Designing UI with graphic tablets in Figma.

This article is for UX/UI/Visual/Graphic/Martian Designers who work in Figma. Already using all the keyboard shortcuts and looking for some new ways how to design. That’s what I call a proper target group filter.

Luke Fecko
6 min readAug 13, 2020

I started to experiment with a graphic tablet that I borrowed from my nephew. Now, I hold him hostage, and let me tell you why.

Changing the color

The first moment that I noticed, that there is something special about interacting with Figma using a tablet, was when I changed the color of a rectangle. Normal rectangle, nothing fancy.

The moment, I tried to change the pallete, it just… I could somehow pick the better color or to feel it out more. When I was approaching the right one, I could slow down and pick the Color simpler.

There was something special about it. I even caught myself use the tablet just to pick color and nothing else.

First trouble

Time flied by, and I started to get more experienced with it. For whatever reason, my scrolling speed is super slow, and zooming out and in is just a pure pain.

So, I started to use keyboards + and - to zoom in and out. Also, I use space for moving the board a lot. All the shortcuts like shift+2 to zoom into a selected frame became a real saver for me.

Curve the curves.

The next revelation moment came, when I wanted to create a presentation. I wanted to use something more pleasing to the eye, than the usual 1/3 top title rectangle, and 2/3 bottom content rectangle template. Using a mouse, it was a bit of a pain, to make any adjustment to the curve. To hit the damn small circle and move him just how I want it. Just look at the picture. He is angry.

Yeah, that.

Oh, I know where I could really see the contrast. When I’ve drawn a storyboard inside the Figma, using just the shift+P and P tool. Let me tell you: You don’t want to do it with a mouse.

It wasn’t only about the precision that I could much faster and easier click on the small dot, to adjust the curvature. There is a different experience with a graphic tablet compared to a mouse. It’s even hard to explain. Maybe people who tried iPad’s Apple Pencil to draw something could relate.

The whole human computer interaction is different.

That’s a sentence that needs a highlight!

The difference

Coming back to today, I went for a full day of just graphic tablet and keyboard shortcuts. No mouse (almost). And I was just amazed how fast it is. The pixel perfect clicking (or rather touching) and getting the icon right into the place where it “feels good” was different. More pleasant, more precise, nicer to create.

As if drawing on a paper, but you have all the Figma algorithms doing stuff. You know, the moment, when you move a circle icon up and down with a keyboard. No more, no no no. You just hit the sweet spot much easier.

I would even argue that in a “Figma design battle,” I could kick the mouse team asses in a speed contest. The moment you start to use the pen on everything combined with shortcuts. You just don’t use the mouse anymore. Left hand on a keyboard, and right hand holding the stylus and blasting through whatever you want.

Edit: Yeah, I’m not sure about the manly-man talk anymore. When you hurry and you just want it to be done, whatever look it would have, I used the mouse instead. So? Case to case?

There are some “pain moments.” Like, interacting with a left bar where you have your frames. But this could be “shortcuted” in most cases by using the shift+enter to jump into a parent frame, or tap enter to enter the frame. (You can use the button on a pen for scrolling. I have two, but it’s harder to command line them in Linux. Yeah, open source team once again swimming in a terminal mud!

Hopefully, I am not that guy who came to a 21st century screaming: “Hey people! Have you heard this, it’s a wheel! And you can do with it this and that …”

Yeah, that guy. But so far, I just haven’t sawn too many people use the graphic tablet setup for Figma prototype creation. (Maybe there is a surprise waiting for me to be unveiled.)

Especially for the visual designers. It’s just got a different feeling. All the circles, rectangles, oh and the Pen tool interactions, a pure satisfaction. (Not always sometimes the visuals sucks, you know, but that’s not the stylus fault.)

Edit, edit after some time. Edit time!

When I was thinking about how to visualize each point for the publication and imagined a tiny guy sliding down holding a giant stylus in hands, I stumble upon an idea explaining the difference that, I so talk about!

You play more.

It almost is, as if the tablet gives you the permission to do so. There is something on that interaction that with each hit of the stylus, to change the text size or picking up the color, is calling you to do it. “Come, try to hit it on a first try, come.”

Granted, sometimes you don’t want to play. As, I edited a few paragraphs up. However, that’s more of an adult “I am tired, I just want to finish it, I need to hurry.” thing. You can, use the adult mouse here. I’ll get you that point, you, mouse team!

But when it’s come to creation, let’s just create.

I really think that, that is what this tablet is giving me. A more playful interaction with a computer. Or to put it differentially; This is what this tablet is doing to me.

I’m not gonna lie. Each time I wrote this play thought, I was asking myself: “Are you sure about that?” and right after that question disappeared from my head, I wasn’t. All the doubts that I use it only for a month, and created only two Figma projects using it.

But then, I look back on the article and think about my experience randomly drawing a crazy P line or just clicking on the close icon on a computer, and I’m like: “Yeah, I do think so. You play more, and you are more free to do so!”

Which again, in the adult world, it isn’t always what you need. Also, programmers wouldn’t thank you for the curves. Sorry guys! Maybe, the ones who like a proper challenge would. I don’t know.

Yeah, I wouldn’t sell the idea more. Hopefully, you wouldn’t come back and ask for money after buying a tablet: “Hey, you human. It isn’t as you’ve said!” You shouldn’t listen to people on an internet, okay? I am not the one to blame.

Jokes inside, I do enjoy it. Sorry mouse team. Your days are counted.

Bye, and graphic tablet on you, designers!

Luke

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