AMA: Noah Levin (Figma)

over 3 years ago from , Design Director, Figma

Hey everyone! I’m Noah Levin, Design Director at Figma. Here’s my Figma Community Profile: figma.com/@nlevin — more on that maybe later in the Q&A!

For those who don't already know, Figma is a place where teams build products together. For the past 2+ years, I’ve been working to help build the design team here that helps create powerful collaboration tools that bring both designers and developers closer together in the product development process. Designing for designers in a design tool definitely gets pretty meta sometimes.

In a previous life, I led the design team at ClassPass, and the iOS Search team at Google. I also spent some time teaching designers to code with Framer Classic back in the day, and building a cuff-mounted digital assistant for NASA… kind of like an apple watch for Astronauts.

Here at Figma, we’re just coming off a huge week. Last Thursday we hosted Config, our first user conference. We had people fly in from all over the world, with thousands more joining by livestream. At the conference we announced a whole host of product news which you can find here.

Today seems like the perfect time to hang out with the Designer News community to answer any questions you may have. So let’s get to it — ask away!


  • Noah Levin, over 3 years ago

    Thanks so much everyone for your time and thoughtful questions! This was a lot of fun. Hopefully it was helpful in some way to get more of an inside glance about me and about Figma.

    While I won't be checking here anymore for questions, please don't hesitate to ping me on twitter (@nlevin) if you think of anything else.

    And one more thing! We are definitely hiring across a number of roles, both in Product Design, Brand Design, and all sorts of others throughout the company. Learn more at http://figma.com/careers

    4 points
  • Jesse VenticinqueJesse Venticinque, over 3 years ago

    Hey Noah - do you have any tips for sourcing new design hires, and what's your interview process (portfolio review, interview structure, etc).


    4 points
    • Noah Levin, over 3 years ago

      Oooh that's a good one. Thanks, Jesse.

      So for sourcing, I look EVERYWHERE I possibly can. I try and talk to people at meet ups, I look at twitter for interesting conversations and things people are sharing there, I look on LinkedIn, and I look when companies launch amazing products and try to figure out the teams who worked on them. I’ve found when you reach out directly to people who work on things who make stuff you love and have genuine things to say about it, they’re often responsive (even if they aren’t actively looking).

I’d also say that just writing and externalizing our process more tends to get the attention of more designers who might then think to reach out to us/me proactively. Most recently I wrote about Design Critiques at Figma and a while before that I wrote about How We Built the Design Team. Those have driven a lot of inbound candidates our way — next up I’ll probably write more about the relationships between PM/Design based on an interesting twitter conversation from our Product Director.

      Regarding our interview process, it usually looks like: 1) Phone screen / portfolio review (often times 2 of these, one with me, and one with another designer). Then 2) On site interview with a 50min presentation sharing 1-2 projects to a room of about 5-6 people (designers, a PM, maybe an engineer), followed by a series of three 1-on-1 (or 2-on-1) interviews focusing on diving deeper into a number of skills we’re looking for. Most recently, we’ve been looking for evidence of skills in 6 key areas:

      1. Product Strategy: Do they ask good questions to know they are solving the right problem? Do they have a good process?
      2. Craft (Visual): Is there type and sense of hierarchy and execution clean and well crafted? Are they able to follow an existing visual system?
      3. Craft (Interaction & Prototyping): e.g. can they handle systems thinking?
      4. Communication: Is it easy for others to understand them and their ideas?
      5. Collaboration: Are they easy to work with? How do they handle conflict?
      6. Getting Things Done & Shipping: Can they be productive and make things happen? Does their work ship or do they care about that?

      With every step of the interview process, we always leave a lot of time to answer questions people may have about us. It’s always a 2-way-street. The best fits are entirely mutual for both us and for the person we’re speaking with!

      Hope that helps!

      p.s. thanks for all your work on Fitbod, I use it every single week!

      10 points
  • Artur Eldib, over 3 years ago

    Hey Noah! Any plans on releasing a feature that deals with States and Smart animating between them?

    1 point
  • Terone WardTerone Ward, over 3 years ago

    Hi Noah,

    Thanks for doing this AMA!

    Are there any plans to make Figma fully functional on tablet devices, more specifically iPad Pro?

    What your team is doing to push the boundaries of design software is inspiring and empowering.

