboration was kind of a mess and that was with a very design-forward team. Flipboard was very excited about let’s go make.. Flipboard was really into let’s go make design a really core part of the product experience and how we build product.
And leaving Flipboard I was thinking a lot about creative tools with my co-founder Evan and should we go and build a company around this. And on the list was always design. We thought this would be a great area to go into is interface design but we weren’t sure the market was big enough. But honestly it was. Once we figured out that the market was there, the problems were very clear.
It was.. the experience of designing product was not synchronous at all. It was you had all these different sources of truth, there was no one source of truth you could rely on. I remember the version problem where you have final underscore, final underscore two, you never know which one is the latest version.
And then I started interviewing people at larger organizations and would hear stories about how a file would go halfway across the org at a super large enterprise and suddenly you’ve got some random product manager somewhere who’s mad at some other product manager because they think they’re doing something that they’re not even doing anymore because that was like two months ago. And the single source of truth problem was really huge.
I think as we started to think about okay, what does it take to scale design teams up, design systems are incredibly important in that role and without a design system, it was really hard to keep things consistent or scalable. The more we pulled this thread, the more we learned in terms of there is so much to do in terms of making design better. And also so much to do in terms of making it so that more people can access design within the organization.
And I think we started to have this thesis about it’s just really important to get more people to do more design and for companies to invest more in design and that’s how companies will win or lose in the future. And I think that has played out and is playing out now, which is really exciting to see.
CONNIE: Yeah, I mean now has been a really interesting time.
CONNIE: Especially for Figma, right? So we’re almost two years into the pandemic, lots of change, what are some of the top trends that you’ve seen change with designing remotely and the way that we work?
DYLAN: I think there’s a lot of changes generally in the way that work happens right now, especially for teams that were not distributed before. The teams that have been distributed this entire time, I don’t know how much change they’ve seen during the pandemic in terms of the way that they work.
But I think that the main thing that changes once you go from in-person to remote is you can no longer rely on physical context to instill culture and it matters even more to elevate the role of design and elevate anything you think is really important in that digital context. And digital contexts have no walls, they are flat, but they are not.. they still have these systems in place were, for example, if I (imagine a digital?) context, if I don’t intentionally make time to talk with somebody, that conversation will not happen. Whereas in an office, we might run into each other on the way to the bathroom or something or waiting for a drink in the kitchen.
I think it’s really important to be intentional about creating serendipitous moments. And also I think to elevate the things that you hold dear as a company.
I think that the other thing that’s happened as we’ve all gone remote and during the pandemic is that we’ve gone from a physical economy to a digital economy. And we’ve gone from physical spaces to digital spaces in terms of where we congregate. And I don’t think these are new trends or a new thing that has happened. I think that actually has been happening for decades. But now we’re at a place where all the sudden it happened all at once and it accelerated massively.
So as you go from a physical economy to a digital economy, it is really important to create a great digital product experience, otherwise you’re not gonna win. And it turns out that everyone, every company needs to do this to survive right now, whether you’re at Stripe and you’re creating a payments API, it actually does matter how good your design is. Whereas maybe 10-20 years ago people would assume actually it doesn’t matter at all.
If you’ve a bank, if you want to survive against a challenger bank, you better have a great design. If you are a company that’s doing logistics or industrial, you need to actually have really well designed processes inside the company and good internal tools. And if you don’t design those well you might lose that to Amazon. So I think that we are seeing every part of the economy shape around design and realize that design is a core part of how they win or lose.
CONNIE: Yeah and I love hearing all these specific examples that you’re bringing up of how these different companies should be thinking about building products. This is kind of a funny question. How do you think companies are.. Do you think they’re getting better at designing remotely whether they use Figma or not? Is it even possible to design remotely without Figma now?
DYLAN: Well we definitely saw a lot of people that, as they went into a remote design scenario, they really wanted Figma.
DYLAN: So I’m not an expert on the work flows outside of Figma as much but I think it is less painful to design in Figma than not in Figma in general. And that’s definitely true for remote teams. But what do you think? Because you’re in Figma a lot.
CONNIE: We are. We are definitely a Figma oriented team. I was trying to imagine what was that world like? You know, we had the issues with updated files and (getting things across?), and all this stuff that you brought up earlier. So I sort of can’t imagine with the speed that we have to work now and the amount of distributed teams that we have, I can’t imagine designing without Figma. That’s pretty rough for me. But hey, props.
DYLAN: Okay, thank you. I’ll take that.
CONNIE: I definitely appreciate the tool. So Dylan, you and I have actually met a number of times before.
CONNIE: Including co-judging a really big hackathon for crypto projects a few years ago. But big events like this are still not happening live and some will probably be forever remote from now on. So it’s a changing landscape. How can we still support events like this? Is Figma doing anything?
DYLAN: Well, I think that again it’s about going from physical space to digital spaces. And if you look at how people are interacting online right now, there is so much happening, whether it’s just on Twitter but also in virtual spaces, whether that’s VR or Gather.Town or people are finding stuff like Clubhouse or Twitter spaces. We’ve even seen it in Figma. People have started to hang out in Figma and that inspired FigJam, which is our digital white boarding tool.
And we started watching how people were interacting in Figma, which is basically this abstracted canvas, how they were greeting each other, how they were talking to each other, they were typing text. And we saw Slack went down one day and people started to really interact with each other over Figma instead. I’m not saying that we’re competing with Slack, we’re not, [laughs] no interest in that. But I think as we have seen more people go in these spaces they just want a place to play and they want a place to have these experiences and to be with people and to be collaborative.
And I think that design is a really interesting place and role and activity to do where you’re visually creating with each other. And the more that you’re visually creating, the less you’re coming from a place of fear during a pandemic, the less that you have ego involved. You’re just able to get in the sandbox and play. I’ve been really excited to see people do that in Figma, in FigJam.
I think in terms of the literal interpretation of your question around getting people together in person or together in event space, I think there’s just so much around that. We have thrown a few conferences during the pandemic. We threw one recently around design systems called Schema through a Config, every year.
And just find ways to have people gather around an event, around a.. maybe it’s a product announcement or maybe it’s a topic that everyone cares about. But both finding ways to bring people together but also not have the wideness of the internet be a distraction. There’s so many ways that people that are trolls can come in or noise can get high, and so you have to be very intentional about that too, while also making it so people are able to have that access.
Because that’s the beautiful thing, I think, about digital events is that they are not exclusive anymore. Right? You don’t have to find your way to San Francisco to come to Config and it’s hard to imagine going back from that. Even though there’s real benefits to having a physical event, it’s just really lovely to have that access for everyone in our community.
CONNIE: Yeah, it’s like opening a gate, why would you close that again?
