Working in agencies for the last decade, I've had lots of exposure to the dynamics of agency/client relationships, processes and workflows.
This very often includes working on confidential projects which sometimes require all the team members on the agency side to sign a NDA (non disclosure agreement) that prevents them from talking about or sharing any details of the project to anybody outside of the project, including friends, family or even other people within the agency.
Roughly 30% of all the work I've ever done inside of an agency has been done under an NDA, which means I wasn't able to add any of that work to my portfolio or talk about it with anybody else.
Working on designs and digital products with Nike under NDA
At my last agency, I spent the majority of my time working on the Nike account; who I would personally consider in the top 5 brands in the world. As I mentioned already, this work was essentially always completed by my team under one massive NDA, because we were working on digital products and experiences that would often accompany a brand new top secret product launch only hitting stores up to 6 months in the future.
In order to work on these projects and collaborate with the digital team at Nike, we had to ensure that we adhered to a number of really strict security protocals. I won't go into all those here, because most aren't relevant, but needless to say that security and privacy are big concerns when dealing with any account that has private or confidential projects.
Sharing designs under NDA
The human aspect of this is fairly straight forward; simply don't mention what you're working on to anybody not involved in the project. However, we would often be collaborating with not only Nike but a number of other agencies or teams in order to execute an overarching campaign.
In order to share design concepts with Nike, we would always have to send some form of password protected link. Back in 2015 when we were still using Photoshop, this meant getting designs uploaded to InVision and using their password protection feature to send this link around. After switching to Sketch in 2016, this... still meant getting those designs uploaded to InVision and using their password protection feature. Then, after finally switching to Figma in early 2018, this now meant that... we were still uploading our designs to InVision and using their password protection feature.
You're probably thinking (or shouting, as I basically was): "We're using Figma now, and they have an awesome 'share' feature built in! Why can't we just send clients an invite to make a Figma account and view the design directly in there?"
Right; so, why can't we?
Why agencies (unfortuately) aren't ready to adopt Figma's share feature
The main problem for our agency/client relationship and adopting the built-in Figma sharing method was that sharing a Figma design meant sharing the entire design with client, not just the "latest" or not just "frame 1 and 2". Inviting them to the Figma meant that they could see all the previous versions, all the work in progress, all the (for lack of a better term), mess.
To be clear, I was and am all for this level of transparency with clients. This is probably crossing into another topic, but do I think the agency model of working away in the dark for weeks on end and doing a "grand reveal" only when everything is perfect has proven to fail 100% of time. However, this is still the way that both agencies and clients still seem to prefer working, a strange, ironic mututal agreement not to collaborate on anything until everything is "done".
The joke I usually make with designers is when I'll ask how a design is going and they say it's 90% done, I'll usually reply by saying "Cool, that's good; so we're half way there".
Acknowledging this is important, because it explains a big part of why InVision seems to be so ingrained in the design workflow in agencies. It offers a really simple way for clients to review designs: "Click this link and enter a password".
Don't make me (the client) think
In my experience, clients love having password protection over any other method of sharing digital work securely. Asking them to sign up for something like a Figma account just to look at the designs (while it seems like a relatively simple ask) is not something they will often feel comfortable with or happy about.
Working with clients who are digitally drowning in emails, meetings, chats and deadlines makes you realise that they truly don't have the headspace to be worrying about "yet another" account or program they need to use.
Very often a client just needs to ensure that a design is on-brand and there aren't any words or images used that fall outside of the campaign. Getting "sign-off" is the common term for it. When you're working to extremely tight deadlines, speed and time saving is everything, clients and agencies do not have the luxury of time to leisurely be manaully creating preview links (on the agency side) or creating accounts (client side) just to look at some images and give a thumbs up or down.
If you can save your design team (and clients) these wasted hours every week, you're really at an advantage to give your own design team more breathing room to actually focus on actually designing (not worrying about the additional burdensome process of uploading the designs to a preview link) and speed up approvals with clients.
The elephant in the room: Designers do not enjoy using InVision with Figma
Because we as an agency had become so reliant on InVision for sharing designs while we were still using Photoshop and Sketch, when we finally switched to Figma in early 2018, InVision naturally came along for the ride.
While clients and management might think InVision is okay, the designes were already wasting hours of time getting designs from Sketch into InVision, because the official "Craft" plugin seemed to be broken half the time.
After switching to Figma, it seemed like the promise of all its amazing collaboration features would save their souls from this crazy InVision process, but unfortunately it was still considered the "best" option of the few InVision alternatives for Figma.
While we InVision accounts for our entire team, literally all we used InVision for was uploading these JPG images to a password protected preview page; and even that only feature being used was wasting hours of time every week for our design team.
Introducing an alternative to InVision for password protection in Figma
I hated seeing my design team getting frustrated with this process, and it had always been in the back of my mind that we could do better.
After leaving my agency at the end of 2019 to start Figmatic; a couple of months ago, I decided to started working on a brand new plugin called Crypto to start solving these problems and provide an InVision alternative.
Crypto allows you to share password protected Figma designs directly from your design without manually exporting frames and uploading them to other platforms like InVision. The first version has just been released, which solves a few of the issues I've just decribed, namely:
- Remove the need for clients to create any accounts
- Share simple URLs with password protection
- Choose which specific frames to share (and not share)
- Integrate directly and seamlessly into Figma as a plugin
- Designer curated versioning to document progress
With Crypto, you can click the frames you want to share, hit "Securely Share Designs" and moments later you'll have a unique and securely preview URL with an automatically generated password. The designs are stored as encrypted images on Google Cloud, and are automatically deleted after 30 days of not being accessed.
There's more to be done
The first version of Crypto solves these initial problems that I was personally seeing daily at my previous agency, but there's still lots more to be done. For starters, static designs aren't the only thing being shared from Figma, there's also interative prototypes. The next step will be adding support for Figma prototypes and running them entirely in the browser behind the same password protection and encryption the current version has already provided.
In the meantime, if any of these problems resonate with your own team, I would love to hear your feedback on the Crypto Figma plugin, so I help make your own workflows less painful.