DesignFeature

The 20 best tools for online collaboration

These interactive, real-time collaboration tools make designers' work easier - wherever you are in the world.

A team of designers does not always work in the same office; you work in distributed groups, some of you may be working from home, and clients can be based 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.

Some are created specifically for designers, some serve as a concept crafting whiteboard often with tools to make simple annotations, and some are all-in-one web apps that include an element of project management.

Here we gather together some of the best available online tools to allow designers to take part in collaborational work in real time. There are collaboration tools, from concept drafting and brainstorming to working on mock-ups and live project, 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. Trello

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 mock-ups whichever way you want. There’s also a nice progress meter 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.

02. Yammer

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 to chat openly or privately, and share documents; you can even like somebody’s status if you so wish! With over 7 million users, it’s the most widely used enterprise network tool and, now owned by Microsoft, can be integrated with SharePoint.

03. Flatsi.es

Flatsi.es
Share concepts with clients using Flatsies

Forget the frustrations of sending work to clients via email; this free tool for designers enables you to host your project on one dashboard and share via a simple URL. Projects are password protected so only you and the client have access to them. Other features include retina-ready so that all of your images look pristine, and a mobile app means that you can use the tool wherever, whenever. The free version allows you to manage four projects at a time, while the paid-for pro account is unlimited.

04. Red Pen

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 and 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 to a project. One of its best features is that it keeps track of the numerous versions made so you can always reclaim that earlier design if you changed you mind. Pricing starts at $20/month for 5 projects.

05. Invision

Invision
Invision is a web and mobile app created specifically to help designers collaborate

Again, another 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.

06. Mural.ly

HTML5 - Murally
Gathering and sorting ideas and resources in different formats

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

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

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

07. GoVisually

 GoVisually 1
GoVisually allows you to comment, annotate, and discuss

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

Elliptical, rectangular, and lasso selections are available for annotation - you can easily select these options at the top of the screen, as well as colour and weight of the shapes. 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 relevat 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.

08. MindMeister

 MindMeister
Mindmeister is a collaborative mind-mapping tool

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

09. ConceptBoard

ConceptBoard is an instant whiteboard tool for teams and projects. Creative designers can reap benefits by using this tool to collaborate as well. Inded, it's optimised for creatives and is more like a one-stop solution for crafting concepts, managing projects, and providing feedback at any time.

10. GroupZap

 GroupZap
GroupZap is a simple board with a skeuomorphic-style layout

Think of this app as any whiteboard in a boardroom! GroupZap is a tool for you and your team to collaborate on ideas in real-time. It utilises a sticker system that is easy for anyone to use - you drop and move buttons and badges just like magnets on a whiteboard. It's definitely worth a try for brainstorming ideas.

11. Scribblar

 Scribblar
Scribblar is the only app here that also has live audio chat capabilities

Scribblar is more like a chat room - it even has audio available - and as such it is very useful indeed. Creative brainstorming and artwork revision can be collaborated in the 'room' you create. It's an effective online collaboration tool and is available for free.

12. BinFire

 BinFire
If you want an all-in-one project management collaboration tool, BinFire is the one

BinFire is an all-round project management tool. It's described as being designed for team project follow-ups and collaboration, but the whiteboard and markup function make it useful for designers too. If you are looking for a collaboration tools that have powerful project management feature, this is the one to try.

13. Basecamp

Basecamp's been around for over 10 years and is an approachable yet powerful project management tool

The daddy of project management, Basecamp was created when 37Signals couldn't find a project management app that wasn't insanely complicated, and so decided to build its own. It worked so well that clients wanted to use it, too, and things grew from there.

Featuring a whole suite of collaborative tools including to-do lists, wiki-style documents, file sharing and messaging, it packs just about everything you need to keep any project running smoothly. You can use it via the web or with iOS and Android apps, and if you want to get a feel for it you can sign up for a 60-day free trial.

14. Proofhub

Another web-based project management and collaboration tool, Proofhub promises that it'll enable you to plan, organise and deliver projects of all sizes faster. It packs all the tools you'd expect, including Gantt charts to help schedule and track multiple tasks, and a proofing tool that aims to ease the whole process of approving and reviewing designs. Want to give it a try? You can sign up for a free 30-day trial right now

15. Concept inbox

The latest version of Concept inbox features visual feedback and realtime collaboration

Describing itself as the simple way for designers, teams and clients to collaborate, Concept inbox provides you with a straightforward dashboard where you can upload images, get fast feedback from clients and add revisions with full version control. It also enables you to create interactive prototypes; just the thing if you have a brilliant idea for an app and want to communicate how it would work.

It's now on version 3.0 with an updated interface, visual feedback and realtime collaboration tools, and the basic version is free to use.

16. Cage

 Cage
If you want an online collaboration tool that's specifically for designers, try Cage

Cage is one of those collaboration tools that is specifically built for designers. The original Cage allowed you share images of designs and get contextual feedback on them, but in the latest iteration of the app collaboration is more comprehensive.

You can add tasks, approve files, and even have a more engaging experience by using web-based presentations. If project management features like to-do lists were included, this would virtually be a one-stop solution for designer collaboration.

17. Draftboard

 Draftboard
Draftboard is specifically designed to work with PSD files

If Cage is for gathering feedback on image-based works, Draftboard is designed for managing and collaborating on mock-ups - specifically  Photoshop .psd files.

The overall layout and functions are almost the same as Cage, including annotation, managing multiple projects, and collaboration tools. It's a good, basic tool to share mock-ups, get feedback, and keep your team updated.

18. Canvasdropr

 Canvasdropr
A blank canvas to drop and share your documents on - that's Canvasdropr

Canvasdropr is a file sharing and annotating tool that supports many filetypes, even including MS Office documents. The interface is very simple and easy to navigate.

All you see is a 'canvas' that can be used as a blank sheet of paper, and then files can be added either from your computer or using Google Drive, Instagram, Flickr, etc. AS collaboration tools go, it's great, and Canvasdropr also allows you make presentations and synchronize with mobile devices, including iPads.

19. Marqueed

 Marqueed
Upload and discuss your images on Marqueed

No fancy features or price plans here - Marqueed is a free, simple tool to upload images and discuss them. You can add multiple images to the board plus labels and descriptions, and it allows you to easily make revisions. You can also grab any image on the web and drag it to Marqueed, which is a very practical feature.

20. Stixy

 Stixy
Stixy is a shared area for post-it style notes and ideas

Stixy is an online note tool for personal projects, co-workers, families and anyone who wants to gather resources, add to-dos and make comments and notes on those files.

It may not have been created specifically for designers, but designers can certainly use it to get feedback on images as well. Plus the drag-n-drop sticker-like notes and to-dos are very easy to use for managing simple schedules.

Contributors: Justin He and Natalie Brandweiner

Words: Craig Stewart

Craig Stewart is managing editor of Creative Bloq.

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