CONNIE: I really liked how you referenced so much of the word ‘play’ when describing Figma. And one side bar I want to dig into a little bit, when you say you watch designers or you see people using it in the space, what is that kind of user research like for you? Are you literally watching designers?
DYLAN: Well, we do a combination of things. I mean, we talk to people, we watch people user research sessions use Figma, we talk about their lived experience and ask them questions about how they use it, what artifacts people create. We look at the way we use it ourselves, too. That’s a huge way we learn.
And then I think also just.. for example for FigJam, one of the things I heard most about was how people were excited to do these playful things. And we watched ourselves use it and that’s what inspired the name FigJam. It’s a playful name. We’re using it and we’re trying different things and seeing what resonated with our own team. And the playfulness part was definitely the thing we came away with, like wow, there’s so many directions it can go but play and fun and getting too to flow with your team, that is such a big part of FigJam which [00:11:02.26] to ideate and brain stormings are there.
And from there it was like, okay, how do we double down on this. And so we did a design sprint for a day and we came up with maybe 60 ideas and three of them we’ve implemented, around three. We did stuff like curser chat, emoji reactions, (stamps?), audio chat, and plus widgets were starting to be born there, which is a way to basically embed a widget onto the FigJam canvas, you can use it on your whiteboard, and many more things that we haven’t shipped yet.
But it was like one day with one clear intention and it was amazing what came out of it. And that’s when I think we knew, we were like, okay, we’re onto something here.
CONNIE: Wow, that’s awesome. I’d love to dig into that story a little bit more later. But for now, another question about design overall. What are some of the hardest problems about remote design that you haven’t been able to solve yet?
DYLAN: I think it goes back to serendipity, what we were talking about earlier. I think that tools are doing a better job of this more and more but still there is so much to do to try to figure out how do you create serendipity in digital environments and across the suite of teams.
One thing we have tried, which is.. Actually it’s interesting we’re talking this week because it’s a (maker?) week right now for us –
CONNIE: Oh wow.
DYLAN: – and we always try to have different little attempts to figure what we can do here during (maker) weeks. And so one thing we’re doing right now is we have these little crews.. We have a space theme and it’s called Figmaverse this week. Every (maker) week has a different theme and last year in the winter it was Figmaland. And this time they were like, we’ve gotta think bigger, Figmaverse.
DYLAN: Not my idea but someone on our team, Anthony, came up with it. And it’s cool because they have these little.. they call them “squads” or crews, I think. With your crew you can all come together, you’ve got like six to eight people, you can bounce ideas off each other, share what you’re up to but also play this meta game on top of maker week. And it’s a random assortment of people you might not meet otherwise in the company but just trying to create those connections that otherwise you might not have. And I think the more you can do that across the company, the more you can create these experiences people can bond over.
Another thing I’ve done are new hire breakfasts, just trying to get people that have joined the company that are new.. six to eight at a time, we have breakfast together and just talk about whatever people want to talk about. And it’s totally casual, usually not super related to Figma, though if people want to talk about that we can. And it’s just a way for people to get to know each other across the company and start to connect those notes.
CONNIE: Yeah. I loved hearing about ways you’re intentionally trying to bring more serendipity into the space. And it’s not always about work. It can be about anything.
DYLAN: Yeah. I think that can be done not just on the company wide context but also in a team context. And so while [00:13:38.20] that’s not about design, it’s about.. just broadly about companies I think that it’s true for designers as well. And it’s so important for designers to be invigorated and challenged and inspired by people that are coming from lots of different backgrounds and from lots of different areas of the company. Otherwise they’re not going to do their best work. They won’t think of the challenge cases in their head, they won’t think of the random idea that might solve the problem. It’s important to get input from everywhere.
CONNIE: Yeah, absolutely. So you’ve become a really well respected thought leader about the role of design and how we work. What is something really important that you’ve learned about designers that influences your vision for Figma and your leadership of the company?
DYLAN: One thing I’ve learned about design and designers, I feel like it’s similar to many of my other answers, but I think it’s really important, is just how inclusive the best designers are and how much they bring other people into the fold. I’ve seen this with the best designers I’ve worked with and I suspect you’ve seen the same.
But there’s just a stereotype among designers, or at least there was, of the designer that goes off into the ivory tower or the corner and they put their headphones and they just type on their Mac for a while or use the pen to [00:14:49.03] –
CONNIE: Yes, heard of those.
DYLAN: – tablet and they are just.. they’re solitary, they’re a genius, they come up with the idea, they come to crit, they present it, everyone’s jaw drops on the floor and that’s it and you ship it. And like, that’s just not how it works. [laughs]
And so that was our hypothesis going to Figma but I think just to see it play out and to see how much is the truth and how much designers as well appreciate that myth breaking down and appreciate the collaborative process that can come along with design and breaking down those barriers and bringing more people in and how it results in just better work.
Like, I think a myth that exists is that collaboration, more voices at the table, can sometimes lead to worst results. And I think we see this implicitly all the time. I’ve even caught myself implicitly doing it and accidentally started this myth when I have said things like, oh, I just want to have a small meeting here or whatever because I want to get this done. And I think it’s a balance, you don’t want to have thousands of people in a meeting, that’s not going to be productive either. But if there’s ways you can bring more people into the process, I do think that you get to better results usually, and often times simpler results, which is also interesting.
Like, we’ve seen for example, one of the case studies that we found during the pandemic was Kimberly-Clark. Do you remember the toilet paper shortage?
CONNIE: Oh yeah, yeah who could forget?
DYLAN: Yeah so they were trying to solve that. And they were trying to come up with an order form that was going from 14 fields or something crazy to much less. And so they all got on Figma and started to figure out how to reduce the number of forms on their order form. And despite a lot of people collaborating on that together they were able to come up with a much simpler experience for the user placing the orders than they had before.
And you hear stories like this and you go wow, bringing more people into the process can actually help. It’s not just always distract.
CONNIE: Yeah the ivory tower idea is an interesting one. I mean the reason it became an idea is that it works for some designers, a very, very small amount. And there are some companies that have been known and are quite successful for operating that way. Have you seen that change?
DYLAN: I guess I would challenge it a little bit. A lot of times that people act in that way, I think that they are not propagating the right knowledge amongst their teammates. A lot of times you end up with a bus factor problem, a lot of times you end up with one person who is kind of like seen as an individual leader on the team but no one else can critique their work properly because of social norms that start to take place.
So I do wonder if it’s actually a constructive pattern for organizations. And I think that just because it’s a working style that has existed doesn’t mean it’s the most productive one. And I also wouldn’t say that they’re working alone. A lot of times they’re building on the knowledge of others, they are building on patterns that have existed for a long time and they are definitely bringing on the people to complete the project and those people usually..
