Google for Education has announced a new partnership with Figma. The companies will bring Figma’s design and prototyping platform as well as its collaborative whiteboarding app FigJam to education Chromebooks. Schools can apply now to the beta program, which will begin over the summer.
Verge reporter Dami Lee described Figma as “Google Docs for design.” Like Google’s software, Figma is primarily web-based and is a lighter load for a computer to run than many industry-standard creative programs. Figma also allows team members to collaborate in a way that is similar to how they might in Google Docs — but on prototypes and design projects rather than text. Users can add annotations and notes to projects, mark things with stickers, and even communicate through audio chat. Think of it sort of like a less powerful Adobe Illustrator, but collaborative, online, and sometimes better for app and web design.
The two companies hope the program, which will be free of charge for schools, will help make software engineering and design more accessible to younger students. “Computer science has not been the most accessible field over the years,” says Andy Russell, who leads product for Chrome OS Education. Russell hopes that Figma’s software will flatten the learning curve for students interested in trying the disciplines out while also giving them advanced tools to work with down the line. “Figma enables students to get in at the ground level with a low floor, but then gives them this extraordinarily high ceiling,” Russell says. He hopes the program will help to “graduate them into the next generation of software designers and software engineers.”
Even outside of those niches, Russell hopes that students can use the software for projects across disciplines. “We all grew up with the five-paragraph essay,” Russell says. But, “students today have so many other options: they can create timelines, they can create infographics, they can create storyboards for documentary film, they can create 3D models of architecture, an application to solve a problem, they can create a website.” He added, “Figma is an amazing tool that’s open-ended for students to be able to create any of those assets.”
The past few years have, unsurprisingly, seen demand for collaborative, cloud-based software (and whiteboarding features in particular) grow. Though schools have reopened following the widespread closures of the early pandemic, many are continuing to invest in online services. It’s also become more common for districts to issue students laptops over the years, increasing expectations that students might collaborate on and submit assignments online.
These types of software aren’t new; many other companies make prototyping tools and whiteboarding platforms. But part of what’s made Figma so competitive in that space is its simplicity: it’s easy to run and intuitive to use.
Incidentally, that’s a big part of the Chromebook’s appeal as well, especially in the education space: it’s cheap; it takes a second to boot up; it’s simple to use; and it’s largely cloud-based. Such a partnership seems like a no-brainer in some ways, and Figma CEO Dylan Field certainly agrees. “We actually built Figma with Chromebooks in mind from the start. Back in 2015– 2016 we were testing our tools with Chromebooks,” he says.
“We all grew up with the five-paragraph essay, but students today have so many other options”
Chromebooks have come a long way in the past few years, with fancier features and nicer hardware. But the power of the software you can get as a Chrome OS fan still doesn’t stack up to the offerings of the Windows ecosystem in every case. Creative work is one of these areas. The Adobe Creative Cloud, for example, is only available for Chrome OS in limited mobile forms (and even these lightweight apps often run slow, speaking from quite a bit of experience). The version Adobe XD, Adobe’s closest competitor to Figma that you can get on Chrome OS, is limited compared to the desktop version. Student Chromebooks running state of the art design software that’s optimized for them, on a wide scale, would be a good sign for the platform and a good sign for students.