What the End of Adobe XD Says About the State of Design Tools

The way we build website prototypes has changed. Designers moved on from graphic editing software like Adobe Photoshop. These days, we tend to use niche apps like Figma.

Prototyping apps have several advantages. They are purpose-built. Web and mobile app design is their focus. As such, these apps avoid the bloat that comes with generalized software. Some can even run within a web browser.

Therefore, it wasn’t surprising when Adobe released XD in 2016. The app represented their take on modern prototyping. And given the company’s massive reach, XD seemed like an inevitable hit.

But things didn’t work out that way. Adobe acquired rival app Figma in 2022. That acquisition is still facing regulatory hurdles. Yet it was unclear what this would mean for XD.

Well, we have an answer. Adobe has recently removed XD from its online product catalog. And with that, the can’t-miss product is destined for the dustbin.

Why wasn’t Adobe XD a runaway success? And what does its demise say about the state of design tools? Perhaps we can look to the design community for answers.

Size and Reach Only Go So Far

XD’s primary competitors are Figma and Sketch. On the surface, Adobe XD had an advantage over each.

Adobe’s vast reach is the biggest among them. Subscribers to their Creative Cloud service had access to XD. It was only a click away for the company’s loyal customers. And its beta version (called Experience Design CC) was free to try.

It stood to reason that current users would line up to try XD. And once they tried the app, they’d become hooked.

XD was also part of an existing ecosystem. Interoperability with other Adobe apps was a mark in the company’s favor. But Sketch already had a dedicated following. The Mac-only app jumpstarted the new era of prototyping tools in 2010.

And Figma? The web-based tool debuted in 2016 – the same year as XD. It was easy to predict a winner there. But you’d be forgiven for guessing wrong.

Despite inherent advantages, Adobe XD didn’t fulfill its potential.

Adobe XD had the power of a major software developer behind it.

Design Tools That Foster Community Won Out

Figma, Sketch, and XD are extensible. Developers can build plugins that add niche functionality to these apps. And users can pick the ones that suit their needs.

XD has several free and paid plugins. But the selection doesn’t appear to dwarf either of its competitors. Meanwhile, developers seem to have settled on Figma as their platform of choice. New plugins appear frequently.

Designers also seem entrenched with their chosen tools. And maybe XD’s interface wasn’t strong enough to convince people to switch en masse.

Subjectively, the app isn’t intuitive. I’ve used both XD and Figma. And it was much easier to get started with the latter.

Figma and Sketch also have an engaged community. XD didn’t have the same indie vibe. That’s not surprising, given Adobe’s place atop the corporate ladder.

Perhaps this is why Adobe acquired Figma. The corporate behemoth couldn’t match the organic rise of its rival. Purchasing it gives the company access to a great tool and a dedicated community.

Like its competitors, Adobe XD offers a selection of plugins.

What Does This Mean for the Future of Design Tools?

The demise of Adobe XD says a few things about design tools. First and foremost, Adobe’s inherent advantages didn’t matter. An app doesn’t succeed merely because of its brand capital.

Quality matters to designers. Professionals stuck with their favorite prototyping apps. Even if XD was widely available, they still chose Figma and Sketch.

Maybe that speaks to online culture. In traditional retail, the big brands tend to win. For example, Coke and Pepsi may not make the best-tasting sodas. But they’re available everywhere. Niche brands have difficulty overcoming those odds.

Those rules don’t apply to design tools. Relatively small groups decide winners and losers. People will use the app that helps them get things done. And a product with an active community keeps users interested.

XD wasn’t able to build such a community. You can tell by the lack of outcry regarding its death. There are certainly some disappointed users. But this isn’t the same as canceling Photoshop or other beloved titles.

Quality and community are why Figma and Sketch have endured. It’s also kept WordPress at the forefront of web publishing for 20+ years. That speaks to a trend.

To succeed in this arena, you need to play the long game. And designers need a reason to change their workflow. XD ran out of time to make a big enough impact.

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