Eleken has been in the UI/UX business since 2015, and when it comes to web design collaboration tools, we have tried them all. We remember those ancient times when dinosaurs were hovering around and interface designers used Photoshop, the tool that literally has the word “photo” in its name. Apart from being tailored for retouch rather than UI, Photoshop was really, really bad for remote design cooperation.
So we breathed a sigh of relief when Sketch appeared, the tool specifically made for user interface and user experience design. We immersed ourselves in learning Sketch.
We were satisfied with our new tool, but not for long. Figma, the new tooling underdog, offered a feature good enough to make us forget about Sketch. Figma offered a professional UI design app on the web. Let's put it like this: when everyone worked in Microsoft Word, Figma created Google Docs for visual collaboration.
Instead of transferring dozens of final, 100%-final, god-make-it-final files, we could invite a person to view or even edit our single file in an online mode. That was one small step for mankind, but a giant leap for the design world.
So we relearned one more time to use Figma.
For the time Eleken has been in the UI/UX business, we’ve tried literally all the best design collaboration tools. In this article, we present a shortlist of our all-time favorites.
Tools for design team internal collaboration
It’s a stack of design team collaboration tools that create a shared workspace among the group working remotely.
Figma, the main design collaboration platform
A cloud-based Figma is Eleken’s ultimate tool to design wireframes, mockups, or prototypes and gather feedback on them. By now, it must be obvious that we love Figma. When we asked why, Maksym, our design director, gives a list of five reasons:
- Figma is a cross-platform app. You can open it from any device, whereas Photoshop was available only for Windows users, and Sketch worked only on MacBook.
- Another benefit is that Figma runs on browsers, so developers or clients don’t need to install an app when they need to view a design. They can simply open a link in any browser they have.
- Figma was the first pro app with a freemium model. For Sketch, you had to pay $100 per year, while Figma’s free plan is more than enough for personal use.
- Figma includes all possible extra features a product team may wish for. For instance, it has a tool that allows you to create clickable prototypes. Also, the product offers an easy way to extract code information from a specific page element — it makes Figma one of the best designer-developer collaboration tools.
- Figma is cloud-based. It means that all the files are held on the web, so they don’t take up space on your computer and allow you to work on them collectively.
- You can start using Figma for free. The Beginner tier has some functional limitations, but it’s just enough to learn how to use the app.
- If you want to unlock unlimited files and sharing permissions, you’ll have to pay $12 per editor per month.
Since this article has a risk to turn into a Figma fan page at this point, it’s high time to talk about the next tool. Because no matter how good Figma is, it can’t cover all communication needs of a design team.
Slack, for ongoing communication
Most of Elekens’ communication beyond specific design edits happens in Slack. This tool works like a faster, better-organized email alternative. Perfect for announcements, team-management issues, and watercooler conversations. Project team discussions also happen in Slack chats.
Slack, however, has its dark side. Positioned as a productivity tool, this app can also kill the team’s productivity unless used carefully. It makes it so easy to send messages, that at some point, you find yourself buried under dozens of them. Moreover, you can’t take a three-day pause before replying like it was with emails. Slack communications imply almost instant replies.
Slack is the best tool for internal team communication we have, but it requires some generally accepted communication ethics so that team members could maintain their focus and priorities.
- Slack offers a freemium tier with limited file storage and message history that is enough to try the app.
- For the Pro mode, you’ll pay $6.67 USD per user per month.
Slack calls / Zoom / Meet — to discuss something too complex for chats
We can hardly tell you anything new about the video conferencing tools world that is remote for two years already. But still, these tools should still be mentioned as a part of the design collaboration toolkit.
In order not to overwhelm colleagues with a massive Slack message flow, sometimes it’s useful to schedule short voice calls. Slack calls fit well for this. For longer calls or regular team meetings that require screen sharing, we use Zoom.
- Zoom offers its Basic plan for free, with group meetings limited to 40 minutes.
- If you want unlimited calls, you need a Pro account that will cost you $14.99 per host per month.
