How Figma competitor Penpot is championing design collaboration and open source tools for cross-functional teams

Penpot, the open source design and prototyping platform is bridging the gap between designers and developers, introduces new collaboration tools and partnership with Tokens Studio to develop an AI engine for design systems.
How Figma competitor Penpot is championing design collaboration and open source tools for cross-functional teams

Penpot, the first open source, collaborative design and prototyping platform by Kaleidos, is on a mission to bridge the gap between designers and developers. 

Grid Layout is the first grid-to-CSS tool built natively into the design workflow. Designers now have access to the same tools front-end developers enjoy, with the ability to build complex and flexible 2D layouts that will automatically generate production-ready code in HTML and CSS.

I spoke to Pablo Ruiz-Múzquiz, CEO and co-founder of Penpot, to learn more. He explained that the company's success has been as the creator of a suite of cross-functional products that cross-functional teams can use.

And in doing, the company has become a formidable competitor to proprietary industry heavyweights.

In 2022, it raised $8 million in funding, and sign-ups jumped 5,600% in a single day after Adobe agreed to buy competitor Figma. It has since raised an additional $12 million in February this year. 

Since the company launched General Availability in February, sign-ups have grown 66% to 400,000 users, with self-hosted deployments doubling. Today, over 80,000 teams run on Penpot — including Mozilla, Accenture, ByteDance, IBM, Google, and Microsoft. 

Ruiz-Múzquiz explained that it pivoted during the pandemic launching "to experience for ourselves what a relevant, successful open source product company looks like."

And its collaborative approach has brought the perks of open source conventionally enjoyed by developers to designers. Ruiz-Múzquiz asserts: 

"It's the fact that you can hack into Penpot, self host, use a public cloud or your private cloud, use our desktop app, and enjoy complete freedom.

You can bet on Penpot because it's a future-proof solution. Since we are using SVG and CSS, there's no hidden track regarding the format. Developers have long enjoyed open standards, but designers haven't had the chance to feel that joy. 

They have been moving from one proprietary format to another proprietary format depending on the tool. And this is the first time they feel true ownership and true freedom around our format."

And as building community is pivotal to success in open source software, Penpot has been able to extend those wins to designer communities: 

"We were early on with our alpha release two years ago, and our beta release. 

We made it open for everyone to have clear contribution guidelines, launched a community space with full transparency on our backlog, what we were doing, what we were expecting, and ensured that everyone that contributed would have visible recognition. 

It's easy for anyone to participate whatever their skill level in design, content or translation — we are now available in 30 languages, thanks to the community."

The massive acceleration in sign-ups and self-hosted instances suggests that product development is likely to grow ever faster as users actively contribute to enhancing and improving the software. 

The aforementioned Adobe $20 billion takeover of Figma is currently under review. But the migration of users to Penpot suggests in part opposition to the use of proprietary software for designing and prototyping.

Yet it's more than that. While Penpot enjoyed a spike following the news, designers are far more fickle regarding software loyalty than devs. 

Ruiz-Múzquiz notes that we are "probably seeing the end of a cycle and the start of a new cycle with these migrations.

But now that designers have learned the power of collaboration and shared ownership around designs, they're now probably getting why developers were so excited about open source for their code. 

So, they are now more openly inclined to consider their progress should work or something they can. It can be open, it can be shared, it can be forked." 

Further, Penpot's desktop app has launched out of beta on macOS, Windows and Linux. Penpot remains the only design platform with a desktop app and offline support.

The company has also partnered with the Tokens Studio plugin enabling designers to create repeatable tokens and reduce manual design updates- They are also working in partnership to develop an AI engine for design systems. Tokens Studio recently previewed that it is building a connected smart graph system and automation workflows into its platform, which is a precursor to this initiative. 

Ruiz-Múzquiz suggested this would be the beginning of a rise in open source designers. 

The company's core open source software is currently free. It plans to ship enterprise features for medium to large organisations for cost in the future, which is standard in the open-source enterprise space.  

Ruiz-Múzquiz shared: 

"We have been building software that people have been asking for forever, But now we are building the unexpected things that people didn't even think they could ask for. And that is going to blow so many minds."

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