The 18 best tools for online collaboration

These real-time collaboration tools make your design work easier... wherever you are in the world.

Individuals in design teams don't always work together in the same office. You may be positioned in distributed groups, or working from home, and clients can come from all over the world. This is where collaboration tools come in – they make it easier and faster for designers to get feedback and approve artwork in a professional manner, and they come in all sort of forms, from free Android apps to Chrome extensions.

Here we gather together some of the best available online tools to allow designers to collaborate together in real time. Some are created specifically for designers, some serve as a concept crafting whiteboard, and we've also included some more full-on project management tools for when you need to take your collaborative project to the next level.

01. Slack

Online collaboration tools Slack

Keep in touch with your team – wherever they may be – with Slack

Want to improve communication with your team? Or work remotely but still stay in touch? Collaboration tool Slack is a fantastic solution for clear, real-time communication that keeps everyone in the loop.

Perfect for anyone managing a team of remote employees, Slack enables project development to move forward more smoothly. Slack also helps you grow your design business by reducing email and meeting times, and keeping all team communication in one place, so no one gets left out of the loop.

02. InVision

Online collaboration tools InVision

InVision is one of the best prototyping tools around

A tool created specifically for designers, Invision is a web-based and mobile app that turns your designs into fully active prototypes with gestures, transitions and animations. Clients can provide feedback in the form of comments on your designs , and you can keep them up to date with the project’s progress in real time through actionable to-do lists. Getting started on your first project is free, but any more will cost you from $15/month.

03. Google Keep

Online collaboration tools Google Keep

Share lists and ideas with Google Keep

Google Keep is a fantastic way to share lists and ideas (or keep them to yourself). You can access Google Keep through its website or using the iOS or Android App. If you're looking for an easy-to-use list app, check this one out.

04. Trello

Online collaboration tools Trello

Share your to-do list with others in real time using Trello

This project management tool is like a magical customisable to-do list on a single interface, which you can share with others in real time. Based on a system of 'cards' (which are essentially Post-it notes), you can categorise and order text, photos, drawings and mockups whichever way you want. There's also a nice progress gauge so you can keep an eye on your project's pipeline, as well as the ability to set appointment reminders. Most brilliantly of all: it's free.

05. appear.in

Online collaboration tools appear in

Put a face to a name with video conversation app appear.in

You want to see all your team's smiling faces, right? That's not always possible when working remotely, but online collaboration tool appear.in is the next best thing. This brilliant video conversation app allows up to eight people to converse in a chat room, with no login or downloads required. And it's totally free to use.

06. Yammer

Online collaboration tools Yammer

Yammer is a social network for business owned by Microsoft

A social network for business, Yammer provides a platform for you to communicate and collaborate privately with your colleagues. Employees sign in with a company email address, and can use the platform via web, desktop or mobile. You can chat openly or privately, share documents, and even like somebody's status if you so wish! With over seven million users, it's the most widely used enterprise network tool and, now owned by Microsoft, can be integrated with SharePoint.

07. Red Pen

Online collaboration tools Red Pen

Want constructive criticism? This feedback tool makes it easier

More fun than a teacher's marking pen, this feedback tool is particularly great if you're a freelancer looking for some constructive criticism on a project. Specifically created for designers, Red Pen lets you drag and drop your designs into a dashboard and invite specific colleagues (or even clients) to let you know their thoughts in real- time as you roll out your latest updates. One of Red Pen's best features is that it keeps track of the numerous versions so you can always reclaim that earlier design if you change your mind.

08. Mural

Online collaboration tools Mural

Gather and sort ideas and resources in different formats

Mural is a creative tool for you to drag-and-drop rich media files, links and documents onto a big HTML5 drawing board, which is a great way to collect inspiration and gather your thoughts. It also supports collaboration that allows designers to brainstorm cool ideas remotely. Plus, it is optimised for iPad and made gesture-friendly.

Mural is not just designed as a pinboard like Pinterest – its main goal is gathering and organising ideas. Anyone can join you to edit and collaborate, and changes are reflected on the board in real time. Just send an email invitation or set up a password for the board and you are ready to go.

Tools like this are lighter than some of the more traditional brainstorming tools, and if you're new to collaborative brainstorming then this could be a good place to get started.

09. GoVisually

Online collaboration tools GoVisually 1

GoVisually allows you to comment, annotate and discuss a project

Free tool GoVisually allows you to mark annotations and place comments on any part of your project. With it, designers and clients can collaborate to revise projects online without sending painful emails, which should ultimately increase productivity.

For your annotation you can chose an elliptical, rectangular or lasso selection, as well as customising its colour and weight. These functions are very useful, and are as simple to apply as you'd find in a basic drawing app.

When multiple team members are on the same page, GoVisually applies layers for each user, like in Photoshop. Clicking on each user hides or displays relevant content, which is particularly useful when collaborating with different departments. Revisions can be easily upload and it is simple to switch between different versions of the same document or project.

10. MindMeister

Online collaboration tools MindMeister

Mindmeister is a collaborative mind-mapping tool

Mindmeister is a powerful mind-mapping tool, but also has the functionality of many collaboration tools, so designers can use it to craft ideas and concepts. It might feel a bit quirky to organise a design idea through mind mapping, but this is still a great collaboration tool to try out.

Next page: 8 more tools – including some great free options

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Craig Stewart is the editor of Creative Bloq. Craig has written about everything from cars and design to football and tech for numerous national newspapers, websites and magazines, including Classic Ford, Haynes and T3.