I usually find that designers and engineers working together, once they’ve had like [00:17:59.26] and help from product, in that implementation phase even, there’s so much that gets defined and figured out when you’re implementing something. So if nothing else, I would claim that a designer that’s working with an engineer, even looking at that atomic unit of collaboration, that is a time where you’re getting a lot of different back and forth that’s happening. And the engineer is pushing back and saying well what about this edge case, what about this edge case? And unless you’re (inputting yourself?) you’re just not going to think of those things.
CONNIE: Yeah, absolutely.
DYLAN: But what about you? What’s your presumption and what you’ve seen there?
CONNIE: I also think we’re stronger in numbers. One of my personal design principles is that we should make complex things as simple and as accessible to people. And you have to keep your audience in mind for that. And so the more audience or individuals that you talk to and the more variety that you understand, that’s when you really start to get what’s the common baseline for users, that’s how you have a broader audience, that’s how you grow, that’s how you make things as simple as possible.
So I am a huge believer in that kind of inclusivity. But sometimes it’s.. different people have different processes. That’s the way I think about it but there’s lots of different ways out there.
CONNIE: So let’s back up a little bit. We’re going to start talking about Figma as a company. You’ve had a lot of big moments this year. You launched FigJam, you’ve had significant fundraising, how do you describe Figma as a product today if you were to pitch it to someone?
DYLAN: Yeah. Well, I think of it as kind of like we’re trying to serve the entire project design lifecycle. So we’re going all the way from ideation with FigJam and white boarding and brainstorming to the design phase with Figma where you’re really fleshing out mockups and you’re trying to work with other stakeholders all the way to prototyping and buy in from other people and eventually production where you’re trying to turn your work into code. And we are trying to serve that entire lifecycle.
CONNIE: Gotcha. And if you could take us back to the beginning, if we could get into a little bit of an origin story, you started Figma in 2012 as a Thiel fellow and you were exploring other ideas at the time.
CONNIE: How did you choose this particular problem to solve and how did you get started?
DYLAN: Yeah so my cofounder and I knew that we wanted to do creative tools and we even wanted to work with WebGL. And I think that sometimes as you are figuring out a new business, one thing that happens is people really focus on like problem, solution, what is the total market that’s addressable and how much are you going to charge people and [00:20:14.26]. And these are all really good questions to ask but for us instead we really focused on what’s the technology that we’re going to use. And for us, that was WebGL. The backup was going to be drones but my cofounder Evan was not into that.
DYLAN: Yeah, I thought drones were really exciting and I still do. We also saw that there’s a lot of regulation there, a lot of just privacy concerns and so that’s why we didn’t go into that area.
CONNIE: Harder to design with a drone too.
DYLAN: I don’t know if [00:20:40.02] yeah. But hey, it’s cool toys. But no, I think my cofounder had actually built drones in college and did a lot of programming with drones and he was like, no, the hardware run to bug loop, it sucks, I don’t want to do that. So we kind of focused more on WebGL and creative tools.
And the from there it was like, okay, WebGL is the why now here. It’s the reason why this [00:21:02.28] exists that hasn’t existed before. And then the question is like what is it we’re going to make and what takes advantage of WebGL more than anything else? And we explored photo editing, (combinational?) photography and even a more Photoshop like approach where you blend a lot of things together before we realized that interface designer was (beginning of market?) and that was always on the list, always something I wanted to do, and then we (went to that?).
CONNIE: Yeah. And for people who may not know the intricacies of WebGL, what would you say was so unique about that that made you want to use that for sure?
DYLAN: Yeah so WebGL is the way to use the GPU in your computer in the browser. And by doing that, you are able to take apps that traditionally would’ve been desktop apps siloed offline and move them to the cloud. And so I think that basically any creative tool but also any game, honestly, could be made with WebGL (as well as?) just a browser. And that way if I sent you a link to a Figma file, you can learn it right away as long as you have a browser.
And that means it’s platform agnostic. It doesn’t matter if you’re on a Chromebook, a [00:22:00.04] machine, Mac, you can use Figma. And that became really important I think because as we saw Figma spread, there’s sort of this heterogeneous mix of competing environments people are coming with in different organizations and also entire areas and countries that had never switched to things like Sketch because they didn’t have Macs.
And it turns out Macs are like.. If you think about the designer stereotype you might have in your head, kind of going back to they’re on their Mac, they’re in a cafe, they have the headphones on, they probably have a really nice Moleskine, whatever that is in your head, it’s still not the reality for most of the world. I think a lot of our users are on PC or on Linux or more low end hardware. And not everyone is on a Mac. So it’s really important.
CONNIE: Yeah, again, thinking about people beyond what is immediately around us. It comes back again.
CONNIE: So how long did it take between when you started trying to build Figma and then when you actually first launched to any group of people?
DYLAN: It was a long time. So we started talking about the company December 2011, started.. I got the Thiel Fellowship April or May of 2012. I was still an intern at Flipboard at the time. I told them six months, I finished that six months. So we were talking a bit more at that point. And then August 2012, we started full time. It probably wasn’t until June 2013 that we really were like okay, let’s go build what became Figma today and focus on interface design. And even then, we thought of it as interface design plus other things. And it wasn’t clear what those other things were.
And there was a point where we had to really define that and say we’re going to focus on interface design and really had a nice (white board?) session with the team where we just crossed all these t things off. It’s like, what do we all think we’re doing? Okay, let’s cross them off one by one until we get to what we’re actually doing. And we used a cool framework, omit, raise, (use?), create.. from this book Blue Ocean Strategy to figure out okay, what are we doing that’s different than the competition, what are we not doing that the condition is doing? What are we doing worse and where are we going to make this brand new?
Yeah, from there we didn’t launch our closed beta until December of 2015. And our [00:24:05.17] release was not until October 2016 and didn’t start charging until summer of 2017. So it was a very, very long road and it took a long time to get to the point where we actually had Figma.
CONNIE: Wow. And it’s funny as me as working in the industry, I remember those milestones.
DYLAN: You were there.
CONNIE: Yeah, yeah absolutely.
DYLAN: Yeah I remember Coinbase was a really early user and y’all took a bet and I really appreciate it.
CONNIE: Yeah we had some big fans.
DYLAN: Cool. It was mutual.
CONNIE: So when my team at Coinbase first got started on Figma, we weren’t even remote, we just kind of thought oh it’s a great tool, it seems collaborative, it seems easy, the file systems, all that seemed so much better. Do you see it now as a product for distributed creative process or would you say it’s still not specifically designed for remote teams?
