The legacy of InVision App
Issue 176: Marking the end of an era
This past Wednesday, InVision announced the once design tech giant is shutting down. The vibes of InVision is like the late great NFL owner Al Davis. Depending on your age or era, you might think of the Raiders owner as the man who forced a merger to what the NFL is today (AFC/NFC) and won multiple championships with the vertical offense. On the other side, you might see the senile old man who brought overhead projector transparencies to present why he fired Layne Kiffin (and drafted JaMarcus Russell, the biggest bust in the history of first round picks). In the past half decade, InVision was viewed as the latter and nobody is surprised about the company going out of business. However, it’s difficult to recall how dominant InVision was, especially in the pre-Figma world. They seemed like an unstoppable, only being halted in two ways:
The ecosystem changes
It stops itself.
Both happened to InVision. The reflections today is not a journalistic (or forensic) attempt to objectively shared what happened. It's based on what's been shared and my personal interpretation. I recommend reading Sean Dextor's The Rise and fall of InVision posted on UX Collective.
The quickest way to understand what happened to InVision is to watch the first half of Rocky III. Don't watch the second half because that's not what happened. InVision was started in 2011 by Clark Valberg (Clark from InVision) and Ben Nadel. In the early 2010s, many designers adopted Sketch; moving over from Photoshop. A lot of design work was still done locally; not yet in the cloud. This would mean sending Sketch files back and forth. When I was at One Medical, we did a lot of pair designing in the office, where me and a designer would share the same MacBook Pro with two sets of keyboards and mice to design together. That was our version of collaboration.
The feature that really gained traction with InVision was the ability to quickly upload Sketch art boards and quickly assemble a clickable prototypes. This was a hit for both designers and stakeholders. Designers were able to put together clickable screens and stakeholders loved it because they could comment and share feedback. That's when InVision's software spread like wildfire throughout so many Enterprise companies.
There is one truth about InVision that never goes debated—they were damn good at Marketing. As the software gained traction, there were more touch points with InVision than you'd see ClickUp ads—podcasts, blog posts, sponsorships, and yes, even their own produced documentary. By 2015 and beyond, InVision was the super team—coined by many as "The Avengers of Product Design."
A changing landscape (and Figma)
Anyone who's won a championship will tell you that the hardest thing is repeating and staying on top. Once you're crowned the leader, incumbents emerge. They don't show up overnight. It's over time they take over. For InVision, it was Figma, a then very little known design tool. It sounds ridiculous now, but people, including designers, were skeptical of Figma. Designing in a browser? People can see me working? No fucking way.
Figma started in 2016 (or arguably earlier) during the dominance of InVision. I read a comment on a Hacker News post about InVision that summed it up well:
"As a designer, it was amazing to how badly invision was unable to move beyond their original simple prototyping platform. They were way ahead of the curve when they began and simply never did anything useful beyond that."
InVision sold the same thing without continuing to innovate and improve. Knowing the threat of Figma on the rise, InVision Studio was the attempt to answer it, but it was handled with the same haste as the DCEU responding to Marvel's Avengers with The Justice League. The company that once seemed invincible started showing weaknesses. When Rocky Balboa got beat by the hungry Clubber Lang (Mr. T), he was humbled, lost his mentor, and hit rock bottom. The Italian Stallion rose once again, training with his former adversary-now-friend Apollo Creed, which included some of the most bromantic runs on the beach in skimpy shorts. Balboa beat Lang in a rematch becoming the champ again. Many of us were hoping for this with InVision. Unfortunately, it did not happen, and here we are today.
Reflecting on lessons
Marketing and hype can only take you so far
As someone with experience in Brand and Marketing, I can tell you the best thing for a Brand and Marketing is an incredible product. The best marketing is when the results meet the expectations of the customers. Marketing without this will eventually run out of steam.
Prioritize small wins and improvements
The part that stands out to me most in The Rise and Fall of [[InVision]] is when Dexter uses the example of how long it took to ship spaces (folders); something known as a huge pain point that seemed to never get addressed. When it did ship, trust eroded too much already.
You cannot react to the next horizon
InVision Studio and acquisitions of great companies such as Wake, Macaw, Napkin, Silver cannot save catching up when the paradigm shift occurs. In this case, it was collaborating on design in the cloud with Figma.
It can happen to us
For a company to that raised $350m and at one point had $100m Annual Recurring Revenue (ARR), it's understandable to ponder WTF happened. Remaining relevant in an ever-changing landscape is really hard—especially in the AI era. I choose not to pass judgment or play armchair quarterback because any of us can also suffer this fate.
In no ways am I saying InVision is infallible. It's clear lots of mistakes were made. I wasn't there and am not going to assume anything. Instead of writing your Amazon press release for the, consider writing the rise and fall of your own company. Learn from history, don't repeat it.
Grateful for the rise that elevated many
In the late 2010s, InVision was the 2001 Miami Hurricanes football of design—stacked with incredible designers and content. It's easy to remember the shocking loss to Ohio State, but the rise inspired many designers. Clark from InVision the Tom from MySpace—the first friend for many in a digital design community. The holy trinity of Sketch, InVision, and Zeplin made careers for designers and companies began understanding why design needed a seat at the table.
InVision is now gone, perhaps turning into the stardust that helped design have that proverbial seat at the table. It did for me and I'm grateful.