Penpot discarded Figma's UI3 approach more than a year ago

OK, this is a bit crazy if you ask me.

Imagine you’re watching another tool’s keynote announcement and you see their new super slick UI, then you blink twice and you can’t help but see what you actually discarded as a suboptimal approach to a better use of screen real state.


Penpot’s new UI proposal. Circa March 2023. Discared around May 2023 for the newer Penpot 2.0’s UI


Figma UI3 screenshot

I suggest you open both pics on a separate tab for a more nuanced comparison.

It gets even crazier when you know that at that time we temporarily used Figma to explore this eventually discarded UI approach…

Happy to know what you think!

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Without talking about any interface other than Penpot’s, I can provide some context behind the reasoning behind the rejection of the proposal that Pablo showed above.

During the definition stage of our new UI, we created many exploratory versions. This one was undoubtedly one of our favorites internally, and we even brought it to an almost finalized state. However, in a design review involving nearly the entire Penpot design team, we concluded that some aspects were not entirely convincing:

  • One of our motivations for the redesign was to prioritize the designed content by optimizing the available real estate. Floating sidebars practically result in a loss of space because they require margins that serve no practical purpose.

  • Another of our objectives was to reduce the cognitive load of the interface to promote focus on the designed artifacts. This option did not align well with that goal for various reasons, such as the designs blending more easily with the interface due to showing in the separator spaces, where they added no functionality and left it unclear whether we should allow interaction with the layers.

  • Additionally, there were other issues, such as the difficult positioning of the rulers and others that, to be honest, I do not fully remember (I should look for my notes).

All these factors led us to iterate further. We believe the version we released better achieves the goals of giving prominence to the content and reducing visual noise. We might be wrong, and we have room for improvement for sure. But overall, we feel that some internal stats and especially the feedback from the community have validated our proposal.

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i like what we have now

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Well, resuming my opinion so far… There’s three possibilities for this situation:

  1. Both teams had the same idea separately, Penpot dropped it and Figma continued.
  2. Figma took inspiration of Penpot’s UI alongside other floating panel interfaces and did UI3 from it.
  3. They just straight copied Penpot’s interface concept that was available on the website.

Talking a bit more about this here:

By the way, I like the new interface, but would love to have some customization features on it.

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I like what we have at the moment.

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I love it too!

Just to give more context, we actually published the original proposal on the old website for an entire year before launching Penpot 2.0 and showcasing the new UI.

This was the carousel splash that we had.

penpotsplash

In other words, we liked that approach and it looked super cool! There’s no denying of that. But we eventually discarded it because we felt it had some serious limitations (see Andy’s post above).

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The rounded corner with floating interface is fashionable now, Miro was one of the first to use it. Framer adopted a floating toolbar not long ago.

I won’t relate it to Penpot specifically.


Those thinks happens all the time in product design, in 2020, Penpot’s interface (apart from the toolbar placement) looked a lot like Figma’s, which in turn was a Sketch copycat :man_shrugging:

I agree. My main point here was not that Figma had copied Penpot for their new UI3, but rather that we had arrived to a similar conclusion a year ago and decided it wasn’t that good for our main use cases.

In a way, it’s cool to see it in action on Figma, because then we can explore the “what if” scenario. How often can you enjoy the luxury of trying out a discarded thesis?

I think, as an industry, we should discuss these internal processes more often. I mean, you can see in real-time what we’re building, here I’m referring to taking the time to pause and explain some of this while you’re at it

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don’t forget that they stole XD’s repeat grids …in a way

I think you shouldn’t be so quick to discard your old approach/Figma’s new one as a worse use of screen real estate. Some users appreciate modularity and customizable UI. It’s true that leaving small strips of empty space between the panels and the edge of the screen is definitely not ideal, but having the ability to float specific panels or dock them on different sides of the screen is an important feature that even some website builders offer now.

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We’ll watch the space, for sure. Modular and customizable UI is also something we continue to explore and the way plugins will work on Penpot (we’re launching them soon) could also give us interesting insights on that topic. Thanks for posting!

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I’m glad to know you’re considering this. Thank YOU for creating the best web design tool and making it open source! The potential of Penpot is simply unreal.

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