DYLAN: I think we are trying to get better about.. I think every team now is a distributed remote team basically even if you’re not all remote, literally, you’re all distributed. And as is increasingly the truth, you want to make sure that you’re especially good for that environment. That’s where I think the play, the focus on digital space comes in. And how do you make it really great for that environment.
But yeah, I would say that we should also work really well if you’re all in an office together. And hopefully in things like FigJam, the experience you have in FigJam white boarding is even better than the physical equivalent. So I think a real metric of success could be okay, we are all in a room with a white board, what makes it so that we want to use FigJam instead of the white board that’s on the wall?
CONNIE: Hmm, yeah, that’s a great mission, a north star, to be aiming for. You mentioned that there is a difference between a remote team and a distributed team. What is that difference for you?
DYLAN: A remote team is when no one is in the office, a distributed team is where you maybe have multiple people that are congregating in physical spaces together. That’s my view. What do you think? We’re on the Distributed Podcast, so you’re probably an expert. [laughter]
CONNIE: It sounds good to me. And I think one of the things that we all realize is that even though we’ve all been adapting to this world, it is still really different from team-to-team, company-to-company. Everybody has different definitions and different ideas of what they think works best and how they build products best.
CONNIE: What are some of the key moments in growth at Figma where you could see that you were really on track for the bigger vision, for where you ultimately wanted Figma to go?
DYLAN: I think the first time that someone told me please charge for Figma was the big moment for me.
DYLAN: Because we were free for a long time. And I always thought of it as like okay, we just gotta get to product market fit, we’re not there yet, it’s going to take a long time. And at some point this morass of just grinding, someone was like, hey, we really want to spread Figma at the big company I work at, like major enterprise, Fortune 100 company, and I can’t do it right now because y’all don’t charge and everyone thinks you’re going to go out of business.
CONNIE: That’s funny.
DYLAN: And it was this double reaction of oh my god, we’ve made it and oh gosh, how have we not charged yet? I thought that being free would help growth, not block it. [laughs] So it was like, oh shoot.
CONNIE: The things we get surprised by.
DYLAN: Yeah, exactly.
CONNIE: That’s awesome. That’s a fun milestone to really remember.
DYLAN: Their big one was just seeing people that are non-designers start to get into Figma without formal design training. So I’ve had like now a ton of founders come up to me and tell me how they’ve designed the first version of their product with Figma and really dived into design. I think that’s so important as you’re building a business to just be design driven and to have somebody that has a design point of view and propagating that from the top.
And so if we can help inspire the next generation of companies to be more design driven, to hire more designers, to put more people in design roles, I think that’s really, really important.
CONNIE: Absolutely. One of the points actually that I recalled as you were explaining that was that when we were again, getting on board Figma at Coinbase and we had to convince not just designers to use it, we had to convince PMs, engineers, everybody else to use it, and an aha moment that we had was when a PM realized oh, he could edit text directly in Figma –
CONNIE: – and then just be done with it. That was a major aha moment. I could see the light in his eyes. I was like, oh, that’s why I switch. That’s pretty incredible. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you that.
DYLAN: That’s awesome. Yeah, the copy editing on the canvas is big but also just like I think being able to leave comments and conversation around the asset itself and have that be collocated is another one that’s really big. And then just getting to the point where you can use the design system and a product manager can start doing some of their own (blocks?) rather than just like oh yes, I need a designer to help me draw things. It’s like, no product manager, you can do that on your own, really, I promise you. [laughs]
CONNIE: Yeah, makes it as easy as possible.
DYLAN: It makes it so the designer can focus on harder tasks.
CONNIE: Absolutely. Do you have any dream companies or teams that you wish would start using Figma, like where you really think it could make a huge difference?
DYLAN: I would love government to start using it more.
CONNIE: That’s what I was thinking too. [laughter] Do you think they use it at all?
DYLAN: Uhh.. I don’t know if I can comment on that. [laughter]
CONNIE: Noted. So we started talking a little bit about the non-designers, PMs, engineers, writers, researchers, so many people who all have to come together to make products look really good. What impact do you really think Figma has had for those people that’s really important for you?
DYLAN: I think again the more you can get people in the design process, the better designed products can be. I think also just the roles around what design mean and who does design are blurring so much. So I think that a [00:29:47.14] engineer versus a designer, that is converging more than I think a lot of people realize and both could be really additive to the other’s process.
We could debate the next hour or two the difference between product and design or even research and what that trifecta looks like in that Venn Diagram but I think that all of them have to talk to customers, all of them need to think about strategy, all of them need to think about the future of what the product could be and paint an inspiring vision. And because all of them have use cases for Figma that are important, even if they have different orientations in a day to day job.
What I have also been inspired to see is the amount the executives and people that are stakeholders outside of product engineer design are starting to use Figma to visually communicate, or ideate in the case of FigJam, but also just to really be on the ground and thinking about what it will take to win for the company through design. I think it’s interesting too because designers as an archetype are kind of more in touch with emotions, they are more in touch with the soft side of the business. But at the end of the day, design leads to winning. [laughs] And I think that people don’t realize that enough.
CONNIE: Did you say design needs to..?
DYLAN: No, design leads to winning.
CONNIE: Oh design leads to winning.
CONNIE: Great phrase, yeah, I love that.
DYLAN: In my opinion. I mean.. Somebody out there might challenge that but I really think it’s the case.
CONNIE: Speaking of winning, and you had touched briefly earlier about competition and how Figma starting from a small place, what is your competition like now? What do you think about, what do you worry about?
DYLAN: We have obviously a major competitor in this in Adobe. And I think it’s really important to just have a super healthy respect for your competition. Adobe in our case is like they’re the daddy of the creative tools industry, you know, they literally back in the late 1980s made Illustrator and in the 1990s acquired Photoshop. This is all before I was born, basically. [laughs]
CONNIE: Oh, right.
DYLAN: Obviously some of these products have bloat, some of them have long histories, but they also exist after decades and decades and decades. And I think just the work Adobe has done has been really inspirational for a lot of people, including myself.
So I think you can learn from these companies that have been around for a long time, you can learn about how to create good software, you can learn about the traps of trying to build something for a long time, you can learn about the traps of trying to put too many things into one place. And I think it’s good for us to have strong, challenging competitors. That’s the way that we’ll become a better business in the long term.
CONNIE: Yeah, it is a good way to look at that. I remember also that’s how I got started learning about design.
CONNIE: It’s using those tools.
CONNIE: That was kind of the originator. Do you think they learn from you and your team as well on how to make it more collaborative?
