Good design doesn't happen in a vaccuum. As a remote team, though, we don't get to sketch around a table together, see each other's whiteboards, or have other daily opportunities for in-person collaboration.
Instead, we mostly share screenshots in group chat and, sadly, a lot of ideas don't even make it that far. It can feel like a high barrier to entry to post something online for the team to review — just by uploading, it becomes *Important* even if it's a simple sketch.
But if we're not able to share work in progress, we miss out on the value and ideas of our teammates and can end up working toward disparate goals. I want to dismantle barriers and make feedback and conversation about design a regular, fun part of our team process. It's essential to share half-baked designs, interface sketches, and unpolished ideas — even more so because we don't inhabit the same physical space.
Everybody agrees our products and apps will be better for it, but like all things with remote work, it takes an intentional commitment. You have to build even casual feedback into your workflow. With that in mind, I've been testing a few design tools meant to help facilitate asynchronous design feedback and communication. Here are my notes and thoughts on the three products we've tried so far.
Overall, Red Pen was the fastest and most intuitive tool. This was also the service that everyone on the team actually tried and used successfully — the other two had much lower participation. This, more than anything else, is an indicator of its value. If nobody uses it, it's useless.
- It's easy to share and comment on designs without having to create an account (plus the workflow for account creation is smart).
- Easy to navigate through designs using keyboard.
- Simple and fast commenting. All our team members contributed with ease.
- Tells you who has seen a comment (e.g., "read by meredith") and a few other nice interface features like that.
- Retains all versions of a design.
- Browser and email notifications tell you when there are unread comments.
- When we tested it there was no way to customize notification settings — some of us got email updates, some of us didn't, and it wasn't clear why. While the notifications were fairly intuitive, it would be nice to be able to adjust preferences.
- No "view all comments" option, yet. They say they're working on this feature. Without it, there's no way to get an aggragate view of all feedback for a project.
- No way to see all versions of a design at once.
- There doesn't seem to be a way to easily download files (not a huge deal for us).
- You can only upload png files.
Not seeing all the comments is actually a pretty big deal for me. As the lead designer, I want to be able to take all the feedback, consolidate and translate it into tasks (which live as tickets in GitHub or JIRA). Red Pen would work better for quick feedback on sketches and design ideas, less so for long conversations or contentious feature decisions.
Red Pen is also the most expensive of the tools we tested. I sent them a couple of emails about nonprofit rates and haven't heard back.
InVision is like the Photoshop of design feedback tools. It can do a lot of different things, and feels a bit bloated as a product (when looking solely for design feedback, at least). But they have put a lot of thought into the design and functionality of their suite of tools, and you can tell that this was created by and for designers.
- You can draw/sketch on designs and toggle comments on and off.
- Notification options can be set at a user level and changed with each comment.
- You can build clickable prototypes using wireframe images.
- Ablility to upload all the file types (or at least a lot of them) and vector handling. There is also a separate repo for assets.
- There is a conference call feature for live design walkthroughs. We tested this recently with wireframes for a new site and it worked well.
- The project history page has rich data — I'm not sure how practical any of it is, but it was fun to see.
- Conversations are harder to access (a few clicks to see full thread).
- Inviting people to comment takes a few more steps, and the sign up process is not intuitive.
- Navigating between designs within a project, and between different projects, takes quite a bit of menu searching and clicking.
This is not a lightweight product, and while there are a lot of fun features, our team didn't consistently use — or even try — most of them. If we're attempting to cultivate a lower barrier to entry for feedback, this is not the tool I would choose.
InVision does offer nonprofit discounts for the more expensive payment tiers, and has been responsive and helpful when I've reached out.
Conjure fell somewhere in between InVision and Red Pen for me. It wasn't as feature heavy as InVision, but wasn't as fast or intuitive as Red Pen. There are a lot of nice elements, but it was the least used by our team during testing.
- A nice way of highlighting particular areas of a design to comment on (drag to select).
- Pro level is currently free during beta.
- You are able to approve a project when the feedback period has ended.
- There's a separate menu you have to click to see the full thread of a comment. You can't see responses to a primary comment on the design itself.
- Adding collaborators is more complicated than other tools we tried.
- Navigating between projects and designs is clunky.
Overall it comes down to what our team will actually use. InVision has so many great features, but it also feels needlessly complicated for the purposes of fast feedback. We don't need every single customization option when looking for quick opinions on a design direction. Red Pen, on the other hand, had the most intuitive interface and was the product everyone actually used while testing. It is opinionated in its simplicity and that works to its advantage here.
Despite the higher price and some interface limitations, Red Pen will likely be what we use for sharing sketches and mockups. As with so many things, the right tool is the one that people will use.
For clickable prototypes and more formal design presentations and walkthroughs, I will continue to use InVision. To me it feels more like a protoyping and client-services tool than a home for internal feedback. (For a detailed comparison chart of other prototyping tools, check out http://prototypingtools.co.)
|Pricing||$30/month for 10 projects||$25/month for unlimited projects (currently free in beta)||$22/month for unlimited projects (one designer)|