Chinese industrial design software companies rush to provide alternatives amid US ban
Published: Mar 14, 2022 08:30 PM


US software firm Figma has reportedly started to sever ties with Chinese drone unicorn DJI in compliance with US sanctions, but multiple Chinese software companies have swiftly responded, vowing to give DJI  a helping hand to minimize the impact of the US' access ban.

Still, contentions remain over whether Figma's Chinese lookalikes would be powerful enough to meet DJI's needs.

In an email sent to DJI, Figma said that it has learned that DJI is named in US-issued sanctioning list, and it can no longer provide the company access to its software in compliance with the US laws, the China Securities Journal reported on Sunday.

Figma has moved to freeze DJI's accounts, read the email, adding that "should DJI eventually be removed from the sanctioned parities list, your access may be restored."

On Saturday, JsDesign said on its Weibo account that it had verified the access prohibition that has affected some domestic internet firms and designers, affecting the security of their design assets.

DJI didn't comment on the reports, when contacted by the Global Times.

Figma did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Multiple domestic alternatives to Figma's offerings have reached out with timely response.  

Shenzhen-listed software firm Wondershare Technology is one of those providing alternatives to Figma's offerings.

A domestically developed collaborative interface design tool Pixso launched a function to support the upload of Figma files on Saturday. The move is aimed at providing assistance for the creators and enterprises and helping protect their design assets, the company said. 

Compared with foreign software, the software developed by the Chinese team can respond to the needs of local enterprises more quickly with Chinese interface and local servers, making web page designs faster and more secure, the company said. 

Shares of Wondershare on the tech-heavy ChiNext market rallied 15.2 percent on Monday, arguably a silver lining in a fall in the A-share market across the board. The ChiNext index shed 3.56 percent while the flagship Shanghai index lost 2.61 percent. 

The domestic market for collaborative interface design tools remains in its infancy, but the overall market and users are expanding. Producers of domestic software, including Pixso, have significantly increased the speed of their iterations in the past six months after getting more funding from the capital market, Huang Yong, founder of Pixso, told the Global Times on Monday. 

Faced with the move of Figma to cut off companies blacklisted by the US, domestic brands have responded swiftly. In the future, the global market for online design software will see fiercer competition among multiple brands, Huang said.

Wondershare is not alone. Domestic design tool MasterGo, under online product design collaboration platform Lanhu, has officially packed the functionality of importing Figma documents, a staffer at the company confirmed to the Global Times on Monday. 

Compared with Figma's English-language system, MasterGo is an interface design tool meant for Chinese designers, with Chinese system language that can help domestic designers get started quickly, according to the company.

JsDesign, for its part, also offered to help individuals and businesses hit by the US measure with the transfer and backup of Figma files.

DJI is among many companies that use Figma software, which is equivalent to a painting brush for corporate design.

The San Francisco-based software design platform that enables customers to collaborate on software "raised fresh funding at a valuation of $10 billion," according to a report by Bloomberg in June 2021.

There would be some inconvenience to local businesses in case of banned access to Figma, but overall impact could be managed, a Beijing-based UI designer familiar with the tool told the Global Times on Monday.

"The [Figma] software is replaceable. The function could be replaced by some basic drawing and design tools," he said.

An unidentified designer who previously worked for a famed global internet firm, cited by the National Business Daily on Monday, said that when slapped with a Figma ban, the only solution for designers and businesses would be a shift toward other design tools, with domestic software acting as a Plan B option.

Nonetheless, the functionalities of domestic software are not as broad-based as those of Figma, meaning that a mix of software tools would be necessary to function in Figma's absence, resulting in rising costs and compromised efficiency, according to the designer, adding that homegrown design software lags behind Figma in ecosystem terms.