My primary design tool is Figma. Long gone are my storyboard days of PowerPoint design. Right now, my team is 6 designers strong and they are all co-authoring like mad inside of Figma. We use it for everything.
Figma has grown steadily in the past couple of years. They are making innovative features that people care about and didn’t even know they wanted.
I still worry about Adobe XD as a competitor for them. XD is is getting better and better too. Plus, they have a massive user base. Still, for now, Figma is the best choice. It’s clearly superior to using Sketch, in my opinion.
I often ask designers how well they know their design tool on a scale of 1-10. To clarify, what percentage of features do you know exactly how to use?
For Figma, I think I am about an 8. (80%) I took a few minutes to write down my understanding of Figma capabilities and what you should know. If you are new to Figma, here is a map of what to master.
Basic Shapes and Frames
This is the minimum to use the product. Make rectangles and text and voila! — user interface! One mistake designers coming from Sketch often make is that they don’t understand frames. Frames are not just artboards. They are the core container used for almost everything. If you don’t understand frames, you don’t understand Figma.
99% of the time, I will avoid using Groups. Groups aren’t useful nearly as much as frames (and components). They don’t have a life of their own. Frames are more substantive. A frame provides the container upon which constraints will work.
When making prototypes, all links must go to a ROOT LEVEL frame. This is a weird gotcha that I wish was different. They do a subtle little thing by bolding root level frames and making them blue. However, the second you sub-frame it or put it in a group — boom! — The prototype will stop linking. Frames are everything in Figma.
Quick hints: Use shortcuts to create the frame. Also you can switch a group to a frame on the right as well.
One key use of Frames are the constraints feature. The point of constraints is that you’re going to resize things in your design. Iterations are everything in UI design. Your first effort will be crap. Iterate and iterate and it will get better. The key is to be able to change your prototype quickly. This means making your objects flexible. Learn constraints and you change things without having to shift-select like crazy. It’s crucial when using components.
When I test new designers, I often ask them to resize something. With constraints, it’s 5 seconds. Without, it’s 5 minutes. It’s a big deal.
Components and Instances
This is the bread and butter of UI design in Figma.
Design Tip #73: Never repeat anything in your designs. Use components and instances.– Glen
Again, when you are designing, you want to optimize for iterations. You are going to change things. You don’t want to have to make the change 12 times in a row. Make the change once and it takes effect everywhere. If Figma didn’t have components, I would just use PowerPoint.
This is probably the hardest part of Figma to understand for new designers. You want to nest your components to minimize the number of layers in your tree. It makes loading quicker and also makes it easier to manage.
I could write an entire post just on component and instance technique. I am going to keep it short for now, but believe me, you have to learn this area in depth and experiment with how best to construct your components.
One quick thing…don’t put ALL your components on a different page. If they have specific prototype links, you need them on your primary page so you can manage the links centrally. Remember, if you have to do anything repetitively, you are doing it wrong.
This is brand new. Fresh out of the oven. I love this feature. I have been waiting for it for ages. Basically, it makes your layers aware of each other and move based on height/width. Example case: Tabs. You lengthen your third tab text and you want the fourth tab to move over. Boom. One more example: Tables. You have multiple columns of text and you want them to line up. There are many many more examples.
The point is that this feature is a big deal and doesn’t exist in other tools (that I have used). I strong;y recommend getting good at using Auto Layout.
It’s not a good experience (in my opinion) to jump from Sketch to Invision, back and forth over and over. Even the plugins don’t really make it seamless. It’s obvious to me that the new class of design tools with prototyping built in is a better model. When you are learning Figma, pay attention to the prototyping. There are several pieces to it including:
- Animation – there is more here than you realize
- Scrollable areas – make it realistic yo!
- Overlays – don’t make giant artboards for an overlay. Use the overlays please!
- Draw prototype links from components, not instances. Don’t repeat yourself. Do it right.
- Use the same size artboard everytime. I use 1333 x 750 – it fits perfectly into PowerPoint if you export and is about the size of a Macbook Air.
- Make sure you prototype to frames and not groups. Figma is finicky on this.
- You can’t prototype between “pages” – don’t mess this up.
- Learn to share your prototypes with others.
So there are alot of gotchas in prototyping, but it’s pretty powerful.
You have to pay for this one. Its really meaningful for a team of designers like we have. However, it is NOT obvious how it works. I wish the library was directly accessible as a file, but it is more a nebulous cloud feature. You “publish” into it. This creates some weird effects.
However, if you are going to work as a team, you need to understand all of the ins and outs. This is especially crucial in regards to naming. How you name your components has a direct relevance to have other designers will use them. Ease of use of your fellow designers is an important goal of a design system.
And the Rest…
Vector / Drawing Tools
I am actually not that good with the vector tools. I get stuck in there sometimes. I have tried to manipulate some SVG paths for icons, but truthfully, I am a hack. I can’t even describe what you should learn or not. It depends on what you use it for.
This is another one I don’t spend much time on. There are a few light tools in Figma, but I use them maybe once a year at most.
There are versions in Figma. You should know how they work, but honestly, I haven’t touched them in ages. You would think they are important, but I just haven’t found the need for them.
I probably missed a few features, but these will get you pretty far. I started this post just cataloging the features of Figma for the purpose of helping a new designer understand what they should be getting good at. I am not sure I achieved my goal. Maybe this is just a laundry list.
Look, not all posts are made of gold. You blog 1,970 times and see how many of them are awesome.
Side note: Christmas and New Years holidays this year are on Tuesday and Wednesday. So who is coming in those Mondays? Anyone? And who is bothering to come in on the Thursdays and Fridays? It seems like there will be two weeks with no one working. Am I wrong?