Meet by Google is another tool with very similar features, it can also make video conferencing work for your organization. If you already use other Google products, you should definitely try Google Meet. For G Suite accounts, there are no time limits.
Notion, as a knowledge base
Notion is a perfect tool for building and structuring your company’s database including project management and employee onboarding information.
For instance, the list of our favorite remote design collaboration tools you can see in this article comes from Eleken’s design guidelines kept in Notion.
- Notion offers a free plan for personal use.
- Those who need a collaborative workspace for an unlimited number of users will pay $4 per month.
Tools for collaboration with clients
To collaborate with clients and their product teams, we use some of the tools mentioned below.
You can’t go without video conferences — when people hire us as UI/UX designers, we have to gather requirements, discuss with them our ideas, and share results. Figma is another must-have tool when you need clients to see wireframes or prototypes.
What's new here is presentation tools used to communicate ideas, research results and designs.
Miro, a whiteboard to generate and present ideas
Miro is a cloud whiteboard created for people who work with mind maps, flowcharts, double diamonds, and other visual frameworks. Not only does the app have hundreds of templates, but they also look so stunning. Miro makes your theoretical brainchild esthetically pleasing and ready for presentation.
- You get three editable boards for free.
- More collaborative power and unlimited boards will cost you $8 per member per month.
For presentations that require more structured information than a whiteboard allows, we recommend trying Google Slides, a free online slideshow maker.
Figjam, another whiteboard established by guess who
Figjam is a competitor of Miro, recently launched by Figma. As a team of designers, we couldn’t miss this release. Not that we needed another whiteboarding tool. But since Figma sits in the center of our design galaxy, using a single ecosystem for both UI design and whiteboarding sounds tempting.
You can transfer things between Figma and Figjam simply by pressing Ctrl+C or Command+C, and it’s a huge time-saver. What is not a time-saver is Fitjam’s cute stamps, emojis, and a hi-five feature.
- FigJam is now in Beta, which means you can use the Professional tier for free until Feb 2022.
- After, for unlimited boards, you’ll need to pay $3 per editor per month.
Loom, for recording and sharing screencasts
Loom is a screencast tool that allows you to record and share short pitch videos. It’s useful for asynchronous collaboration of remote teams when different time zones or busy schedules don't allow them to set up a meeting.
Loom also saves a lot of time you’d otherwise spend on writing long guidelines. Just record a few minutes with your voice, and you are done.
- A free tier with a 5-minute recording duration limit.
- For limitless screencasting, you’ll pay $8 per creator per month.
Tools for collaboration with users
You need to collaborate with people to test your work on different stages, from product concepts to prototypes. We have two favorite tools that help us to facilitate this task.
Maze, for unmoderated tests
Unmoderated tests with Maze require minimal designer involvement. You only need to define study goals, upload your prototypes, write task descriptions, and voila, after some time the results are ready for analysis.
A huge advantage of Maze is its integration with Figma. You can import a working prototype directly from the page you designed it.
- There is a limited free version.
- For a Professional mode, you’ll pay $50 per month + $25 per month for additional users.
Lookback, for moderated tests
That’s a tool created for tests where a researcher is talking to users, watching their reactions to prototypes, guiding them through the tasks, and getting their feedback in real-time. The process can be recorded and saved so that other team members can explore it later and make timestamped notes.
- Free 14 day trial.
- $17 per month for a Freelance plan that allows 10 sessions per year.
- $99 per month for a Team plan, with 100 sessions per year.
Want to know other tools we use for research, analytics, and testing? We have a dedicated article on UX research tools.
Some final thoughts that may help you build your design collaboration toolkit:
- If you facilitate BYOD (bring your own device) working policy, all online design collaboration tools must be cross-platform.
- Cloud-based tools are a must to make remote or flexible working comfortable.
- Choose the tools that work smoothly with each other. It will save you time and nerves.
- Remain open to new products — collaboration apps often favor freemium pricing, so that you can try promising new stuff for free.
It all boils down to choosing SaaS tools for your business. But there are so many of them. If you have trouble finding your perfect products, we have a guide on how to pick up SaaS tools in cloud chaos.