DYLAN: Judging by the recent releases, yes. But I think it’s hard. The fact is that we’re able to take assumptions about being cloud first that they can’t really take. And so having to accommodate a lot of off-line workflows.. it really constrains what you can do and it makes a lot harder to create great product experience people.
CONNIE: Yeah that makes sense.
DYLAN: So we’re lucky in that sense.
CONNIE: All right, we’re going to go back to FigJam for a minute, which I love.
CONNIE: You’ve made Figma somehow even easier for new people to use and there are so many creative ways that people have been playing around in FigJam. Like, within our team, we use it to play games in team building events. We even have a Figma height chart. [laughter] Since you don’t know anyone’s heights while you’re remote, we made a chart of where everybody is so it can be a little more connected.
DYLAN: In case you’re wondering, I’m on the bottom. [laughter]
CONNIE: So it has been super fun. And you touched a little bit on what it took to create that but it felt like you seized the moment. Like, somehow you knew this is THE tool to make during this remote time and you spun it up really quickly. What actually happened there? Can you tell us a little more about that?
DYLAN: Sure. So we had long intended to go into white board diagraming space, that was something that we had seen people use (before?) along with lots of other use cases for a long time. And obviously it’s not ideal for Figma proper to do that because, as you try to expand it to more people and bring more people in, there’s all this stuff that we’ve done for design that gets in the way. So it’s like, okay, how do you create a tool around white boarding, diagraming and ideations use case that is just really excellent for anyone to bring in from the product team?
And then the pandemic hit. And we already had this in our minds and right away we realized that people were doing way more of this activity in Figma than they were before and they were having challenges doing it. And we realized, okay, we just have to move as fast as we can, get this to market, because the pandemic is not going anywhere, it’s going to be a long road ahead.
And so we spun up a team and this is a few months of research first, we make sure we really understood the problem. And then it was probably fall of 2020 we spun up the team and it was maybe six, seven months before we launched, which I’m really proud of.
DYLAN: And I think a big part of that was just the team knowing that this was such an important use case for our community and that we really needed to get this out there for our user base. And that the pandemic was.. it was just important for people to have a digital white board during the pandemic, which is now endemic. It’s not ending. And so as we go into that world, it’s like, it’s 2021, everyone needs a digital white board, how can we help serve our customers there?
And the other thing we did was we weren’t sure what the prices were at first and so we did a higher price and then as we watched people use it, we realized that entire teams were using it and not only entire teams, entire companies. And as it expanded out more, we thought to ourselves, okay, the range that we’re seeing in terms of who will use FigJam justifies it actually going to a more competitive price point. And so we have.. actually now its three dollars if you’re on Pro, five dollars if you’re an org for FigJam and it’s free if you just wanted to start off on your own. And again, we’re trying to really go for access with those price points.
CONNIE: Yeah, that makes sense. You mentioned it was about six or seven months before it came out, which is really short for that kind of product development.
CONNIE: Can you tell us a bit about the team that you put together? How did they get this done?
DYLAN: Yeah, it’s an amazing team. I think all Figma is an amazing team. But I think with every release you kind of have quality, deadline, feature set in this triangle. And I definitely was like, okay, features and deadline, that’s what we’re optimizing for. And of course the Figma team is very quality oriented so they also care about that too.
But it was I think a deliberate move to say this is different than going and iterating on an existing product. We’re building this new thing from scratch, there’s real time pressure, we have to get this out, what can we do to move fast here? And having that entire team have this mindset around shipping quickly made a huge impact. But also they’re just incredible people.
CONNIE: Yeah, awesome.
DYLAN: So, I feel very lucky to work with all my Figmates.
CONNIE: And I love that description, I love that word Figmates, it’s so cute.
DYLAN: They’re amazing.
CONNIE: What was the actual make-up of the team? Was it one designer, was it multiple..? How did that get set up?
DYLAN: Yeah, I mean, it was one designer, one product manager, a few engineers (spanning to?) multiple designers over time and more engineers over time. And then because the engine behind Figma and FigJam is the same, we’re able to pull in additional people as needed from other teams. So it’s kind of like, the teams became a somewhat permeable membrane that people could flow back and forth between.
It also was a good forcing function to do things that we long wanted to do in Figma. So, for example, bullet points is something that we’ve wanted to do forever in Figma and it just never rose to the top of the priority list. And then for FigJam it was a key thing that if you don’t have bullet points, what are you doing? So that became something that we prioritized on the Figma side that also works for FigJam.
And what we’ve seen too is that some of the experiments we can do around digital space and bringing people together and having fun in FigJam people like them so much they flow right back to Figma as well. And it’s just nice to have this sandbox that we can play in, try things out, and then you can improve the core Figma experience after that as well.
CONNIE: Yeah. And I love hearing about how it started with one designer and then there became more. I’d love to dive in for a quick second on how –
DYLAN: And research too. I should not forget research.
CONNIE: Yeah, absolutely.
DYLAN: Research have played a heavy role in FigJam and continues to, to this day. We are lucky to have a great research team.
CONNIE: Yeah. I would love to hear a bit more about how.. If it’s a designer and a researcher, they get started, how do they collaborate with everybody else? Like, I feel like your team must be the best at using Figma. That’s my guess, so how do you do it? [laughter]
DYLAN: You know, I’m not always sure because there’s a lot of teams that have like.. I think the amazing thing about creating a tool, and I’m sure you’ve seen this in Stripe, is just the amount of ways that people take these legal pieces and put them together. And this is true for Crypto too. People, once they have generic tools or generic things that they can use, the ways that people stream them together and compose, is just infinite and perplexing and awe inspiring.
So yeah, I don’t have any like.. here’s the one thing that we did in the collaboration side. I think most of them would ring relatively true for a lot of companies. But yeah, it’s been exciting to see just the way that people collaborate across Figma and what that means.
CONNIE: Yeah, that’s awesome to hear about. And talking a little bit more about your culture. It looks like you’ve reopened your San Francisco a few months ago.
DYLAN: We did.
CONNIE: Yeah, congrats on that. Gotta ask a tough question here that I’m pretty curious about. So, Figma is a tool that seems right now like so focused on remote design and distributed design and you’re not a fully remote team. Why not? What’s your thinking here?
DYLAN: Yeah, I did a survey back in May or June of 2020 and just basically asked a lot of questions of our entire employee base at the time. And I expected some teams, like Engineering, to be more remote heavy in terms of preferences for the future, some teams like Sales to be more in-person heavy. And the reality was that everyone was a mix. The only pattern was there was no pattern. And some teams had more distribution than others. Like, Engineering surprisingly wanted to be more in the office, although still a lot of people in Engineering wanted to be remote too and Sales want to be more remote but still have people who want to be in the office and every permutation you can imagine for every other team as well.
