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InVision Shutdown: Lessons from a (Still) Angry UX Designer

InVision announced shutdown. Here are important lessons for everyone from a once-upon-a-time $2B Design Industry Leader

On August 16, 2022, I wrote a LinkedIn article, “The ONE Reason InVision failed,” which you can read here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/one-reason-why-invision-failed-greg-nudelman/ (NOTE: the article below is a continuation of that story arc.) (Yes, you should go and read that first article before you continue.) (Yes, everything in the Universe is connected and will make a tiny bit more sense afterward.)

Today, a full 1.5 years later, I surprised myself by feeling intensely and inexplicably FURIOUS about InVision’s announcement that they are (finally) shutting down the company. Like Anton Ego from Pixar’s Ratatouille, I thought that I put a pin into that particular pile of pain:

Anton Ego: I haven't reviewed Gusteau's in years!
Ambrister Minion: No, sir.
Anton Ego: My last review condemned it to the tourist train.
Ambrister Minion: Yes.
Anton Ego: I said, "Gusteau has finally found his rightful place in history right alongside another equally famous chef: Monsieur Boyardee."
Ambrister Minion: Yes.
Anton Ego: That is where I left it. That was my last word - THE last word.
Ambrister Minion: Yes.
Greg: Then tell me, Ambrister, how could InVision STILL MAKE ME SO FURIOUS?

However (thanks to years of intense meditation practices), I still retain enough self-awareness to realize that

If I am still angry about something, it means that there are still important lessons to learn.

So here, then, are the lessons we can all learn from the InVision clusterf*ck:

1. Physics Apply

If you continue to ignore customer complaints and competitive forces in your industry, you will discover that, in the words of Frances Frei, “Physics Apply.” If your whole company is focused (as InVision was at the height of its market dominance) on Hype instead of on product quality and genuinely valuable features, you will be unceremoniously flushed down the toilet of history. Even though it took this company 1.5 years to complete this arc of the Circle of Life.

2. Code Matters

One of my favorite sayings is “Code Talks, Bullsh*t Walks.” (Not sure who said it first; the earliest reference I can find for that saying is by Jakub Narebski, in GNU Archives: https://gcc.gnu.org/pipermail/gcc/2007-December.txt if you said it before that my sincere apologies, please let me know so I can credit you appropriately.) It was the quality of the code and failed product execution that ultimately made InVision non-competitive.

“Integration with Sketch was awful. The unfortunately named Craft Manager plugin was maligned with bugs. InVision kept blaming Sketch. Sketch blamed InVision. We got duplicate screens in very complex, detailed 75-wireframe projects, which cost us days to fix. Screens loading out of order. Screens not updating. And every day there would be new buggy releases of Craft Manager and so everyone had to spend 10 minutes reloading everything.

But the straw that finally broke our backs was the SSO issue. Every few hours, randomly, SSO plugin would log you off and give a persistent error that InVision was inaccessible. That could strike at any time: in the 3-hr remote brainstorming meeting we waited weeks to set up. While you are syncing, corrupting the prototype. At the executive demo. The only way to fix this was to file a ticket with the support which took 2-4 hours to resolve. Support finally assigned a dedicated 24 coverage person, just for InVision SSO issue. No matter how we tried, InVision support pushed back saying it was on our end. InVision was the only app that had issues with our Okta setup, so no. InVision, it was all on you.”

3. Pricing Matters Even More

However bad the execution, what really brought down the company is pricing. During its heyday was that InVision charged 20x more than Figma for what was an inferior, endlessly buggy product (but with a fantastic hype machine!) As a Head of UX, no matter how I tried to defend the investment we made into the InVision DSM stack, I simply could no longer justify the expense.

It was not just the overall expense: InVision made itself deaf and blind to the evolution of the pricing model. Figma wisely evolved the model by charging only for Creator (Designer) licenses, not for Viewer/Reader/Commenter/Developer/Product Manager/Executive licenses. Everyone in the company was free to look at and comment on the designs at any time with a simple, secure link. The pricing was simple. Logging in and viewing prototypes was simple. This made Figma very popular virtually overnight.

