By Sarah Wong & Rae Verrengia

Config 2023 is Figma’s annual flagship conference that gathers design and development enthusiasts from around the world. This conference is dedicated to providing insightful talks and hands-on workshops led by industry professionals. The event showcases the unveiling of Figma's latest features and updates, generating excitement among attendees. While the conference takes place in person in San Francisco, it also offers the opportunity for a global audience to participate through online streaming of the talks and workshops, which are made available for free. The updates and new features introduced during Config 2023 have proven to be exceptionally significant, offering substantial improvements and advancements that facilitate seamless collaboration between design and development teams.

Using Color for Scale

A talk we really enjoyed was "Using Color at Scale for Aesthetic and Accessibility," led by Ashley Seto, who's a Lead Product Designer at Meta. With 5 years of experience building design systems, she shared practical insights on creating large-scale color palettes and integrating them effectively. Ashley highlighted challenges like achieving contrast with colors like yellow, and debunked the idea of generating palettes solely from images. She emphasized the need to consider how colors fit into a product and suggested tailoring palettes to specific use cases and brand goals. Ashley also dove into the smart ways to create color palettes on a larger scale, touching both on the experimental side of working with colors, and practical advice on how to integrate color effectively into design systems. Overall, this talk was a great blend of practical advice and real-world experience, which really resonated with our team.

Everything Everywhere All at Once: Designing for Edge Case

This presentation focused on addressing edge cases as part of the design process and touched on:

  1. What an edge case is and what it is not
  2. What the process of solving for edge cases can look like
  3. How to "sell" the importance of considering edge cases to your organization

A very important clarification around the definition of an edge case is that edge cases and accessibility are not interchangeable. Designing an accessible site should occur by default as part of our regular design process and not as an afterthought or an issue we address post-launch. An edge case is an example of a use case that happens infrequently and/or in extreme conditions beyond your typical happy and unhappy user paths. 

The use case covered in this talk involved users with poor internet connection. Looking at this use case from our lens, this scenario would be a little less relevant considering the geography and economic status of our typical user base that can afford to splurge on more luxury items on an eCommerce site.

The example given by the speaker was a survey involving a global and widely used product that would definitely reach many users that don't have a solid internet connection. The problem being solved was: How do we communicate that the feedback given by the user (thumbs up or down) was not captured at that moment because of poor internet connection?   

The speaker acknowledged that oftentimes addressing use cases is an afterthought or not something organizations build into the scope or timeline. A Project Manager for example, will perhaps look at solving for an edge case as nothing but another bump in the road to their timeline.

Taking time to evaluate which edge cases are worth our efforts along with finding the most efficient ways to address these use cases, is key to getting the rest of the team onboard.

Embracing Art to Enhance Your Product

Anyone who has used Duolingo could tell you that illustrations are an integral part of the experience of using the app, but what makes them so effective? In this presentation, three designers from Duolingo explained how illustrations keep users motivated, make them more invested, and frame the context of what they’re learning. This thinking can easily be applied to any product that requires users to complete a task. The presentation also explained the Duolingo team’s illustration principles, and how those same principles can be applied to UI design; for example, making important elements pop with bright, rounded visuals. These principles are even extended to define the way content is written, making the entire brand system feel cohesive.

AI and the Future of Design: Designing with AI

AI has been such a hot news item lately that we just had to recommend this insightful presentation. In this presentation, the speakers explained how AI should be seen as a great evolution for design rather than a threat. AI can help designers focus and iterate more on high-level patterns for the experiences they are creating, rather than crafting “atoms” i.e,. pushing pixels around on individual screens. Even if AI can be used to design the “busy work,” designers will still be needed to apply their taste and strategic thinking to what AI produces. Recently, Figma acquired Diagram, which created a design assistant based on AI, and now they are building Genius chat, which brings Chat GPT into Figma.

Fonts are Software Now, and That's Awesome

This talk broke down some of the new font features in Figma and CSS, particularly for variable fonts, complete with historical context for how typefaces work.

The variable axes weight and width give designers and developers enhanced control over the look of type. Adjusting the width is especially useful to get text to fit into small spaces, or to successfully localize designs for languages with longer words (like German as an example). Grade, related to weight, doesn’t change the width of the characters but still makes them look bolder. Another cool feature of variable fonts is optical size. Without optical size, large headlines can sometimes look too chunky and then small body copy difficult to read; the optical size feature allows for adjustments to the letterforms to make them more legible and optimized for specific sizes. 

While it would be impossible to give you a play-by-play of the entire conference, we wanted to highlight and share some of our favorite talks our team found most insightful. If interested in learning more you can also find all the talks online to experience the conference for yourself.