I haven’t reflected on the digital products I’m using in a little while. (In the last few years I’ve been super focused on the physical things I own, on My Collection of Things) I sat down to write a little bit about my three favorite digital products that are a part of my daily life, Figma, Google Photos, and Telegram.
Realtime collaboration between designers changed my life. I really swear, I think Figma is the best thing that’s ever happened to design in my design career. It’s the app we’ve all been waiting for. It’s the app we talked about back in 2011 when we were still considering if Illustrator or Photoshop or Dreamweaver or Fireworks was the best for designing apps and websites (I wrote why Illustrator was the best back then here). Figma is the answer. It’s a web-based—back up—yeah Figma is a web app: you can go to Figma.com, sign in, and see all your projects and jump right back in where you left off. There’s no saving your work, it’s always saved, always there. When you want to share something, you just copy the link and send it to someone. It’s insanely easy.
Like listen, if you've never co-designed something with another designer at the same time, in the same file, you have to try it. It's incredible. I’m talking two (or three, four, five?) cursors in the same document working with the same elements all at the same time, with zero lag. Listen, I know this sounds a bit stressful and it’s not the primary reason I love Figma, but you really gotta try it with a designer you trust. If you already work well with someone, adding real time collaboration is euphoric.
If you’re really into design systems, Figma is set up for them. They’re super easy to set up and use right away across the whole team, and they’re just so convenient. I’m talking changes appearing in real-time, shared typography styles, fills (including gradients, textures, image fills, multi-color fills). And check it out, if you love the perfect design system you’ve built on Figma, brush up on your coding skills or pair up with your favorite front end engineer and you can literally hook your design system in Figma up to your actual app and any time you make a change to the typography, colors, icons, anything, it updates in your real design system immediately. This straight up ain’t child’s play no more.
If you’re worried about using a web app to do all your design, I get it. The most annoying thing about Figma is that it takes a little while for documents to first load. But once they’re loaded, there’ zero lag moving around huge images or illustrations with thousands of points. (Looking at you Illustrator and Sketch) And speaking of points, I’m totally shook admitting this as a big pen tool nerd, but Figma has the best pen tool ever made. Trust me, you gotta try it. There’s a tiny learning curve because it doesn’t work exactly like Illustrator (in mostly good ways), but the improvements and innovations they’ve made on the pen tool alone are good enough reasons to use Figma. I’ve done logo projects, lettering, illustration—it’s all gravy, seriously.
Anyway, try Figma
This was the first real photos product to really wow me with the things they were doing with your photo library (please set aside the comments about Google and privacy for a minute as we discuss this great product). I'd heard about a lot of web-based photo library products in the past that promised various magical things, but Google Photos really delivered that magical things. I think they were the first photo product to tag and organize your photos based on the people in them (🤫 psht—no, we’ll discuss privacy later, this feature is cool in this utopic world we’re chilling in right now).
In addition to organizing by people’s faces, it’s Google, there’s a prominent search bar at the top. You can search for “breakfast” or “party” or “street” or ANYTHING and Google will show you photos from your library that match that search. Okay, I hate when people describe engineering as magic (looking at you product managers) but y’all… this shit is magic. I use this all the time. Wanna see photos from May 2015? Type it in, done.
As you may have noticed with Figma, I prefer web-based products. There’s something so beautiful about apps that live directly on the web. There’s no prerequisite for using them. You don’t have to own a 6,000 dollar computer, or a 1,000 dollar phone! You just go to the URL, log in, and your stuff’s all there. It’s beautiful.
Speaking of the idealistic free web, the freemium model for Google Photos is also brilliant. Like, I know, they can only offer this insane service and cloud photo storage for free because it’s Google, but still, it’s a beautiful thing that anyone can use this for free.
If you’re not using it yet and uh, you don’t mind giving literally all your private photos to Google, try Google Photos.
Yo, there are sooo many messaging apps. I feel dumb even recommending another one. But really, Telegram is the best one. I’m 100% confident in saying that it’s the best one. I’m talking from a product perspective—they ship features regularly and at consistent quality. From a design perspective—the app is well designed, interactions are thoughtful, power-user friendly, and natural. From a fun perspective— they have the best stickers, because it’s a open market where anyone can upload sticker packs (from Bob’s favorite memes, to indie illustrators releasing their own creations, to like… illustrations that someone ripped from some publication from the middle ages. Finally, they’re serious about new technologies. They just did their ICO, and their code is open source.
It’s also nice that they're not owned by a huge company and they're totally focused on messaging. It’s not a spin off like Messenger (Owned by Facebook), it’s not a feature of another app (Instagram, owned by Facebook), it’s not a horrible app that everyone on earth just happens to use (WhatsApp, owned by Facebook), it’s not a platform-specific system (iMessage), and it’s … what the hell does Google even offer? It’s not that.
Anyway, It’s been fun converting all my friends to Telegram. No one looks back.
If you’re still searching for the perfect messaging app, try Telegram.