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Reflecting on Abstract’s first year

One year ago, we publicly launched the Abstract Beta. Here's where we've been and where we're headed.
Reflecting on Abstract’s first year

As a child, I looked forward to getting a free Slurpee at 7/11 on 7/11. But this date took on a new meaning on July 11, 2017, the day we publicly launched the Abstract Beta. It all started when Kevin Smith (our CTO) asked, “Why don’t designers have a reliable (aka version-controlled) workflow like developers have with Github?”

How did we get here?

In 2015, Kevin and I were working together at Habitat, an incubator focused on building better products through hypothesis-driven exploration. We were regularly trying to apply design-driven solutions to problems, and one was right in front of our faces. Or rather, it was buried deep in our Dropbox folders and named:

As a designer, I know that our community is super flexible, ready and willing to try a new tool if it will help them get the job done. Despite all the tools at our disposal, our process hasn’t evolved to take advantage of all of this progress. Sales people have Salesforce. Developers have Github. What about designers? Our work remains trapped as isolated artifacts in subfolders of subfolders, often lost in disconnected workflows, and people still can’t reliably answer “Is the latest?” “Do you know why we made this change?” “Does anyone know how this got approved?”

On January 1, 2016, a handful of optimistic people began working on Abstract. We believed that the design workflow, especially in technology-driven companies, was inefficient and often error-prone. More importantly, we deeply believed that the process could be substantially better.

Today, you can’t have a conversation about business without talking about design. But for design to truly mature into the critical function it is within every thriving organization, we needed to introduce a reliable system of record and a predictable design workflow that can scale with the company.

We started Abstract with the goal of giving not just design, but the design process a new foundation. We wanted to introduce intentionality, confidence, and a new way for designers to work with each other, as well as with clients, PMs, engineers, marketers, and other stakeholders.

Where we are today

Project overview in Abstract

It’s quite humbling to look back at how far we’ve come in the last year. When we launched, our team was 11 people. We powered through an incredible amount of deeply technical work to get us to the place where we could take the “Beta” label off of Abstract. We’ve gained the trust of thousands of teams that are using Abstract today, giving us feedback, and helping us define a new, modern design workflow. To all of those teams: thank you! We wouldn’t be here without you.

Looking back at a year’s worth of release notes, we had a hard time choosing just a few of the things we’re really proud to have worked on. Sometimes, seemingly small improvements make a world of difference. That said, we introduced some major features that we think have really set the stage for our broader vision:

  • Collections introduced a key part of the design process to Abstract. We created Collections to provide a flexible way to organize, share, and present your work to an extended group of stakeholders and collaborators.
  • We built Libraries so that you could have a project in Abstract just for your design system/components and link to it from any other project, increasing design consistency across projects and teams.
  • In April 2018, we unveiled a complete UI Redesign, adding persistent navigation, activity feeds and a redesigned Project-oriented workflow. These changes were made with the intention of helping you work more efficiently—and with less friction—in Abstract.
  • Moving a design project forward is dependent on clean and organized communication, which is why comment replies and email notifications have been a game changer.
  • Inspect addressed a mission-critical component of the design process — developer handoff. We built Inspect on top of our versioning system so that engineers would never have to worry about referencing an outdated design. They can quickly find all the information they need to implement the latest design in one place.
Abstract's team in zoom evolution through time

Today our team is 46 people—some of the best humans I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. And yes, we are hiring 👋. The business is healthy and the community is growing, motivating us to keep building the best possible experience for our customers. We have been fortunate to speak at several conferences and have given countless demos to teams of all shapes and sizes. Most recently, we celebrated another big milestone: $16M in Series B funding, led by Scale Venture Partners with participation from existing investors. This funding round allows us to accelerate our product roadmap, continue to hire across all teams, and invest in design education and training.

As of yesterday, there were 107,034 projects, 830,444 branches, and 2,671,469 commits created for a total of ~30TB of Project data living in Abstract. Teams around the world are working on their next big project in a product that we launched as a beta just one year ago. That’s both mind-boggling and inspiring. What’s even more exciting is that we are just getting started.

What’s next?

Our number one focus is making Abstract as fast and frictionless as possible. The team is hard at work on supporting new file formats (more from us on that soon!). We are improving our core workflow, making it easier to share with anyone so you can get the feedback you need, when you need it. Another core focus for us is the implementation phase where design and development collaborate to bring the product to life. We’ll continue to expand the capabilities of Collections, Inspect, and Review Requests to make them as powerful as they can be so you can focus on work that is meaningful, but also collaborative and iterative. We look forward to hearing more from all of you as we continue to build the modern design workflow together.

Join the conversation

Join our Spectrum community, where you can ask questions, share ideas, and chat with fellow Abstract customers.

Join our team

Passionate about our mission? We’re focused on cultivating diverse ideas and hiring for a number of roles both in San Francisco as well as remote.