Posted April 30, 2020

I’ve always been interested in investing in companies and founders who take an old, staid technology category and turn it on its head, often reinventing an entirely new category (and inventing new behaviors) in the process. These technology tools bring new competencies into an organization — expanding who can do what — by democratizing software and empowering people to do new things.

Years ago, GitHub (where I was also on the board) reinvented the category of source code management and turned that model on its head — not only making code easy to access and more social, but by organizing projects around people rather than code. Those seemingly small product features had huge implications for the way people, and companies, not only build technology but collaborate around all their work — both within and across organizations. People who were previously only users could become producers; organizations of all sizes could coordinate work in new ways; software became social again, and supported significant community building around it.

That was the decade of code. Now, we are moving into the decade of design: One where design, not just code, is at the center of product development and successful organizations. Companies like Superhuman, Zoom, and many others are changing not only who buys and deploys software and how we work, but also our fundamental, table-stakes expectations for what a great product is. Remember 2010 QuickBooks? A decade ago, function over presentation was the rule, so you needed a workflow manual just to follow the user interface! But now — in the decade of design — the interface no longer reflects the code; rather, the code reflects the design. We expect better, we deserve better, we demand better… it’s no longer optional to have good design.

In much the same way engineering and software development went from closed, siloed systems to more open, collaborative systems, design and designers are going through the same kind of revolution. Because more people today — not only designers — now need to be fluent in communicating around design. How one builds something is no longer enough; you have to design it well, too. And it cannot be an afterthought.

If products and companies would live or die by code before, they now live or die by their product design and design literacy — that’s why I’m calling it the decade of design. And that’s why I’m pleased to announce our investment in Figma, the platform for building and collaborating on products that start with design and puts design at the center.

Figma empowers people to be a part of the design process and democratizes design, while also making the work of elite designers more valuable. I believe it does for design and designers what GitHub did for code and developers — not only by making design more accessible, but by nurturing an open design community as well, where people can find the tools they need instead of reinventing the wheel from scratch every time. There have been various attempts in the past (from Dribbble to Creative Market) of bringing designers and their portfolios together into a community; however, the design assets lived in a designer’s hard drive, which limited the ability for people to build upon each other’s creations in an open (and licensable) way. When a system has this kind of “composability”, it creates new building blocks, new combinations, and new kinds of creators who can all now communicate visually with each other both within and across organizations.

When I first heard about Figma five years ago, I was impressed by the clear vision of founders Dylan Field and Evan Wallace, and their ambition to build a web-based design platform (what was then dubbed by others as the “Google Docs of design”) for bringing real-time communication and collaboration features to design. CEO Dylan and CTO Evan had spent a couple years at Brown in the computer science department, before Dylan dropped out to accept a Thiel fellowship (and then spent time in product at Flipboard). They then explored different opportunities together before realizing that the interface was everything, and where it was at.

I was cheering for them back then, but also wondering if design could one day be as essential as code? Fast-forward to today and under their leadership, Figma has become a sensation — with the kind of product-centric growth that comes from a community that gets it, users who want it, and customers who desperately need it.

In a seemingly mature, already-served category, why was this the case? Because other tools (like InVision, Sketch, Illustrator, and others) only provided isolated pieces of the whole product puzzle. Where other tools had one piece, they missed the collaboration piece; or, they had a closed ecosystem. Then there’s the friction of file-sharing, version management, approval chains, sync conflicts, and more — how can anyone collaborate, let alone create new components and assets, with all that manual plumbing? I know firsthand the power of what happens when you make such workflows far easier to collaborate around.

Figma puts all the pieces together, and into more than the sum of those parts. What used to take four or five discrete tools can now be done end-to-end in Figma, the single source of “truth” for product design and design systems. But it’s not just a design tool that solves a problem, it’s a multiplayer system for collaboration: designers, developers, marketing teams and end users work in a continuous fashion in Figma, drawing mockups, building prototypes and testing with real users through several iterations. Their community has taken off with a product-led virality that I haven’t seen since GitHub — extending beyond product designers and into product managers, marketers, and engineers.

Since it launched in December 2015, over 4M users have registered for Figma. And shortly after they launched their plugin platform last summer, more than 700+ third-party plugins have been built for the platform with over 3M plugin installs. We hear about Figma being used by everyone from design-led companies like Airbnb, Spotify, Twitter, and others; to established tech companies, new and old, like Dropbox, Google, Microsoft, and Uber; and by other industry players such as British Telecom and Goldman Sachs. The City of Chicago is using Figma, too, to do open design and extend its team due to being under-resourced. And none of this includes the countless individuals doing necessary and creative things with Figma. Earlier this year, Figma put on their first user conference, Config, which sought to have meaningful conversations around design, connect community with each other in person, and more. It wasn’t just about listening to talks and presentations, but about participating in and contributing to a collective discussion, all centered around the theme of “open design” — long used in engineering, but new to design.

All of this creates new behaviors, community, and opportunity: By nurturing a deep set of resources and open design community that keeps building on — not just adding but multiplying existing assets — Figma changes the game. There is nothing more powerful than when you give people the tools and building blocks to do their best, come together, and let them take it from there… anything is possible.

That’s the story of software, software development, and now, software-based collaboration around design. So I’m proud for Andreessen Horowitz to partner with Dylan, Evan, and the entire Figma team (where I can bring go-to-market experience with bottom-up sales execution and operations scaling advice) as they grow and go on to conquer the rest of the world. It’s the decade of design, after all.