User Interface Design on iPad Pro With Figma + Figurative

An interview with Figurative creator Matías Martínez

With the debut of the Apple Pencil with the iPad Pro a few years back, the world’s most popular tablet made design fabulously portable. The ability to sketch and create on iPad became as intuitive as well, drawing on paper.

The Apple Pencil 2 made the experience even better, thanks to wireless charging, custom gestures and incredibly low latency. Apps such as Procreate, Affinity Designer and Vectornator have enabled designers worldwide to create amazing digital artwork.

Yet despite this progress, one aspect of vector-based design seems to have missed out on this revolution: user interface design.

While many of the apps above are capable of user interface design, the reality is most UX and UI designers work on a laptop or desktop. The top interface design software on the market only works on Mac (Sketch) or desktop (Adobe XD), or don’t officially support iPad (Figma).

Then Came Figurative…

Being web-based, Figma has always been in a unique position to deliver an interface design workflow on iPad. Unofficially, Figma had worked to some extent—but even today, Figma faces limitations in Safari or Chrome for iPad, e.g. custom font support and zero Apple Pencil compatibility.

Thankfully, the debut of Figurative, an iPad app that enables the experience of designing in Figma on a tablet, has breathed new life into the conversation.

The mind behind Figurative is self-taught designer and developer Matías Martínez, based in Santiago, Chile. In just a few short months, Figurative has made incredible strides in making Figma delightfully usable on iPad Pro.

Just in time for WWDC20, the release of version 1.2 of Figurative has made the Apple Pencil a viable input tool in addition to the mouse and keyboard. I’ve been beta testing this feature for weeks, and this is the closest anyone has ever come to delivering a solid Figma user experience on iPad—even without a keyboard or mouse.

I had the opportunity to ask Matías a few questions about how Figurative came together and his thoughts on design.

What is your background?

I’m a huge Apple nerd. I’ve been messing with computers and programming since I was a kid, but for the most part, they were gray and boring Windows machines. But even then, I knew I wanted to be a programmer growing up.

Everything changed when I got to try a Mac for the first time. The white MacBook from 2009. Mac OS X Leopard. Polycarbonate goodness. I was immediately drawn to it. Everything was so good. The case design, the software, how it felt, all of it. That’s when I knew I also wanted to design things for a living.

How long have you been using Figma and for what purpose?

This is gonna sound weird: I was a really hardcore Photoshop fan. I stuck with it for what it seemed forever. I didn’t make the switch to Sketch or anything else. I was stubborn. Thankfully members of my team made me try Figma a couple of years back.

How did the idea for Figurative come about?

Two things: The whole “iPadOS 13” thing and the new Magic Keyboard.

I was really blown away when I realized Figma was built using web technologies (it’s so good). It was the first thing I tried when installing iOS 13 betas.

I really love my iPad Pro and it really feels like the future. Like most of us, I’ve been using it for UI design sketches and whatnot.

The app was born out of the necessity of making it work when the Magic Keyboard was announced. Having such a futuristic computer without Figma? It just felt stupid.

This really seems like a labor of love for you, as you’re currently freely sharing Figurative with the world right now. How can people best help support your work with Figurative?

I really want Figurative to be free. Years back buying my first Mac for learning design was a huge investment for my family. I think it’s great being able to get into Figma for free on a $300 tablet (plus some Bluetooth accessories).

Having said that, I’m considering adding a tip jar so people can support the app if they want to.

How has the reaction been from the Figma community?

The reaction from the Figma community has been overwhelming. Everyone has been really supportive and awesome. I have nothing to say except a big thank you.

I haven’t gotten any official response yet from the good folks at Figma, but I’m sure they’re working on impressive stuff.

Are you worried that future versions of Figma may break the app? What do you hope Figma’s response should be about apps out there that augment and make Figma better on specific platforms?

There’s always that possibility but as I mentioned previously, most of the app is just augmenting WebKit features. Interactions with Figma’s web app are pretty limited.

I get the impression Figma is really supportive of their community. Just see all those amazing plug-ins.

Thinking if I were on Figma’s team, I personally wouldn’t like that much some guy messing with the UI. That’s why Figurative doesn’t try to “improve” Figma in any way. It’s just a better browser for Figma and iPadOS.

What advice would you give to designers looking to design and code?

The great actor and filmmaker Shia LaBeouf once said: Just do it. As long as you’re having fun with it, don’t stop making stuff!

Last week, I got asked this question: Why would you prefer to use Figma in iPad instead of a desktop?

Similar to what Matías said in the interview, I also believe in making design tools accessible, regardless of economic status, ability or form factor. The ability for Figma to run on tablets, thanks to dedicated Figma enthusiasts such as Matías, opens up design to a whole new community of people who may not have easy access to more expensive laptops or desktop computers.

It’ll be interesting to see how apps such as Figurative enable designers to rethink and reshape their UX and UI design workflows with iPad. To learn more, please check out my companion article that covers using Figma on iPad Pro in greater detail.

Nelson Taruc is the principal designer at Lextech and the lead instructor at figmateamtraining.com.

Principal Designer at Lextech. Focus. Boost signal, kill noise. Solve the first problem. Embrace uncertainty.

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