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. Slack

Online collaboration tools - Slack

Keep in touch with your team – wherever they may be in the world – 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. A new way to get things done, Slack helps you grow your design business by reducing email and meeting times, keeping all team communication in one place.

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

Google Keep is a fantastic way to share lists and ideas

Google Keep is a fantastic way to share lists and ideas (or keep them to yourself). You can access Google Keep through the 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 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.

05. appear.in

Online collaboration tools: appear.in

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

So you want to see all your team's smiling faces, right? That's not always possible with people working remotely, but online collaboration tool appear.in is the next best thing. This brilliant video conversation app allows up to eight people 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 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.

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 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.

08. Mural

Online collaboration tools: Mural

Gathering and sorting ideas and resources in different formats

Mural 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 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.

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.

09. GoVisually

Online collaboration tools: 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.

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. 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.

11. ConceptBoard

Online collaboration tools: ConceptBoard

ConceptBoard is an instant whiteboard tool for teams and projects

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.

12. IdeaFlip

Online collaboration tools: IdeaFlip

Compose, collect and clarify your ideas with IdeaFlip

Ideaflip makes it easy for your team to quickly turn thoughts into ideas, share and refine them – whether they’re in the same room or on the other side of the world. A beautifully simple web app, IdeaFlip is perfect for group brainstorming and individual ideas. A great way to compose, collect and clarify your ideas.

13. Scribblar

Online collaboration tools: 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.

14. BinFire

Online collaboration tools: 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.

15. Basecamp

Online collaboration tools: 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.

16. 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

17. Concept inbox

Online collaboration tools: 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.

18. Cage

Online collaboration tools: Cage

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

Cage is one of those online 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.

19. Draftboard

Online collaboration tools: 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.

20. Marqueed

Online collaboration tools: 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.

Contributors: Natalie Brandweiner and Justin He

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Craig Stewart is managing 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, The Scotsman and T3.

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