And it was.. We kind of reflected on it and we thought, okay, I did all the game theory and thought through what will happen during this pandemic, where are all these companies gonna end up at? And where we landed was let’s have hubs. Anyone can come into those hubs if they chose to. If you do come into a hub and you decided to affiliate with a hub, you have to come in two days a week at minimum and those two days are gonna be set and we’ll have it be the same two days for everyone because otherwise communities don’t form, you have this weird affect where people don’t come in and when they don’t come in it feels like it’s kind of an empty, dead space. And you want the space to feel alive and you want things to be happy in there. You want these communities to form in this space, especially for people that are right out of college, new grads, it’s really important for them to have this physical community.
And then if you don’t want to come into a hub, that’s also totally fine because we’re in a pandemic so a lot of people are not going to want to do that, especially if you’re care taking or you’ve got kids at home that don’t have the vaccine yet. So if you’re in that situation, fine, don’t come in. You have the option but you don’t get to arbitrarily choose, okay, well this day I’m going to come in the office, this day I’m not going to. You kind of have to make a choice and then (your pay is localized?) depending on what city you’re in.
We tried to be very clear about that at the start, relatively at the start of the pandemic. I think we announced it internally around June or July. I announced it to the world in August 2020 and from there we’ve just been very clear with everybody about where we’re at. In the future, I mean, I think it’s (not at the table?) we one day go remote. I don’t think that’ll be any time soon, we just made this major investment in our office and we’re scouting offices in different hub locations. And I do think there is value to physical community too.
But I also think that it’s important, just for the empathy of our customer base, of like understanding hybrid as well as remote. And I think we have a pretty good understanding of remote after being all at home for a while with the pandemic. So I think hybrid is a really important one to get a handle on as well.
CONNIE: Do you think more teams will end up being hybrid rather than fully remote given another few years?
DYLAN: Oh, good question. What kind of teams? Software teams..?
CONNIE: Yeah, let’s say software or whatever you might count as your main audience.
DYLAN: In what time frame?
CONNIE: Two to five years.
DYLAN: Oh, I think the one to two years’ time frame I think we’ll see more teams be hybrid than fully remote. And I think beyond two years it’s hard to say but I would guess that we see divergence from hybrid into either full remote or full in-person for a lot of things because I think hybrid is hard. And I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people go back to in-person if they are given the option to.
But I think we’ll probably see more remote teams than hybrid teams in [00:42:38.16], I could be off though. I just think for software in particular there’s such an amazing community out there globally that can do this core work. And if you’re limiting yourselves to cities like San Francisco as your talent base it’s just really hard to hire, at least right now in boom times. Maybe in a year from now, if we’re not in the current bubbly world that we’re in right now in the Bay Area, perhaps that changes. But right now I think that’s the case.
CONNIE: Yeah. And I love how that leads into community, which is something that I can tell is relay important to you and to Figma. It literally has a really prominent position inside of the Figma product itself, right?
CONNIE: You can access community from the top left pull down menu. Why that intentional emphasis on community? What is that for you?
DYLAN: It’s actually funny because at the start of Figma, we thought we’d be a community first and a SAS tool second. And so the first version of the Figma product is (when we had editor?) but the main file browser experience was just a feed. On the right hand.. at the center was the feed and the right hadn’t side were your drafts. And you could remix anything. I put that in air quotes. No one else can see the air quotes I realize because we’re on a podcast but you could “remix” anything that was in the feed and you could open up the file in your editor and that became a draft on your right handsome and if you wanted, you could repost your remix to the feed later.
And so we had this ambition to do this right away. And as we observed people in that early alpha period using Figma, we realized that just so many people are spending most of their creative energy at their work day-to-day and for a small base of users, it didn’t make sense to try to, like, do the community-first approach. But we always had that ambition.
So we just kind of pivoted our approach to be more a SAS tool first and we thought, okay, community will be a fast follow. That fast follow ended up being four or five years before we got to that. Fast follow is not always as fast as you want them to be, but to me it’s just so important to have this open source mentality about design.
And if you think about the way that engineers have been open source for a long time now, there’s this amazing job of just not recreating the wheel over and over and over again. And yet, how many times as designers have we recreated the most basic elements we use every day? And are we actually open to the inspiration that we can get from others? I just think there’s so much we can learn from the open source because it’s done in engineering when it comes to more creative work. And that is a big part of why we are leaning into community there.
But also I hope that over time the Figma community is a place where not only are you sharing resources but you’re also congregating as designers. So if you’re trying to learn about design, if you’re trying to teach design, if you’re trying to just hang out and get to know other designers, where do you go? You could go to Twitter and read some snarky tweets on design Twitter, nothing against that but maybe there’s a more constructive place that we can create for people too. And if we can create that third place for design, I’d be really excited about that. That’s where I want to hang out.
CONNIE: Yeah. And I love that you’re really bringing so much about the ethos of open source into design. And that’s part of why you have.. so much of the Figma files, they’re under a creative commons license, right?
DYLAN: In the community, yes.
CONNIE: In the community, which is really interesting. Do you ever feel like you get caught into.. some people can’t share because of copyright..? How do you think about that trade off?
DYLAN: Yeah, there are some people that have definitely raised that to us but actually I’ve been really surprised by how few people have that reaction. And also, people from fields that are [00:46:02.02] interface design that are really eager for their work to be shared and used because that actually adds value to your work paradoxically.
I think that one thing I have thought about and ruminated a lot recently on is the idea that basically for a meme, and that meme can be visual, that meme can be more of a thought, whatever it is, for it to gain value, the more that people [00:46:27.21] the more people add onto it the more valuable it is. And I think it’s definitely true of work that people create as well.
So I think the scarcity mindset around this is designers have had their work stolen for a long time, everyone has had this experience with a client who doesn’t pay or somebody that rips off work on the internet. And these are really negative experiences and so I understand how people are coming from that mindset. The abundance mindset is one where if you actually do share your work, get it out there, and people re-use it, repackage it and its attributable to you and people know that it’s yours, that actually can do a major.. have major effects in terms of creating your stature in the ecosystem and giving you social status.
And if we can help enforce that and to propagate those norms in Figma, with I’m not saying we’re doing a perfect job of today, I think we can do much better, but if we can boost people that are coming into design even more with our platform, then I think it could be a really constructive thing for the ecosystem overall.
CONNIE: Yeah, absolutely. At the end of 2020, you wrote a blog post called Meet Us in the Browser where you talked about Figma’s vision of making design accessible to everybody and that Figma itself is – and I love this quote – is more than a digital extension of our physical self, it’s an invitation to leave ego at the door and create shared consciousness with others. It seems like openness, transparency and access has always been a theme for your work with Figma and that refocusing on the community is the next extension of that. Is that the case or is that something that you’ve realized along the way?
