How to choose the perfect design collaboration tool

by Julia Warrender   |   June 7, 2016

People who are in different locations, working at different times of day can work together seamlessly, but only if they have the right tools. Design teams have always found ways to work around the limitations of time and distance using email, Skype, message boards and online chat tools, but these methods are just that: a workaround. These measures are inefficient, confusing, and they could pose a serious security risk for your company.

When you take the time to assemble the best possible team for a project, it makes sense to take advantage of modern technology that will save you time and money. With the right technology at your disposal, your team can make sure they’re always working on the latest version of a document or a design file.

From designing a website to developing a new brochure, the process can be simplified and streamlined at virtually every step of the way. Leaders at Fortune 500 companies who need to make decisions on the fly and the founders of a start-up with dreams that are bigger than their budget can both get more out of the right collaboration tool.

If you have decided to revolutionize the way you do business by using a program to work together, even when you’re apart, we have some suggestions that will help you choose the right app.

Seven Things to Look for in a Design Collaboration Tool

Design collaboration tools have been created with the goal of helping teams work better together, but they’re not all created equally. Before you select an app that will change the way you do business, keep these things in mind to help you evaluate any collaboration tool.

Mind-Blowing Speed

One of the main advantages of using a design collaboration tool is the way it will help you conduct business quickly and efficiently. These gains will be difficult to achieve if the program itself isn’t very fast. If there is a free trial period available, test out all the features you’re likely to use.

Yes, the features must work as expected, but you also need to make sure they work quickly. Do all the pages load quickly, and do revisions show up instantaneously? What about the time to upload images and other work files?

Taking the time upfront to make sure the app is fast enough to suit your business needs will save a lot of time and frustration down the road.

Packed with Useful Features

Features that every effective design collaboration tool should have are:

Just because you don’t see a feature’s value to your business today doesn’t mean it won’t be something of great use in the future. Don’t let your technology limit you down the line!

Easy to Use

When you’re working with a remote team, you need to have the ability to add new team members on as you need them. You’re not going to have a lot of time to bring them up to speed in the middle of a project, so your design collaboration tool needs to be easy to pick up and start using.

Once you have familiarized yourself with the tool, preferably during a free trial period, give some thought to how you would explain the tool’s use to someone on the other side of the globe, who does not have English as a first language. Does it offer video or text tutorials, live demonstrations, webinars, and easy-to-access FAQs?

Nobody has the energy or resources to spend a lot of time teaching staff, partners or clients how to use their latest design collaboration tool. To be effective, it has to be intuitive.

Using a design collaboration tool should be child’s play, or something pretty close to it. Ask yourself if a child could use this tool without a lot of instruction, and let that be your guide.

Issue Resolution Process

There is nothing worse than having to explain to a client that a technical problem is keeping a project on hold. It may be out of your control, but it’s still pretty embarrassing! That conversation is made even more challenging when you can’t provide a definitive timeline to manage the expectation of when things will be back to normal.

When selecting a company’s collaboration app, their support offering has to be clearly outlined. You need to know how you can contact the company, be that through email, live chat, over the phone or on their social media properties. The more, the better! Ask about the escalation process to find out what procedures are in place to address any issues in a timely manner. When you ask questions, take a good look at the answers you get back for signs of responses that are copied and pasted from a Tier One customer service rep. Remember, the service is never going to get better than it is when the company is trying to win your business.

But keep in mind that it’s not enough to just have their coordinates and ways to make contact! When you, or even worse your clients, can’t access your design projects, time is of the essence. Ask about the company’s service level agreement (SLA) to address outages, and what happens if the company is not able to honor that agreement.

Keep in mind that what constitutes “after hours” to your service provider may be prime business hours for your company, and that’s going to pose a problem!

Good Reputation

One of the best and worst things about the internet is the ability for everybody to have a platform to voice their opinion about a company’s products or services. While there is often pointless grumbling, there are also a lot of incredibly valid points made by those who have gone before you.

By all means, check out testimonials on the company’s site. Read the comments on their social media properties, and perhaps more importantly, read the company’s responses. The time it takes them to respond is a big clue about their overall approach to customer service. But be sure to take it one step further by checking out the company’s online reviews from third parties. Some resources for reviews on tech solutions include Get App, Capterra, and the granddaddy of them all, CNET.

One bad review should not a deal-breaker - but watch for patterns. A lot of startups are strong out of the gate, but growing pains limit their ability to provide support to a broad customer base as they grow in popularity.

Evaluate the Bottom Line

First of all, the first taste of a new design collaboration tool should always be free. If a company doesn't let you kick the tires to ensure a good fit, you should be suspicious.

Beyond that free trial, there should be a range of options for your business, and it should be easy, and not punitive to move within those price ranges if the needs of your business change over time.

If you’re working with a team that’s broadly dispersed, give some serious thought to an online-based solution. As we all know, software becomes out of date at a blistering pace, and not everybody is as diligent about updating security patches as they should be. Need to buy new hardware for the company? It could come with a forced upgrade of your design collaboration tools too.

Software giants like Adobe and Autodesk are slowly but surely moving their product offerings to the cloud because it’s more practical to administer a subscription model, and it allows for the seamless and automatic deployment of security patches and product updates. When watching what the big guys do, you can quickly come to understand that online is where it’s at in the tech industry.

How is Security Handled?

When you are talking about sharing sensitive company data and proprietary designs online, security has to be more than an afterthought. Ask if the site has an SSL certificate? That one is easy, look for the green lock icon in the address bar in your browser. How do they protect their servers from malware, DDOS attacks, and other vulnerabilities?

And it’s not just the software company’s policies you have to worry about! Ask if their hosting company and any other partners or affiliates who will have access to your data have similar or better security policies in place.

As we all know, different countries have different laws about freedom of information, security, and privacy. When evaluating a design collaboration tool, make sure you ask about how individual country restrictions are handled. They might not have all the answers at the outset, but their information security team should be able to come up with a good answer to that question in a reasonable amount of time.

Once you’re sure they have the technical security issues handled, you should also ask about their privacy policies and other terms and conditions. If your project is locked up within a company that is no longer able to do business because they do not adhere correctly to the laws of the countries in which they do business, you could end up with a serious problem on your hands, one that is completely outside of your control!

It Pays to Take the Time to Thoroughly Evaluate Your Options!

Ultimately, design collaboration tools are meant to save you time, money and frustration. If they’re difficult to use, or inaccessible at certain times of the day or under some conditions, it’s going to make it difficult for your team members to work together. That means they’re going to find workarounds that may or may not work within your security parameters. That way lies madness!

As is the case in many business decisions, it’s not a simple matter of signing up and going - but rather, taking the time to evaluate any design collaboration tool under consideration thoroughly will pay off immensely.

If you have any questions about design tools, including the CuePin app, or about how to streamline the design and revision process, don’t hesitate to contact us! We’re always happy to share our insights and help you work better, together.