New year so I decided to share some thoughts and risk a few predictions for the design space. But first, a quick overview of the current status and why it seems like a great time for emerging tools.
In 2021, the prototyping race pretty much cooled off. XD and Sketch appear resigned to their respective (and probably shrinking) market share while Figma is the undisputed winner of the category.
This brought a slow pace for exciting new features, if any. More importantly, it brought a significant strategy shift for both Adobe and Figma. Figma naturally decided to expand towards a new direction to increase revenue but without much innovation. As a result, Figjam follows in the footsteps of a successful model and product like Miro. Adobe on the other side chose to expand beyond professional designers. Now Spark is called CC Express and unfortunately it strongly reminds a stripped-down Canva. This feels like a departure from the innovation route they had taken with XD.
With no significant moves from the major players in the space, there's an inevitable gap created for products and companies that will have their chance to capture the spotlight and drive design forward.
So the question is which companies and products will be able to capitalize on the current situation and stand out. There are many amazing teams building out there and I’m sure I’ll forget some. But these are the ones that come to mind and could have significant impact in the design space.
Rive (animation): While still new, this amazing tool could make animations much more approachable for everyone. And not simple animations for producing content, but also for websites, applications and even gaming. Personally I haven’t seen such smooth animations since After Effects but the process is much easier and pleasant. Combine that with a pretty fast cloud rendering engine, small file sizes and you get why this is exciting. Rive can become what Lottie would, if there was a dedicated and user-friendly tool for that.
Spline (3D graphics): This one had it’s spotlight moment last year and is already loved by many, but it did close its seed round last year. And it will continue to grow, ensuring it is worth the time investment. Spline is really cool, and you can create 3D graphics much faster than with Blender. The best part is that it allows interactive animation and can also be embedded in websites. While it’s still very early, the team keeps improving at an amazing rate and it just keeps getting better month after month. If they manage to maintain the simplicity, the future looks bright and 3D graphics will be getting easier and easier for everyone.
Modulz (prototyping): I hesitated adding this for a moment, but I’m still a believer in what Modulz can achieve. The promise of designing in the browser with real components and export production code is something that even I want to see happen at some point. And I’m not even a front-end developer or UI designer. That’s how much impact Modulz can have and if their Radix UI project is an indicator, faith is restored. However the main product is still in Beta Access and it’s been for a really long time. Anyway, fingers crossed as this could be a game-changing product in 2022. At least I hope so.
These are the main projects that I can see gaining wider adoption and having significant impact. Also worth mentioning, ExcaliDraw that makes collaboration casual but is really powerful and the open-source Penpot, based on open standards and is a fresh take on prototyping tools. All these bring hope that 2022 can be a transformative year for design and that everyone will have even better access to creating quality assets.