In contrast, InVision continued to charge its customers using a complex and unmanageable melange of license tiers, including (but not limited to) Admin, Manager, Viewer, Developer, Designer, Visitor, etc. It was complex and unintelligible and required manual work from an admin any time someone joined or left the company. Every month we had discussions with InVision on how many license seats of what kind we were using. And every month, we were hit with “right-sizing” by InVision with substantial additional bills. Add to this the aforementioned unsolvable intermittent SSO bug, and the whole thing became a serious pain in the tuchis.

4. End-to-End Experience Matters Most

But where InVision really screwed the pooch was the end-to-end experience. To begin with, the entire premise of InVision was highly dependent on Sketch, without actually rewarding Sketch in any way to collaborate with them to create a seamless end-to-end experience of creating and publishing prototypes. This product strategy never made any sense in the long term.

All the problems with Craft Manager made the Sketch-InVision combination nearly impossible to use. InVision kept blaming Sketch. Sketch blamed InVision. Around and around the conversation went without ever fixing the underlying issue: the two companies could never agree whose job it was to make things work end-to-end, soup-to-nuts, wireframe-to-prototype.

InVision should have bought Sketch when it had a chance. (Many chances actually…) When the offer was not forthcoming, Sketch started trying to make its own prototyping tools. And InVision… InVision made the Studio. (Ah, the Studio. What a clusterf*ck that one was…. Let’s just leave it at that.) InVision was just simply too arrogant to admit the two companies needed to join their efforts. And that is one reason the two companies are getting flushed down the drain together.

Nothing InVision made in the last three years really worked correctly end-to-end. The entire Product effort was “too little, too late” every single time. Many features (like DSM, search, prototype management, user permissions, etc.) actually got worse before we walked away and started using Figma. Mostly because they were just that — features.

I’ll say it again because this bears repeating:

Simple end-to-end experience that worked reliably and consistently, together with simple pricing was the key to this market. Not the hyped-up, disconnected, buggy features InVision kept shipping.

This is key because this same type of “Simple end-to-end experience that worked reliably and consistently, together with simple pricing,” is also the key to today’s AI-driven product market. And if you fail to pay attention, your company will be next on the chopping block.

5. Disrupt Yourself or Die

If your company is a leader in the space, you have a giant target painted on your back. You need to continuously disrupt yourself if you are going to stay dominant. That’s the classic Innovator’s Dilemma: the 1000-lb gorillas (like InVision was in its heyday) need to “keep on biggering”, and so they continuously move higher up-market. That leaves a great deal of the market under-served, creating an opportunity for agile startups like Figma to swoop in and disrupt the industry. The critical moment of change is driven by the change in the “value system,” that is the change in what customers value most.

In this case, the change was to a “simple end-to-end experience that worked reliably and consistently, together with simple pricing.”

As I wrote 1.5 years ago InVision failed to successfully deliver DSM and Enterprise management features, even while they continued to hype up their product more and more.

Worse yet: this gorilla fundamentally had feet of clay because it failed to control the source of the prototypes, which came from Sketch. It was exactly the situation the Once-ler found himself in:

He controlled the production of Thneeds (Prototypes) while strangling the foundation of its wealth: Truffula Trees (Sketch wireframes.)

In the age of AI, “simple end-to-end experience that worked reliably and consistently, together with simple pricing” is more important than ever.

As a designer and product manager, you should be asking yourself daily: how is this market changing? What are the disruptive forces that are changing the way my business is operating? What are we, as a company, doing to improve the seamless end-to-end experience, simplicity, ease of use, and pricing?

One Last Thing: Running a Business is Hard

Hindsight is 20/20. Leadership often has to make difficult decisions in a moment, with little or no data to guide them. (Yes, InVision should have been listening to all the angry customers. No, they did not listen.)

Regardless of the outcome, people who dare greatly are heroes of our industry. And the InVision team certainly qualified as a hero of the design industry and UX community. We should salute them — those people put their reputations on the line and dared greatly. So many people never actually try to build anything, much less a successful company.

Consider these wise and poetic words spoken by the reformed critic Anton Ego from Pixar’s Ratatouille:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.

RIP InVision,

Greg & Daria

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