    1 point
    • Noah Levin, over 3 years ago

      Thanks for the kind words, Terone!

      This is something we've been thinking a bit more about recently, but I'd really love to hear more about what use cases you're thinking about! What are you interested in seeing, specifically and why?

      For many touch devices, I personally think the viewing and commenting experience is more crucial than editing, which can be quite difficult and nuanced. The hard part is we're still relatively small, and it's a pretty large chunk of work to do tablet editing right, so doing this would mean saying no to a TON of other features that the large majority of people have been asking for. That said, we do strive to make design accessible everywhere an to everyone, including those on touch devices, so I'm sure it'll be something we think about at some point to stay true to our mission.

      2 points
      • Nelson TarucNelson Taruc, over 3 years ago

        I use Figma on iPad Pro and wrote a Medium post about it. https://medium.com/@nelson.taruc/figma-on-ipad-pro-a-survival-guide-5981e88fdec5 Main use case is to "fill the void" when I don't want to carry my laptop around, but the article may help add color to that use case.

        1 point
        • Chinmay Kulkarni, over 3 years ago

          Interesting read, I've been trying on and off to see if I can get work done on my iPad. I haven't done intensive work on it yet, but I'd like to one day. It's just so much more portable to carry around.

          I don't know if you've seen this but this was a pretty interesting proposal by Theo Strauss. I'd love to see something like this one day: https://uxdesign.cc/meet-dimension-bf8d76bd0e1a

          0 points
      • Chinmay Kulkarni, over 3 years ago

        100% agree that there are other features that are required but I'd really love to see Figma on the iPad on day. It'd make my workflow a lot more seamless, especially if I'm not at my desk. At the moment I sketch wireframes and plan on my iPad. If I'm away from my desk and need to flesh out ideas, I use Codepen/CodeSandbox - which both work great on the iPad. There's just nothing on the iPad which I can use for UI design - so if I'm away from my desk I've just got to wait til I get back. Which is fine, but I'd love for that process to be seamless. Sketch, design, and code on iPad would be absolutely amazing in terms of portability.

        Also, not sure if you've seen this but it's a really interesting take on Figma on the iPad by Theo Strauss: https://uxdesign.cc/meet-dimension-bf8d76bd0e1a

        Regardless though, love Figma and how far you're pushing yourselves. Every update is a breath of fresh air with features that make my workflow sooo much faster.

        0 points
      • Terone WardTerone Ward, over 3 years ago

        Thanks Noah,

        I totally understand that there are many features vying to be prioritized. I'm specifically looking to have a more seamless workflow between sketching/note taking and applying the results of those exercises on the same device, in an environment that's capable of producing production worthy assets, without any workarounds.

        I find myself jumping between devices quite often and also feeling that maybe the iPad Pro I'm using has the horsepower to support most, if not all of the apps that I rely on as a Product Designer.

        If you ever need a test subject/beta tester for a future version that support this functionality, I'll be first in line.

        0 points
  • Daniel GoldenDaniel Golden, over 3 years ago

    How did you get into design and what has your journey been like leading up to leading design at Figma?

    1 point
    • Noah Levin, over 3 years ago

      I first started designing websites when I was in middle school and high school with fun WYSIWYG tools like Homestead, Geocities, and Dreamweaver. I would also take on graphic design projects like a poster and logo for my brothers band, or for a family friend's business. I didn't realize there would be a career in it, but when I got to school at Carnegie Mellon a lot of doors opened in terms of both understanding how design is more than just how things look, but how things work, and also in understanding the types of challenges companies needed help with. I'm super thankful for my time there as it allowed me to learn from so many people and practice projects in interdisciplinary teams.

      The journey has been wild. To be perfectly honest, I really never thought I'd be managing / leading teams! I'd always really enjoyed just making things and particularly the prototyping part of the design process. In fact, I'd even considered an IC role at Figma before considering the management role! I think roles are really contextual to the company, to where you're at, and what resources you'll have available to you to learn the most from. Careers aren't always linear either — you can move between different types of roles depending on those aforementioned variables. Figma just so happened to offer an amazing opportunity for me to grow as a manager from some really seasoned coaches and mentors, and the team has been a blessing to work with.