DYLAN: Yeah, definitely. I think implicit in what you’re saying though is also velocity and I think that’s one area that we have to improve still is like how do you actually make it so that it’s not just I create something, it exists for a while and then it just gets remixed? How do you make it so that you’re able to move really fast and have high velocity across these shared experiences and collaborations? And that’s something that I am thinking a lot about right now in terms of how do we enable that.
CONNIE: Interesting. Do you mean velocity in the design process or merely how people learn about or see new designs?
DYLAN: Well so again, going back to that term shared consciousness, right? If we’re having a conversation, even if it’s a visual conversation in the case of design, then if I send you a letter and then a month later you send me a letter back, that’s a very different shared consciousness than if were having a conversation on a podcast. And so what does that mean for Figma? What does it mean for visual communication?
CONNIE: That’s a nice analogy. Have you sent a letter recently?
DYLAN: I haven’t, I should send letters.
CONNIE: Yeah, sending letters, sending cards, it’s great, it’s a great thing to do.
DYLAN: Well, I’ll get your address after this and we can be pen pals.
CONNIE: Oh let’s do it, that would be so much fun.
DYLAN: I’m down.
CONNIE: And since it is the Distributed Podcast, we like to hear a little bit about how you work and have your own office set up. So can you tell us a bit about what your home office is like and what are some of the most important two or three things that you can’t work without?
DYLAN: You know, I have a very minimalist answer partially because I just moved and I haven’t.. It’s really interesting because I used to have this really epic bookshelf behind me that my wife made and it’s like.. It’s funny because the colors are based off of a painting my friend Hannah made and it was sitting on top of the bookshelf. And at some point I was like, wait, these are very similar to Figma colors.
DYLAN: It was this great bookshelf with all these great design books on it and other books I loved. And then I moved to this new place and now I’ve got a filing cabinet behind me. I have the same desk, I have the same laptop. The only thing that’s missing is the notebook because I haven’t found my notebook yet in the move. And I’ll find it, I think I know where it is.
But I think it’s the only thing that’s like atypical I would point out here, which is I find that if I’m writing things down or in a conversation I just recall them so much better later. And it’s like, I don’t even have to look at it later, although it’s nice to sometimes. Just the mere act of writing things down really, really helps me. Other than that, I don’t have the one tip or trick. I’m pretty minimalist in my set up.
CONNIE: And is that the same for your actual office/office set up?
DYLAN: The office/office set up, we actually have a.. people are going between desks, it’s more like a (hotelier?) model. And so we don’t have physical here’s your spot and you get to claim it forever yet. Maybe we’ll [00:50:38.16] in the future but for now you actually rotate in. People have a monitor, a keyboard, a mouse if they want it, and they can plug in, it’s really simple.
CONNIE: I really like that you referenced the word serendipity so much because that’s actually a distinct theme of the distributed podcast for this year. What else are you doing now that you’re back in the office part time, we’re all adapting to our normal at-home lives, what else are you doing to add some more serendipity to your life?
DYLAN: Well to my life versus to the Figma life?
DYLAN: Okay. I think Figma, just the more you can empower people that are wanting to start organizations inside of Figma or groups, the more that you can get people to create culture events on their own, it’s always winning over, you know, top down, here’s what we’re going to do, I think it’s much better to have it bottoms up. And that creates serendipity whether it’s in the office or its remote.
In my own life, literally just walking around the city or going to new places, travel to places that are in driving distance, even, finding a cheap Air B&B. Now I’m lucky that’s affordable for me, not everyone is the case, but I think even just a bus ride or a drive to a new place that you haven’t been, can add a lot of serendipity and creativity and inspiration to your life.
And yeah, I find that when I get outside, which it’s so easy to go a full day and just be working and there’s always more to do. But just getting outside, listening to music, reading, learning, these are things that add a lot of serendipity in my life as well as conversations with loved ones and friends, like, it’s not.. it’s nothing that people are not used to but it’s just amazing, like, making the time for that, how much it matters. Getting exciting. Like, if you don’t get excited, like, what are you doing?
CONNIE: I love excitement.
CONNIE: Can I ask, what else are you doing to generally maintain your mental fitness especially as this, as you pointed out, this pandemic is just going to keep going. What else do you do to keep yourself fit, happy, healthy?
DYLAN: Sleep, spending time with my wife Helena. She’s due right now so we’re excited. She’s due in December.
CONNIE: Wow, congratulations.
DYLAN: Thank you, yeah.
CONNIE: That’s amazing.
DYLAN: So I think just having the humility of oh my gosh she is literally growing a human, what am I doing today? [laughs]
CONNIE: Perspective, it’s great. [laughter]
DYLAN: Perspective, yeah, that’s another word for it. But yeah, just having the perspective I think is really a great way to have that mental fitness, as (you put it?). Because a lot of the things that are like these are the little challenges we run into every day, they kind of all fade away in that grand horizon.
CONNIE: Yeah. Do you have any daily rituals like meditation or anything else that lends itself to that?
DYLAN: I should definitely meditate more. I think it always makes me happy. But I wouldn’t say it’s a daily ritual yet, although that would be great if it was. I am not a very good ritual person. I think so many people are great at this and I have never found my groove of a ritual for some amount of time. But I think the only ritual I would say that.. it’s not necessarily the same time of day but if I don’t learn something during the day that’s usually not my top day. So I’m always trying to figure out something that I can learn from people.
CONNIE: That’s a great philosophy to have. I’d like to move to a special section at the end that I like to call the lightning round of questions.
DYLAN: Oh, oh boy. [laughter]
CONNIE: It doesn’t have to be that fast but they’re meant to be quick little top of mind responses. Starting with an easy one, so, since you talked about being really excited about things and how that is awesome for you, what is something that you’re really excited about right now that’s totally outside what we have been discussing?
DYLAN: Yeah, well, we were talking about crypto earlier because you were formerly at Coinbase and I think that one thing that I’m really excited about right now is just DAOs.
CONNIE: Awesome, thank you. All right, next question. What job would you be absolutely terrible at?
DYLAN: If I was in a very heavy operational role I don’t think you’d want me in that role. And that goes for running a very operational business as well. Like, something like DoorDash I think I would not excel at.
CONNIE: Noted. What is a nice compliment that you’ve received recently?
DYLAN: You said a lot of nice things today. Thank you, Connie.
CONNIE: Oh, you’re welcome. What’s something that you wish more people did?
