We're entering a golden era of collaboration tools. Distributed teams are much more common, and it's easier than ever to work with individuals in different cities... or even different continents. Collaboration tools make it easier and faster for designers to get feedback and approve artwork in a professional manner, with nothing getting lost in translation.
In this article, we gather together some of the best online collaboration tools that enable creatives to work together in real time. Some are created specifically for designers, others serve as a concept crafting whiteboard. 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(opens in new tab)
Want to improve communication within 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. It's so popular now, chances are you're using it already.
Perfect for anyone managing a team of remote employees, Slack enables project development to move forward more smoothly. Different channels help keep conversations on track, while having all team communication in one place ensures no one gets left out of the loop. Slack (opens in new tab) can also help you grow your design business by reducing email and meeting times.
Created specifically for designers, InVision is a web-based tool and mobile app that turns your designs into fully active prototypes, complete 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 with InVision (opens in new tab) is free, but any more than that and you'll need to move to a paid plan.
03. Asana(opens in new tab)
Asana (opens in new tab) will help you stay on top of your workflow by enabling you to create to-do lists, keep track of tasks via a project 'board', set deadline reminders, comment on others' posts, and send requests to colleagues. Employers can also use it to keep track of how projects are progressing. This collaboration tool first launched in 2008, and is still very popular.
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: Trello (opens in new tab) is completely free.
Browser-based collaboration tool Visme (opens in new tab) collects all your team activities in one place. It's especially good for designers because it enables you to create a variety of visual projects, including presentations and infographics. There are built-in features to help you monitor on each user’s workload, progress, and activity on ongoing jobs.
06. Google Keep
Google Keep (opens in new tab) 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 is a collaboration tool that's definitely worth checking out.
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 (opens in new tab) is the next best thing. This brilliant video conversation app allows up to eight people to converse in a chatroom, with no login or downloads required. It's free to use, or you can bump up to a paid Pro plan for extra features.
The daddy of project management, Basecamp (opens in new tab) 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 in 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 30-day free trial.
Online collaboration tool Podio (opens in new tab) aims to help you improve the structure of your workflows by offering a way to organise unwieldy stacks of work and assign different employees specific tasks. It enables you to share files, get feedback on work, and view the status on ongoing projects. One of the most enticing features is its third-party integrations – it works with a whole load of services, from Dropbox and Google Drive to Evernote. There are also mobile apps for use while you're out of the office.
10. Red Pen
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 (opens in new tab)'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.
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 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 Mural (opens in new tab) 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.
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 (see our guide to the best drawing apps for iPad (opens in new tab).
When multiple team members are on the same page, GoVisually (opens in new tab) 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.
Mindmeister (opens in new tab) 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. You can create up to three mind maps for free, or swap to one of the paid plans if you find this tool works well for you.
Conceptboard (opens in new tab) is an instant whiteboard for teams and projects, and designers can also reap benefits by using it as a collaboration tool. Indeed, it's optimised for creatives and is more like a one-stop solution for crafting concepts, managing projects, and providing feedback at any time. There's a free version, but you'll only be able to add up to 50 objects to each board you create. If you need more than that, you'll need to swap to a paid plan.
Ideaflip makes it easy for your team to quickly turn thoughts into ideas, and share or refine them – whether your collaborator is in the same room or on the other side of the world. A beautifully simple web app, Ideaflip (opens in new tab) is perfect for group brainstorming and individual ideas, and offers a great way to compose, collect and clarify your ideas. With this collaboration tool, it's free for guests to view and contribute to boards, but to create a board yourself, you'll need to subscribe to a paid plan.
Another web-based project management and collaboration tool, ProofHub (opens in new tab) promises that it'll enable you to plan, organise and deliver projects of all sizes faster. It offers 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. It's available as a online, or as an Apple or Android app, and you can try it for free for 30 days.
17. Concept inbox
Describing itself as the simple way for designers, teams and clients to collaborate, Concept inbox (opens in new tab) 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.
Cage (opens in new tab) is an online collaboration tools specifically built for designers. The original app allowed you share images of designs and get contextual feedback on them, but it's now much more comprehensive. You can add tasks, approve files, and even explore a more engaging experience with web-based presentations.