In this, the year of Taylor Swift, it feels oddly fitting that Adobe and Figma have just announced their breakup. Like all good angsty love stories immortalized in an Era’s Tour set, we had the Figma indie-cool-kid rebel agreeing to roll with the digital class President in the established and voted Most Likely to Succeed Adobe. Torn apart by well-intentioned but out-of-touch outsiders, the two have closed this chapter of their idyllic yet improbably love affair. And while nobody is shouting that they will never, ever, E-V-E-R—like seriously never ever—get back together, for the near future their paths will be distinctly separate.

When the acquisition was announced in September 2022, my thoughts immediately went to where and how this merged vision of creativity and collaboration would materialize. Yet almost as soon as the headline ink was dried, I started to realize not everyone understood what Figma or Adobe actually DID for a living. Design was a loosely defined word being reinterpreted with almost every audience. Adobe critics lambasted my enthusiasm for the deal by insisting that this was Adobe attempting to push out the competition, running scared of another design tool hitting the market. Figma devotees feared the worst and believed the rumor mill that Adobe was out to crush independence and would immediately assimilate all digital innovators into the collective. The memes were glorious to behold, albeit totally off base.

Adobe, Figma call off $20 billion merger

In the end, regulators in Europe, very specifically the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), publicly stated they believed the merger would lessen competition to a degree that it would remove incentive for Adobe/Figma to develop and improve the quality of its products. The CMA believed that the merger “would eliminate an important dynamic competitive threat to Adobe’s Illustrator and Photoshop” in a market they believed Adobe had already become the entrenched leader. Honestly, I’ve struggled to make any sense of these arguments. From what I could tell, the regulatory focus was more about the misunderstanding of design, creation and digital product than about attempting to understand the needs and evolution of the market.

So much has happened since the announced intention to acquire that I can’t help but chuckle that the regulators may have done Adobe a solid by dragging their heels and bungling these inquiries. Let’s, for argument’s sake, imagine a world in which the deal swam forward smoothly and realized a close date of mid-2023. This would have been in the THICK of the earth-shaking shift to generativeAI. Would the world be a bit different if Adobe had been pushed into deciding between the investment into Figma and the investment into bringing the Firefly portfolio of AI models to market? Would the same decisions around talent, focus, investments and roadmaps be made had the Figma closing also demanded attention and consideration?

Instead, through the lens of future-forward AI development, the Figma acquisition became a smaller distraction at just the right time, allowing Adobe to focus on what this new era of generativeAI would mean for creators and creatives. While regulators were lamenting that Adobe would use their posture in the marketplace to miss out on improvements and innovations, tools like Generative Fill and Firefly Image models have radically changed the work of creation in ways we couldn’t have truly envisioned when the headlines first broke about Adobe and Figma. The time free from the chaos of acquisition allowed Adobe’s roadmap leading us deeper into an AI-enriched creative future to truly unfold.

Don’t cry for Figma either. In fact, Adobe may have just handed over a billion-dollar budget boost that Figma needs to further power innovations and bring on the next evolution of digital product design and digital collaboration. During this vetting period, Figma has continued to grow in all the right places. The honest truth is that while Figma has been a start-up darling and a personal favorite of mine, they were quickly racing towards that danger zone every fast growing start up reaches…that point when the next evolution must occur to continue that meteoric rise up market…or stagnation takes hold and the bloom starts to quickly fall from the rose. Figma had not reached that point…but arguably they could have been about 6-months from that decision point of choosing between disrupting or being disrupted. Now, there will be an infusion of $1 billion dollars to pour gasoline on that promise of innovation-driven disruption.

These ex’es haven’t seen the last of one another. The teams have gotten to know one another, leaders have come to trust and respect one another and even the most ardent Anti-Adobe Figma fanatic has likely downloaded the new Adobe Express toolset and started to realize that perhaps, Adobe isn’t the evil overlord controlling creativity after all.

Thus ends the September to December romance known as Adobe + Figma. The future is truly bright for both Adobe and Figma to embrace what this new age of AI will bring to creativity, digital, product and design. But who knows what the tomorrow holds. Afterall, isn’t it Taylor Swift that sang, “Turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you, wishing I’d realized what I had when you were mine…I go back to December, turn around and make it alright. I go back to December all the time.” Just sayin…stranger things have happened.