I would like to imagine a world where Figma would create a third product besides Figma design and FigJam in the area of corporate presentation software. Of course, as they have now been acquired by Adobe, it is less likely to happen, but you never know. It might. Because the opportunity is quite large.
So what products does Figma offer today? The original product that shares the name with the company is “Figma” UI design tool. Not entirely unique when it launched, it nevertheless took the world by storm and destroyed most of the competition in the process. Adobe themselves have had a similar product for years – Adobe XD, yet it was not even the biggest competition that Figma had (at least in a non-corporate market). Many people would say that Sketch was a market leader to beat, as well as InVision Studio and others.
And Figma did beat them hands over fist, it was better at designing user interfaces and better at general design tasks. Somehow it managed to achieve this level of usability that no other competition had. Even for an inexperienced user, it became possible to be productive in creating user interface prototypes, and it was especially easy to re-use existing elements and remix already-made designs if they were composed well.
We have seen similar success stories in different verticals by other companies, but somehow most of the time, organic product growth stops there. The company keeps innovating on its core product, but launching something in adjacent markets is not going well. And when they do manage it, then it is so rare that there have been books written about some of such occasions. I remember reading a book that used Dropbox Paper (its second product after file storage) and a second product by AirBnb, related to organizing travels, which I don’t remember the name for. Both of those products are probably good technical solutions, yet they have not managed to replicate the wild success of the original offering.
Often companies still do grow, but not so organically. They buy other products and integrate them in their offering. Like Atlassian expanding on their successful Jira and Confluence products by acquiring Bitbucket, Trello, OpsGenie, and up to 20 more other products. Such strategy is a powerful hedge in case somebody disrupts the core product. So you either buy products in adjacent markets or create them yourself.
And Figma did that with their second product – FigJam. It entered the competitive market of other online collaborative whiteboarding tools. There have been many over the years, and one of the most well-known was probably Miro. Technically online whiteboarding was very similar to collaborative design, which Figma excelled at. It was a natural market to enter, and FigJam is performing well. Miro might have some better features for group work, but FigJam has inherited the ease of use of Figma design as well as the amazing capability to reuse complex objects designed in Figma directly in FigJam, allowing to naturally expand the way of working between Design and Product teams using this new tool.
This seamless integration is key to success, just as it was for Jira and Confluence and the way Atlassian managed to integrate them with Bitbucket later on. For Miro to defend, they will need to expand different types of features than those where FigJam has this Figma integration advantage. For example, Miro could build better integrations with the Microsoft Office suite or Atlassian suite. Or maybe add some sort of numeric dimension to their product, allowing some sort of visually driven calculations to support collaboration on analytical work.
The third product for Figma
But the worst for Figma would be to stop at two products. They would need to expand their offerings to succeed in the long term as an independent company. As a part of Adobe, they are more likely to become just one of the cogs of the big machine, but who knows, maybe they will remain autonomous and will be able to build on top of their success themselves.
The “third product” I have in mind is Presentations. Microsoft has lived unchallenged with its PowerPoint for 30 years, and I think it is time to destroy its dominance. Sure, there have been serious tries to disrupt them, and all competitors have had their own version of the presentation slide software. But neither Prezi (innovative web-based presentation tool) nor Apple Keynote nor Google Slides has made any lasting impact on PowerPoint.
In fact, you can see that they have completely given up on the real competition. Features offered by Apple and Google for their competing products are merely a bare minimum. there is nothing that comes to mind when thinking about their competitive edge, some sort of differentiator on how they try to win the game. There is none because they are not even trying. The feature list of Keynote or Slides is shorter than that of LibreOffice Impress, which in turn has tried to copy PowerPoint to the letter and stay compatible with it, but is always stuck somewhere in the past, catching up.
Figma has a unique starting point for building presentation software and winning the market.
- Figma Design already has a great presentation style view of the document called “Prototype”
- It already has a way how to lock and share only view-only prototypes with the wider world
- There are simple shape formatting and similar features already built for FigJam
- It has amazing collaborative tools for creating presentations together in both Design and FigJam
- Includable Plugins and Widgets are already existing, allowing for easy integrations with others
And there are other helpful aspects as well, like already now designers are often asked to help out and make Powerpoint slides better looking before important meetings, especially in sales. And many designers are already working with Figma.
Taking those base building blocks, it would be easy to get started. But how would a product look like that would make it really better than the competition instead of simply following the leader? It takes something truly great to dethrone PowerPoint in corporate boardrooms.
I propose the following core features:
Non-linear slide paths and editable presentation map
It should be possible to have a way how to branch out the list of slides to show details or alternate scenarios when required. And have it all with a great graphical overview of the entire “map” of the presentation, as well as an easy way how to move between them. Annotate them, color them, and in general, work on this meta layer of the presentation.
When complex presentations are made, then there are often appendices created for the storage of such extra material. And any alternative scenarios are always presented linearly. There is no native functionality to help with such a very common need.
Versioning that is not an after-thought
Figma and Microsoft both are bad at versioning. Often external tools are used if there is any versioning done at all. We are still living in a world of “v3_final_final2.ppt”, and it is ridiculous. “review” and “approve” features of Microsoft Office and their competitors are good, but there are still no versions of the documents as a part of their offering.
