Design and engineering are two sides of the same coinage when it comes to construction app and hardware, and yet — unlike engineers, who can use services like GitHub, Bitbucket, GitLab or many others to assist oversee their development process — it has traditionally been slim pickings for designers when it comes to tools to oversee the iterations and collaborations that are a part of their workflow.
Now, we are seeing a rising wave of startups responding to that vacuum in the mart. In the latest development, Abstract, which has built a platform to assist oversee versioning and workflow for design projects, is announcing $30 million in funding led by Lightspeed mission Partners with participation from previous investors Scale mission Partners, Amplify Partners and Cowboy Ventures.
Abstract is not disclosing valuation, but I understand from sources that it is now $190 million, a decent jump from the $76 million valuation (according to PitchBook) it reached in its last circular. Abstract has raised around $55 million since 2016.
This latest circular, a successions C, comes at a moment when we are seeing a number of other startups that are construction tools for designers — some competing with Abstract, and some significantly larger — also raising enormous cash.
In December, InVision (which has an ambition to be the “Salesforce of design”), raised $115 million at a $1.9 billion valuation. Last month, Figma (construction both design development and collaboration tools) raised $40 million at a $440 million valuation. Last week, Sketch (which also makes design tools) raised its first outside circular of $20 million after a long track record as a very well-kown bootstrapped startup.
Abstract fits very much in the middle of this spread. The problem that it has identified is that many designers still work in an inefficient path compared to their engineering counterparts (as well as those in other parts of an operation, including people who collaborate on creating documents or presentations). Designers still typically sling around multiple versions of the same file, or strive to handle all passing around and working on one individual file. That loose structure makes for many errors and lost changes, not to mention an inability to track who has done what and when.
To address this, Abstract offers a number of features. First and foremost, it provides a path for designers to track versions of files — it automatically uploads the most recent copy even if you are working locally, so that whoever works next will use the most updated model. It also lets a project manager task distinct people with distinct parts of a project and oversee the reviewing system. When a project is in progress or already completed, there is a path to present it and also accumulate feedback. And then, importantly, the design group can also use Abstract to interface with engineering teams that are construction the tech underneath and around that design.
The funding is going to assist Abstract extend that with more features, including a good and more streamlined path to export the most current files, as well as more security integrations for good regulate over who can access materials and when.
It started with a hashtag…
Abstract was co-founded by Josh Brewer and Kevin Smith — the former a designer, the latter an engineer who has also headed up design teams. Brewer, the CEO, said in an interview that his own past experience — his track record includes a period as Twitter’s principal designer — was the kindling that eventually led to the construction of Abstract. One instance he gave was the rebuild of Twitter back in 2011, which needed a redesign across web, mobile web, iOS and automaton with a consistent navigation pattern, and brand-new behavioral/usage patterns. (Not a tiny task.)
“We had only 12 designers at that moment, a relatively tiny crew, but also a short timeline,” he recalled. “We decided to strive to standardize on one equipment to oversee everything, but didn’t really have much to work with.” He and the group decided to “hack some of the tools we were using at the moment,” which included Apache Subversion and GitHub for app development, “to unravel the problem.” This helped him identify that there was a clear opportunity to build something that spoke specifically to designers’ needs.
That something has indeed started to find some traction: there are now more than 5,000 design teams using Abstract, with companies using it including Shopify, Cisco, Intuit, Spotify, Salesforce, Zappos and Instacart.
“As design becomes an increasingly significant competitive merit, the tools designers use have to become more sophisticated, collaborative, and transparent to the broader organization. At Lightspeed, we invest in the sort of exceptional teams that are poised to transform a mart,” said Nakul Mandan, who is also joining the board. “Josh, Kevin and the rest of the Abstract group have reimagined a design workflow that is quickly becoming the expert grade for how growing design teams work together and with functional stakeholders. We are excited to partner with Abstract to assist the company continue its explosive growth.”
Abstract’s first efforts have been to assist Sketch, the design equipment that raised cash just last week. The two are often associated with each other, it seems: many tend to use Abstract and Sketch together as an alternative to using Figma. But in addition to adding more versioning tools, the plan will be to add more design app to the list Abstract supports, starting with Adobe XD and Illustrator (it has currently opened early access waitlists for both). But even in the effort to be the go-to platform for all kinds of design projects, there are lines being drawn. It seems there are no plans, for instance, to assist Figma.
Another thing Abstract does not plan to do, Smith added, is to commence construction and benefaction many of those design tools itself.
“We are focused on expanding assist for other file formats and bringing all your design files, whether it’s for a font or data to populate a design,” he said. There might be exceptions down the line, however: the company launched a sdk last descend, which Smith described as “our first stride to exposing data to developers and design engineers, and that is part of our vision, which may or may not involve other kinds of tooling on the Abstract platform.”
He noted that “one of the things we’re been hearing about is the need for light-weight editing,” so that might be one location where Abstract might build or offer a third-party equipment. “If we understand the data we are storing it’s not outside the arena of possibility to expose that. From a tooling perspective, it would be coming from the needs of our customers.”