      4 points
  • Svenn-Petter Mæhle, over 3 years ago

    Hey Noah,

    Great work with Figma - super impressed what you guys have been shipping lately.

    What are your thoughts on how tools like Modulz are trying to reduce the gap between UI design and development even more by relying on Webflow-like design constraints when designing and allowing you to share snippets of code with the devs on your team?

    0 points
  • Ch'an Armstrong, over 3 years ago

    Hi Noah,

    Thanks for sharing, I'm loving the idea of Community Profile.

    When will this feature be available, out of Beta? Will it be available privately within the Organization tier?


    0 points
  • Rey AlejandroRey Alejandro, over 3 years ago

    Auto layout is amazing but feels I need to do a few workarounds because of some limitations on stretching, Is there a feature related to auto layout on development?

    0 points
  • 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 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
  • Will MitbrodtWill Mitbrodt, over 3 years ago

    Hi Noah,

    How do you keep up with the latest design trends? What resources do you use to inspire yourself?


    0 points
    • Noah Levin, over 3 years ago

      Hi Will — I try to keep this list of resources up to date to highlight things I recommend people look to for learning and inspiration about design: https://medium.com/@nlevin/ux-design-recommendations-8de563c5fbfa

      We also have an #inspiration channel internally at Figma that various team members post to, which is a lot of fun. I try to also just stay up to date via modern and unexpected platforms like TikTok which start to hint at how the next generation of storytellers and creatives are expressing themselves.

      2 points
  • Matthew Hollingsworth, over 3 years ago

    Hey Noah! What's a resource or source of inspiration that you think every designer should know about?

    0 points
  • Steven GarritySteven Garrity, over 3 years ago

    Noah, are the particular features or design issues where you find yourself limited by the Web platform? Are there others where you've been particularly enabled by the Web platform, vs. a native/local product?

    0 points
    • Noah Levin, over 3 years ago

      Honestly I've felt more empowered than limited while working on the web here. Which I never expected to say, because a lot of my time when I worked at Google was actually working on convincing teams of the advantages of working with native technologies while working on mobile products like Google Now and Voice Search. But here, I’ve been BLOWN AWAY by the quality of our engineering team and what they’ve proven the web is truly capable of. It’s advantages of shipping every single week and not requiring app updates, being available on every platform immediately, easily share links, and easily collaborate together in real time, make the pros far outweighs the cons — and most Figma users have found our performance even faster than many of our native competitors.

      That said, there are some random things that come to mind. For example, multiple window management for having a prototype up while you view your design is a bit difficult to do well on the web when you’re relegated to a single tab, working with the clipboard has some specific challenges, and certainly offline support is something that we think a lot about. We’re constantly looking for workarounds for this to handle these shortcomings, but overall we’re quite confident about our direction of investing in the web.

      1 point
  • Justine Shu, over 3 years ago

    Hey Noah! Thanks for being here :) Two questions:

    1. What are you most excited about Figma's latest product announcement, and why?

    2. What does success look like for you and your team? Has that changed since you started? If so -- how?

    0 points
    • Noah Levin, over 3 years ago

      Thanks for having me!

      1. Ohh that's a tough one. I'm pretty excited about a lot of things. From the editor side, hyperlinks will be super fun and enable a lot more use cases in side of Figma for teams. I've been waiting on that one for a while, and I'm excited for us to release it soon (we're just brushing up some final interaction details first). Outside of the editor, I'm most excited about our work with Community. Today when you want to find valuable resources on the web, you have to sift through a lot of noise, and even then you mostly find static images. We're not too far from a future where you'll have access to design source files of all kinds to help speed up your work, and to learn best practices from each other.

      2. Success for me and for the product design team at Figma includes a number of things, like 1) is the team happy and do they feel they are in a healthy environment to do their best work? this includes things like career development and training, cross-functional relationships, team culture, hiring/resourcing, etc,. 2) are responsibilities for everyone clear? do THEY know what success looks like? 3) are we able to stay on top of all the requests and feature development work that needs to happen? Are their cross-functional partners (eng, PM, marketing, etc,.) satisfied with how collaboration is going? are we able to get ahead of the roadmap and be strategic to help define and shape what it is we're working on, or are we mostly stuck in the weeds? That's just a few parts of it, as most of you know design has a ton of different requirements, especially at a fast-moving startup!

      7 points