DYLAN: Think from first principles. I think it’s so easy, especially in today’s day and age, to take whatever you read online, whatever you’ve seen in media, and just repeat it without thinking about it first. And I think that the world would be a much better place if we all did our research and thought deeply about the things that we were taking on as opinions and didn’t just give everyone right access to our brain.
CONNIE: You mentioned that you really, really like learning and that in fact if you didn’t learn something it’s probably not your top day. What’s some thought nugget you learned recently that you really like?
DYLAN: It’s not really a thing I learned but one thing I’ve been reflecting on is how fear blocks compassion.
CONNIE: How fear blocks compassion? Hmm.
DYLAN: Yeah. I think that for me at least, maybe it’s different for the people, but a lot of times when I find myself lacking compassion I can trace it back to I’m being fearful of something. And if I can figure out why I’m being fearful that I can unblock that compassion. So yeah, it’s been applicable for a lot of different parts of my life recently.
CONNIE: It’s such a great philosophy. It’s very closely linked with meditation, which is interesting that you have that view.
DYLAN: What is the meditation viewpoint there?
CONNIE: Just very similar to that, that there’s a lot about compassion about.. Buddhist meditation, the default is the world is suffering and it’s compassion and understanding that gets people through that and helps you live and be empathetic to all of the fellow people that inhabit this world with you. What do you think enabled you to get to that kind of realization?
DYLAN: Just a lot of thought about the pandemic and the things that I was not being compassionate about and the people that I was not being compassionate towards and I asked myself why.
CONNIE: Really nice reflection. All right, this is a question I’ve been really enjoying asking people recently and it’s kind of a fun one I was first asked by my 19-year-old cousin, which is what are some of your hot takes?
DYLAN: Hot takes. Well, give me a subject or a point of view and I’ll try to give you a hot take on it.
CONNIE: Absolutely. A hot take on food.
DYLAN: Oh, well, I have really bad acid reflux so I try not to drink caffeine and I also try to stay away from night shades and tomato. But the biggest hot take I have on food is that I hate chocolate.
CONNIE: Oh wow.
DYLAN: Yeah. I just have always hated chocolate. It’s almost like this thing where I feel like I’m in The Truman Show and everyone else is gonna at some point be like ha ha, I got you and I took a bite of chocolate and pretend it’s good because I’ve just been pushed this way my entire life but really it’s not good, it sucks, I don’t know what y’all are thinking.
CONNIE: That’s amazing. What about chocolate with nuts?
DYLAN: It’s gross.
CONNIE: Still gross. Kit-Kats?
DYLAN: Everything chocolate is gross. It’s disgusting.
CONNIE: Wow, that’s a great hot take. I’ll confess one. I don’t like pizza. That freaks people out.
DYLAN: That’s fair. Yeah, I mean, it’s bread and cheese, it’s not exactly the most healthy food.
CONNIE: It’s kind of goopy, it’s a little hard to deal with. I want to get a couple more hot takes, I think this is a fun question.
DYLAN: Okay, okay.
CONNIE: What is a hot take on San Francisco?
DYLAN: I’ll give three. One is its beautiful and it’s a majestic place that has endured as a creative hub for many decades and that’s not going anywhere. The second is that it is no longer, along with the Bay Area, going to be the top hub in tech.
And the third is, as a resident of San Francisco, is that I will put a political opinion out there, which is that I really believe that we have to actually care about crime and if we see stores shutting down because they’re getting so many people shoplifting, at least we should have a conversation about it. I’m seeing some people saying that’s just not happening and denying it’s happening and that really frustrates me.
CONNIE: Understood. Hot take on space travel?
DYLAN: Love it, go to the stars. I think there’s some perspective from people that says we have so many problems on earth, why are we going and exploring new frontiers? Why not go and solve those problems on earth? For example, a lot of people criticized Jeff Bezos for his work on Blue Origin. That was also after he donated or committed a ton of money to climate change. So I think it’s not an ‘or’ it’s an ‘and.’
And I have nothing but respect for people that are pushing the frontiers of technology, science and trying to figure out ways to make sure that in a worst case scenario, if we blow ourselves up, that some part of our human consciousness remains.
Also, if there were aliens, I think that we’d all be very focused on the state of space travel. I’m not saying there are, I’m saying that the government has been very quiet about the subject. And they have been willing to admit that there’s a lot of UFOs out there and we have no idea what they are. So either that means that we are behind on their mission in terms of military or that there’s phenomenon we can’t explain. In either case, I think you want to invest a lot in space travel and aeronautics right now.
CONNIE: I’m into that, I’m a huge, huge fan of space. It seems really cool. All right, well thanks for diving into the hot takes segment.
DYLAN: Sure. That was fun.
CONNIE: Yeah, learned a lot. What is keeping you up at night?
DYLAN: I mean, for Figma we’re growing so fast and so it’s just like how to maintain culture when we’re distributed, when we’re growing really quickly, that’s super important. So trying to make sure that we do a good job of that.
CONNIE: Absolutely. What is one piece of advice that you have for companies who want to be excellent at design?
DYLAN: Oh, I think it comes from the top. So if your leadership doesn’t care about design, make a case for that. Make sure that they start caring. And if you are leadership at a company, start caring about design, start talking to your designers more, start talking to your product people more, anyone who is working on the digital project experience. That, I suspect, will be the reason you win or lose the business.
CONNIE: Hmm, I would love for you to expand on that. Like, if you pretend you’re talking to maybe some skeptical leader out there, what is your pitch right now for why they should care about design?
DYLAN: Well the entire world is going from physical to digital, like we talked about. And if you ignore that transition and you say that the ways of the past are going to serve you and you don’t have to continue to innovate and to keep pushing on the design of your experience, I just think that some competitor is going to come find you and they’re going to beat you.
And so if you want to maintain your market position, even as an incumbent or a laggard and certainly if you want to gain market position against others, design can be a differentiator. And you either have to be leaning into that to go on the offensive or leaning into that in order to be on the defensive. But either way, it is an arms race and if you don’t participate in it, you’re just going to lose.
CONNIE: All right, Dylan, I’ve got one more hot take for you.
DYLAN: All right, let’s do it.
CONNIE: What’s your hot take on becoming a dad?
DYLAN: I’m so excited. [laughs] It’s gonna be awesome. I can’t wait to meet this kid.
CONNIE: That’s so great. Dylan, thank you so much. This is such an exciting time for you between the growth and momentum of Figma and the opportunities that you and your team have created for all of us designers in the tech community, it has been real swell to talk to you about all of that today.
DYLAN: Thank you. Thank you for supporting us and for having me today.
CONNIE: Absolutely. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. And here’s to more success for you and a great year ahead for Figma and for everyone listening out there as well. Stay healthy a stay positive. Thanks, all.
DYLAN: Thank you.