Figma sweetens FigJam whiteboard tool with new AI features


While Figma waits to hear whether regulators will allow Adobe to complete its $20 billion acquisition, the startup is not sitting idly by. Today, Figma announced it was adding three generative AI features to its FigJam whiteboard tool.

FigJam is Figma’s online collaborative whiteboard that teams can use to plan design or other projects, and generally organize meetings and ideas. It uses a sticky note metaphor, and has proved popular with customers since it was released in 2020.

“We realized that, as it relates to FigJam, that there is really a big opportunity for us to get really creative around enabling people to collaborate and visually reimagine all sorts of meetings and things like that inside of our platform,” Yuhki Yamashita, Figma’s chief product officer told TechCrunch.

In fact, FigJam is actually used by lots of folks who are not part of their core designer user base. “A lot of people will be surprised, but two-thirds of our weekly active users are not designers,” he said. Instead they are people who need to collaborate with designers or who are reviewing and collaborating on the work

Chris Marsh, research director at 451 Group, says that digital whiteboards in general have become popular with a wide range of users, especially as workforces become more distributed. “The visual collaboration market in fact is a big driver of async work, especially with more remote and distributed working,” Marsh told TechCrunch.

He says that Figma has tried to approach it with a broad audience in mind. “Since its conception Figma has thought about FigJam as a place [where] different designer, product, engineering, marketing, project owners and other users can collaborate on projects, and that kind of cross-team, higher value collaboration.”

That wide range of users led the company to consider ways to make it easier to use FigJam, and they decided to put AI to work on the problem. For starters, they have a tool to help create FigJam boards. The blank palette can be intimidating for new users, so they wanted to make it easier to get started.

So they created a generative AI tool that helps users create a new board from a prompt. The idea is that when you don’t know where to begin, you can start a FigJam template or diagram by describing it.

Once users have a board going, they tend to use digital sticky notes to post ideas or tasks (or anything they like), but as the board grows, it can become unwieldy, and the company wanted to make it easier to organize them.

The second piece lets users sort those sticky notes into logical thematic groupings like subject or person responsible for completing a task. “One of the things that we are doing is allowing you to sort these stickies. So if a designer ran this big brainstorming session around what stuff should we build or what user problems should we be solving, and you can sort those stickies into thematic groups” he said.

Finally when you have a full board, it’s hard to scroll through all the stickies to get the main points of the meeting or brainstorming session, so Figma developed a summarize feature that will automatically generate a summary from the sea of sticky notes.

“This is a really useful way to leverage AI to collect key themes. Whereas before, a [user] might have been taking a lot of time to really synthesize all the sticky notes,” Yamashita said.

The company is using OpenAI as its large language model and has tweaked it to understand Figma and FigJam concepts like diagram or calendar objects. If users go outside the parameters of their use case, Yamashita says they are testing a warning system that won’t allow them to proceed.

“When people are trying to add prompts that would produce harmful content, we actually produce a warning message or an error message and don’t allow them to proceed. So we’ve been testing that, and obviously, OpenAI has some of those controls as well,” he said.

Marsh says that their recent Voice of the Enterprise: Work Execution and Goals 2023 survey found that 71% of employees struggle with collaboration. If that’s true, it’s possible that these new features could be a starting point to help new users.

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