Figured wood is the adjective to describe the appearance of the wood. No two pieces of wood are the same, which is what makes each handcrafted piece unique.
There are all sorts of ways to describe the attributes wood can present. Plain, Tigerstripe, Quilted, Spalted, Birdseye, Fiddleback, Crotch, on and on. It doesn't make plain wood undesirable but the more figured the wood, the higher the pricetag may be. The takeaway being you have a truly stunning and of a kind piece for your project.
The difference between a plain sawn (or regular) looking piece of wood and a figured piece is simply how it looks. However, it's not really that simple either. Talking about the figure patterns of wood barely scratches the bark.
Burls are prized as the crème de la crème and could be compared to the pearl of an oyster. You might see a burl used in furniture or by luthiers (guitar makers) but are so rare, they are sometimes poached by those seeking profits from the wood and harvested from healthy trees. Figured wood is my preference of wood to work with for it's unique appearance it provides to our senses. All wood is beautiful in it's own way but it figures that figured wood is superior by the way it captivates us.
Trees full of burls.
Guitar made with Buckeye Burl.
Spalted Maple Coffee Table
Sources: Google Image Search - The Joinery, Ed Roman Guitars, Hearne Hardwoods