There has to be a good way for an author to define when one version ends and the other starts, to have parallel branches, to be able to see the differences between them, to have an approval cycle for new versions to become standard, and so much more. Coders have had this level of granular control over their work for decades, while business people have not. This is something that can be fixed and should be fixed.
Long-form content that is attached to the slides
Another extremely common issue is that presentations are great for short sentences and pictures, but they are bad for presenting any longer text or more complex datasets. This needs to be fixed, and longer form text, as well as data tables, need to become a first-class feature of the product, so people would be able to stop with the awkward embedding and using unreadable font sizes just to squeeze it somehow in.
When presenting on a big screen in the meeting room, the presenter can skip the long-form additions, as people won’t be able to read them through anyways from a distance, but when the presentation is done via video conference, the presenter can show the complex views, and people would be able to read them easily.
Presentation mode with a built-in feedback loop
Creating presentations together is already quite a collaborative process, and Microsoft is not too bad at it, although the file-focused nature of PowerPoint still keeps introducing sync errors and “I don’t see your changes” type of comments more often than not. Figma is much better at collaboration, and this can be capitalized on for the new product as well.
At the same time, collaboration with the audience of the presentation has been quite poor and has always relied on external tools. “Scan this QR code to do a little survey” is something we have seen way too often. There is no reason why also this functionality couldn’t be a built-in feature. In fact, it could be a lot better when integrated.
Imagine you are showing a slide, and it has a reaction widget in a corner. And anybody in the audience can interact with it from their mobile phone via the Figma app. Thumbs up if I understood the idea, thumbs down if it needs more explanations. Or there are five choices for design to vote from. You can vote on the app, and you can also go back to the five specific slides and see them again, all in the app.
This also shows that there should be different presentation sessions as primary objects related to the presentation. As each presentation will have a different feedback loop. This should probably be tied very well to versioning, as we rarely show exactly the same presentation every time, anyway.
Also, there would be clear viewer/creator mode differences in the app. If you are listening to a presentation, you can’t skip ahead and see what is on the next slide. You can see only what has been presented so far. Using a good slide map if the paths are not fully linear. And you can, of course, open the long-form content on your device if it is attached to any of the slides that are being presented.
All sorts of comments/chats are also usually quite bad when related to the presentation. Usually, during creation, there is one set of discussions, and then during the presentation, people have to rely on the chat window of the videoconferencing tool. And both are not great and are too disconnected. This is also where Figma also currently are not amazing. Comments are sometimes hard to find and hard to interact with. Though Microsoft has exactly the same problem.
Sharing and saving of the copy
Everybody is used to the fact that the only way how you can reliably share a PowerPoint presentation so it would be seen exactly as you want it to by others sometime in the future is to export it to PDF. This export obviously limits the possibility of building any features that are not resembling a series of paper sheets, which pdf documents have always been about.
Online-only tools have struggled with the same problem. People do want to save their copy or have a copy that can be sent over email, or archived, and so on. Things you can do with a file but can’t with a link to the webpage.
This needs to be solved for the product to succeed in a corporate space. And it has to address all of the possible use cases.
- It still has to be printable (and, therefore, pdf-able). But then the print process should be interactive, with the user selecting the order of the slides and answering questions on what to do with interactive elements, what to do with comments, attachments, and so on. So it would be quite predictable. Printing/pdf-ing for posterity is a mandatory requirement for so many use cases that it is not possible to avoid it entirely.
- There has to be a good way how to save “my copy” of the presentation. It is up to the author to decide what level of details can be copied, but that mostly should focus on the technical elements, not on the content as it is seen. For example, if you use complex internal corporate Figma components to build a presentation, then maybe persons who take their copy when listening to the presentation should have a png/svg version of those components in their copy of the file. And some other similar tweaks should be configurable, but in essence, what people see, is what they should get. Additionally, each presentation session has its own feedback loop, and your copy should have that data embedded.
- Sharing a link to the copy over the email that you can be sure will actually work for another side. Sharing links has been a surprisingly hard problem for many online tools and services, including Microsoft, as when you are logged in, you can access it, and it is hard to understand if others will be able to, without somehow impersonating that other user for a second, which is not really possible. Figma has a decent sharing, but this can and should be improved upon. Making very clear and visible URL distinctions between internal and public versions of the file would be a good start.
There is a clear lack of innovation in the presentation software, and it has been like that for a while. Figma has one of the best positions to take advantage of that and attack this market. And that in turn, could change them from a specialty software vendor into one of the global software houses, challenging Microsoft and Google. Let’s see how it goes for them and which way they will decide to grow their product!
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In the book, I explore how large enterprises’ IT and business functions keep fighting about everything all the time. Why they do it, what drives them, what goals are set for them, and so on. I dive deep into thinking about how various psychological quirks that are part of our human condition are at fault most of the time.
How software architecture choices reflect the pros and cons of particular solutions and the requirements for the enterprise architect, goals set to the IT director, and what the CEO wants to say in the next quarterly earnings call. Everything is always interconnected, and it is a pure joy to try to untangle it all.
There are no magical three-step solutions provided in the book, but it will give you a lot of extra clarity of corporate technology affairs and some tools on how to influence them.
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