Figma: the collaborative interface design tool

I was recently discussing/bemoaning the lack of a Windows version of Bohemian’s Sketch on Twitter, and @ryanAmurphy suggested I check out something called Figma. At first glance Figma appears to be essentially a clone of Sketch, and it certainly seems to sport a very similar UI and set of base tools. But Figma boasts a couple of key elements you won’t find in Sketch.

Firstly, not only does Figma run on Mac AND Windows, but because it can run in modern web browsers (it was built using the dynamic WebGL API) it can be used on a whole range of operating systems and devices. There are also native apps available to download for MacOS and Windows, although a quick look around in the desktop app suggests this is a product that was developed first and foremost for web browsers.


The second feature that gives Figma an edge over similar tools is something its creators call multiplayer editing – real-time collaborative editing for multiple designers. For this, Figma’s creators apparently took inspiration from multiplayer gaming, but looking at how it’s been implemented they seem to have also taken cues from existing collaborative apps like Google Docs and Hackpad. I’m not currently in a role where this type of functionality could really be used but based on past experience, I think multiplayer editing is something that could potentially be very useful in the right situation.

So far the pricing structure for the service (it’s definitely shaped more like a service than just an app) has yet to be announced, but up until the end of 2016 it’s completely free to use.



Entry level VR – Google Cardboard

I recently picked up a Google Cardboard viewer. I was interested to see exactly what kind of Virtual Reality experience it could offer, given that it’s probably the most accessible VR tech currently available (assuming you already have access to a smartphone).

The cardboard structure feels pretty low-tech, but for a few pounds it’ll convert a regular smartphone into a reasonably able VR device, which is pretty impressive. Obviously pressing hard cardboard edges against your face isn’t the most comfortable viewing experience, but in short bursts it’s tolerable.

After a few viewing issues (you need to calibrate the Cardboard app for your viewer, and initially the app wouldn’t recognise the QR code on mine) I was up and running and trying out the demos in the official Cardboard app. The demos serve as a reasonable introduction to VR, and my kids certainly found them lots of fun, but for slightly more meaningful experiences you need to look elsewhere. The official Star Wars app has a VR section called Jakku Spy, which features some short but pretty impressive 360 movies. You can also find 360 videos on YouTube, like Google’s own ‘Inside Abbey Road’, which you can see below – although for the full effect it really needs to be seen through a Cardboard viewer.

For a more comprehensive introduction to Google Cardboard you can check out the official page here.