AMA: Noah Levin (Figma)

over 3 years ago from Noah Levin, Design Director, Figma

  • Conner Drew, over 3 years ago

    Hey Noah,

    Thanks for taking the time to answer some specific questions today, especially after wrapping up Config.


    I get the impression that Figma works very openly (makes sense considering the product), but not just in Figma but also in other ways. Have you found any disadvantages to this approach? Pros/cons?


    0 points
    • Noah LevinNoah Levin, over 3 years ago

      Do you mean openly within the company, or openly outside of the company?

      If inside, I definitely think transparent work processes are the way to go. That said, I’m coming from Google and ClassPass before Figma, which both had transparent internal work processes where you could always easily find out the latest on any given project. So I don’t know what it’s like to work at companies like Apple — where this isn’t necessarily the case — to compare it to. From my experience though:

      Pros of Transparent Internal Work Culture

      • Less chance of overlapping work / redundancies (avoids: “oh I didn’t know X was happening or Y was working on that”)
      • Inspires the team and keeps them motivated
      • Saves time / reuses patterns (allows: “oh great idea, and that’s actually relevant to my project!”)
      • Builds trust
      • Enables better feedback

      Cons of Transparent Internal Work Culture

      • Could cause distractions or lack of focus. I definitely think this worsens with the “always on” slack culture in a lot of modern companies…

      If outside, I also think transparency is great to build trust with your audience, but it also comes with more risks to consider, especially if you’re in a competitive market, or not otherwise in an open-source related project. I still just about always lean “pro transparent and open” in most cases, and am super thankful when companies operate that way.

      Pros of Transparent External Work

      • Teaches others in the industry and provides opportunities to more people in the world who may not be able to gain that perspective. “rising tides lift all boats”
      • Widens perspective and encourages discussion (especially in getting out of the Silicon Valley bubble)
      • Catches possible mistakes (more eyes to notice things)
      • Allows for more rapid innovation

      Cons of Transparent External Work

      • Risks “stealing” (though I honestly think ideas are cheap — it’s execution that’s hard. After all, “Everything is a remix”). We’re all building off the shoulders of giants!
      • Could cause distractions (both for the person writing and sharing the process, as it inevitably means time away from other things, and for the reader, who may not need all the extra inputs or stimulus)

      Hmm… clearly I need to spend more time evaluating the “cons” of both forms of open work… but honestly I much prefer working this way. And at Figma, clearly with our efforts in Community and in projects like Team Profiles, we believe companies will benefit from sharing their work more openly.

      In fact, an amazing product designer on our team, Jenny Wen, also gave a talk on this recently called “Designing In The Open” which I highly recommend.

      3 points