4 Online Collaboration Tools for Design Thinking That You Should Know

As so many other companies, we at Motius had to reorganize our working modes due to the coronavirus situation. Especially, our Design Thinking team had to adapt drastically and quickly. Because when it comes to productivity and efficiency, the answer often is in the team collaboration.

The team is used to being highly visual in their work, collaborate closely together in front of a whiteboard and creating a creative atmosphere through spatial proximity of the participants. To have the best possible adaption, our Design Thinking team analyzed seven different online collaboration tools to see what works best for them.

In this blogpost, we will introduce you to the four best of these tools — according to our opinion — and tell you what we think about them. That will give you a good idea about what is out there and what you should try out.

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Why we want to share this

Usually, everyone at Motius prefers to work face-to-face with colleagues and clients. But under certain circumstances, like the current coronavirus situation, we have to adapt ourselves. As everyone is in home office right now, the only logical solution to keep our Design Thinking projects running was the usage of online collaboration tools.

As digital natives, we were always keen to test and use any kind of tool, that helps us to work together in the best possible way. That is why we are convinced that we can help you by sharing our thoughts about the tools that we analyzed and tried. If you have any questions that this blogpost does not answer, just drop us a line below.

These are the criteria that matter to us

For our analysis of the different Design Thinking collaboration tools, we looked at the most important criteria.

  1. Availability: e.g. web version and/or application? OS-specific? Real-time?
  2. Useful features: e.g. drawing, sticky notes, images, chat, templates etc.
  3. Usability: e.g. speed, flexibility, integrations with other apps
  4. UI/UX Design: e.g. intuitive and easy to use?

The four tools that are promising

Here are the four tools that we will talk about, described in their own words:

  1. AWW App: “a web-based, in-browser whiteboard”
  2. Microsoft Whiteboard: “Microsoft’s digital canvas”
  3. Stormboard: “a shared digital workspace”
  4. Miro: “an online collaborative whiteboarding platform”

Ready to find out more? Here is what we think about them.

Easily get started with AWW App

We would describe AWW App as a web-based collaborative space with a touch-friendly online whiteboard for real-time collaboration. There is no need to register or create an account, you simply share boards via an URL link. This makes it very easy to use together with people from outside the company, especially clients.

Moreover, this makes it very easy to get started with your work. As soon as you enter their website, you can start drawing. (Please excuse my drawing skills; just because you can start drawing, does not mean that you should.)

AWW-App-Screenshot

The AWW App website. Start working immediately without further ado. Source: AWW App

With the basic free version, you have access to the most important tools, e.g. drawing, adding shapes, text boxes and post-its, as well as uploading images and a basic chat function. This already gives you a range of tools to work with but there are some drawbacks, e.g. a limited number of boards and people you share the board with, as well as advertisements. AWW App uses a freemium model for its online collaboration tool, so you can choose a version that meets your needs.

What we did not like about AWW App was mostly its usability and UI. Several of the tools like shapes or erasers did not work optimally and the whiteboard itself sometimes reacted slowly. Moreover, the UI was not very modern; to us it appeared rather old-school which sometimes made it non-intuitive.

Motius-Design-Thinking-Method-Set-Teaser

Why Microsoft Whiteboard did not fully convince us

As the big player around office tools, of course Microsoft offers a collaboration tool as well — “Microsoft Whiteboard”. In general, it is easy to access Microsoft Whiteboard via the web if you already have a Microsoft or Office 365 account.

However, there is no macOS app and there are functional differences between the web version, the Windows 10 app and the iOS apps. This complicated collaborations since our team worked with different devices or operating systems. Microsoft points out that these differences will be gone soon, but to be honest that did not help us then.

Microsoft-Whiteboard-Screenshot

Microsoft Whiteboard comes with a very minimalistic UI. And no, I did not draw that shoe. Source: Tech Community Microsoft

What we liked about this collaboration tool were its practical functions, e.g. checklists, sticky notes, voting and smart drawings, that are available within the windows desktop app. These functions made it easier for us to prioritize and even the drawings of unskilled drawers (yes, I liked that function very much) looked nice.

What we did not like were several details which complicated our Design Thinking work. For instance, we could not adapt given templates, change fonts in text boxes and Whiteboard was not integrated with Microsoft Teams. By now, at least the last point has been solved by Microsoft. This shows us that they indeed seem to be working on improving the tool. If they manage to add all the features that are already available in the Windows 10 desktop app to the web application, this tool will be a hot candidate for the future.

Why Stormboard is good to organize your ideas

For us, Stormboard is an all-in-one digital workspace that has integrations with numerous commonly used apps like MS Teams, Trello, Jira, Zapier and Slack.With the exception of macOS, you can get the Stormboard app for any device.

Signing up is easy — you can simply use your Google, Microsoft, Linkedin or Facebook account to do so. Just like AWW App, Stormboard is a collaboration tool based on a freemium model. The free version, for instance, gives you access to all important integrations, pre-made templates and enables five users per stormboard.

Stormboard-Screenshot

As you can see in this example, Stormboard focuses on sticky notes. Source: Stormboard

Stormboard mainly focuses on sticky notes. This makes it easy to brainstorm, organize and prioritize ideas which facilitates Design Thinking. However, we missed free handwriting and drawing tools which would have enabled more flexibility in working on a stormboard.

Other important tools for our team were the possibilities to assign tasks and set deadlines, goals or milestones. Paired with the function to import text, images and videos, all of this enabled us to organize our team more efficiently.

Although at first it was not clear to us which features were enabled, the UI turned out to be very intuitive and easy to use. Moreover, it looked very professional which also makes it nice to present to clients.

Why Miro is the allrounder

Miro is something between collaboration platform, toolbox and communication channel. This might sound like it is stuck in the middle but in fact it offers a wide range of those features that Design Thinking teams need. You can sign up for free, also by using your Google, Microsoft, Facebook or Slack account. To no surprise, Miro is based on a freemium model.

This collaboration tool has even more useful integrations than Stormboard, including Jira, Trello, Google Drive, Slack, Asana, Dropbox, GitHub, MS Teams, you name it. Its functions range from sticky notes and freehand writing to drawing and text boxes. A video chat function also improved our collaboration significantly.

Miro-Screenshot

Miro offers a wide range of features and integrations. Source: Miro

Its UI and usability are similar to that of Stormboard: a bit overwhelming at first, but after a few trials very intuitive and easy to use. Another important function is the presentation mode which enables you to share and present your work to your clients directly from the platform. All these functions, tools and integrations make Miro a suitable allrounder for Design Thinking teams.

What you need to do next

As we said in the beginning, all these collaboration tools enable better teamwork, especially in these home office times. As you have seen in the descriptions, there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

All the collaboration tools that we talked about have their pros and cons; after all it depends on what your Design Thinking team needs. In addition to the above four, we tried LimnuSketchboard and InVision Freehand. We at Motius are currently using Miro and Stormboard, since those fit best to the requirements of our projects.

As your next step, we encourage you to try them out yourselves. Since we have selected four of the best collaboration tools for you already, you will not waste time digging deeper into one of those.

If you want to talk about our experiences in more detail or suggest another tool for us to try, make sure to message our Design Thinking experts. We would love to hear your thoughts!

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