Adobe Rocks the Design World with $20B Figma Acquisition


What was that collective gasp in the creative community following Adobe’s announcement to purchase the design platform Figma for $20 billion?

On Sept. 15, Adobe announced a deal to buy the design platform Figma for $20 billion — Adobe’s largest acquisition to date. 

According to company officials the new asset will expand their product portfolio with Figma’s web-based, multiplayer capabilities and accelerate the delivery of Adobe’s Creative Cloud technologies on the web.

In a statement, Chairman and CEO of Adobe Shantanu Narayen, said, “The combination of Adobe and Figma is transformational and will accelerate our vision for collaborative creativity.”

However, the acquisition comes with several layers, including intent questions of collaboration of an acquired tool vs. market elimination, learning curves for UX designers and what, if any software suites, will fade into the sunset.

Figma Had What Adobe Didn’t

Sheila Mahoutchian, Forrester senior analyst, said when it comes to enabling real-time, full-featured, browser-based collaboration, Adobe was simply “late to the game.”

By comparison, Figma, with its real-time collaboration and rapid prototyping capabilities, was far ahead — having already penetrated markets at companies like Airbnb, BP, Kimberly-Clark, Microsoft and Salesforce.

“Figma’s best-in-class collaboration workflow platform has changed the landscape for design tools, moving the world of design from individual contributors to collaboration-based team enablement,” Mahoutchian said. “We’re looking forward to learning more on how Adobe will integrate these trends and learnings into its expansive suite of design tools.”

In the past, designers would be assigned a deliverable or an asset to create. They would go off and create it, then bring it back as a final deliverable. However, she said, since a lot of that work was print and early web experiences, they didn’t have dynamic, changing needs to respond to — just an objective and a resulting asset that endeavored to meet that objective.

Digital experience assets in service to a refined and constantly evolving customer experience are the primary deliverables needed from designers, according to Mahoutchian. They want to drive most of a brand’s customer interaction, which moves quickly due to rapid market evolution, increased customer digital literacy and value-based differentiation, she added, as opposed to commoditized price differentiations.

“Inherent in the shift is an expansion toward more input, in shorter timeframes, from diverse stakeholders toward the creation and deployment of those assets,” Mahoutchian said.

Related Article: Adobe Acquires Figma for $20B, Zesty Lands $75M, More News

Collaboration or Elimination Play?

The Figma acquisition is all about getting rid of the competition, said Darren Hood, experience design manager at Arity. 

“From a business perspective, Adobe has, once again, eliminated a major competitor,” Hood said. “There are reports they will allow Figma to operate independently, but even the most novice of businesspeople knows that wouldn’t be smart or savvy.”

Oen Michael Hammonds, IBM distinguished design executive, said these acquisitions happen a lot and, on the surface, it can appear as if Adobe taking out the competition.

“Back in the early 2000’s Adobe acquired Macromedia and slowly took features from Freehand, Fireworks and other products and integrated them into their core offerings,” Hammonds said. “My hypothesis is that this is what they will do with Figma. I would not be surprised though if Figma becomes a core product and XD (Adobe’s design tool) actually gets sunset.”

Tony Brinton, founder and principal at Brinton Design and director of digital at OTTO Brand Lab said at the end of the day Adobe decided it’s a better path to acquire Figma, than to chase them for years.

“It seems to me that Adobe recognized that Figma delivers a collaborative design experience that UX/UI professionals on the product side and marketing side have been wanting,” Brinton said. “Figma took a modern approach to technologically architecting the platform with that goal in mind — it’s a true cloud-based platform, where Adobe products are sort of a hybrid model — they had the challenge of backing their legacy products into that model, so there were compromises and limitations.” 

Related Article: Adobe Updates Experience Cloud to Boost Personalized Retail Experiences

In Align With Design 

What’s the back story on Figma? Figma came out of nowhere in 2016 to become “the operating system” for designers, said Tom Wentworth, chief marketing officer at Recorded Future. 

“Designers love Figma for its speed and simplicity,” he added. “But they have a more complicated relationship with the Adobe Creative Cloud, leaving Adobe quite vulnerable. That’s why Adobe needs Figma to solidify its base of creative users and was willing to pay a massive premium for access to that audience.”

Brian Nemhauser, vice president of product at Propel, Inc., said Adobe has been dedicated to serving the creative professional user for decades, and as the core of its business, it will always look to bring the best tools in the industry for critical creative work under one roof so that users get everything they need from Creative Cloud.

“Figma has become the clear standard for screen design, and this move allows Adobe to continue to be the one-stop shop for creative pros and for users to get everything they need for one price,” Nemhauser said. “Acquisition has been a crucial component of Adobe’s business from the days of Photoshop and After Effects to Macromedia and now Figma. Each of those moves brought new expertise and capabilities to Adobe and resulted in significant new value for users and the company.”

Since Adobe is primarily a desktop-first application company, Nemhauser said the acquisition of Figma and its web-first application will allow Adobe to have a proven web platform that delivers more fully on the promise of Creative Cloud. 

“In this space, creative work can happen anywhere, and the Adobe funnel will be improved by simplifying and accelerating the time needed to go from awareness to active use of a tool,” he said. “In other words — no need to wait for a 2GB download.”

What It Means for Adobe Users

Hood believes that the answer to what’s ahead remains to be seen because Adobe’s history is chock full of instances where it sunset the least popular, or the least robust of competing tools, even if it meant doing so to its own product like Dreamweaver vs. GoLive and Flash vs. LiveMotion. 

“Based on this history, we have seen that Adobe is not averse to placing an acquired product on center stage,” Hood said. “Between Figma and XD, Figma appears to be more popular. For this reason, I think it would be wise for XD users to get acquainted with Figma.”

Brinton agrees and said the real question should be what this deal means for Adobe XD users. 

“Since Adobe will no longer be developing or supporting XD, designers should move over to Figma as soon as possible,” Brinton said. “There will be a learning curve which will be easier or harder depending on the individual, but the two share enough of the same conceptual paradigms that it shouldn’t be too heavy a burden.”

Nemhauser said the rise of Figma reinvigorated a space that was somewhat stagnant.

“Every new business needs a website, and many need an app,” he said. “The pandemic has accelerated the move of many businesses online and led to greater demand for UX design. It’s a great time to be a UX designer, and this move by Adobe demonstrates just how critical they see those users and their needs are to the future of creative work.”

He believes the acquisition of Figma will provide several advantages for Adobe users including:


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