I am a big fan of collaborative drawing during brainstorming sessions—those times when we all grab a marker and write/draw on the big whiteboard in the office. Alas, we’re not back in the office yet. Since last February, we have managed workarounds using Webinar applications to facilitate meetings, and their associated whiteboards to draw out a few ideas here and there.
But the digital whiteboards within Webinar applications have limited collaboration features. Yes, we can draw lines and shapes, add text, and move things around a bit. But when it comes to building out complex diagrams, I want something a bit more robust to work with.
The collaborative tools and tech market has expanded significantly since so many of us have been working on remote teams. In my exploration, I happened upon a few old standards that have evolved beautifully, and a few new players worth taking a peek at.
Lucid added Lucidspark to its suite of products in October 2020. The product is designed to enable remote teams to more effectively “ideate, create, and act.” The application is designed to promote collaborative brainstorming, the results of which can be integrated into its sister product, Lucidchart, for further diagramming.
A free account gives you three boards and access to basic collaboration features. You need to upgrade in order to have chat, commenting, revision history, version control, and anonymous guest features. Upgrade pricing is reasonable here, with team licensing costing $9 per user/month with a minimum of three team members—bringing the price up to around $400 per year.
Templates abound even in the free version, including affinity diagrams, brainwriting, timelines, user personas, mobile wireframes, flowcharts, mind maps, and customer journey maps.
The interface is similar to Lucidchart, and it is worth exploring the integration of the two products into your practice. Along with Lucidchart, Lucidspark also features seamless integration with Slack, Zoom, and Google Drive.
Miro has been a standalone leader in this space for about 10 years. Along with whiteboarding features, Miro has built in communication (video, audio, chat) that makes remote collaboration work like a charm.
The free account gives you three boards and access to core integrations with Slack, Microsoft Teams, Trello, Zapier, Google Drive, Microsoft One Drive, Dropbox, Adobe Creative Cloud, and more. Upgrading to the next level is $8 per user/month with a minimum of two team members —bringing the price up to approximately $200 per year. Note that Miro offers free accounts for students and teachers.
Miro boasts more than 120 templates. Each template includes an explanation of the solution it applies to, how you might use it, why you should use it, when to use it, and why the solution is important. To me, this is the icing on the cake that we all could learn from. Contextualizing these templates changes Miro from a collaboration tool into a deep learning experience. Right up my alley. For this reason alone, I jumped on the Miro bandwagon early on.
Also of note are the Miro Community—a community of practice with forums and events where you can share and gain insight into effective practices—and Miro Academy, which offers free courses to guide your practice.
I recently gained access to Mural through an interesting opportunity: the Mural Consultants Network. While exploring the app, I noticed the network, which provides “a suite of specialized services designed to elevate consultant-to-client creative collaboration.” My application was processed quickly, and I have to say the available features are bringing Mural to the top of my list these days.
The free account gives you three boards, core integrations, unlimited team members, and access to templates. Paid account pricing starts at $12 per user/month with no minimum. There are also free workspaces for students and teachers.
Mural boasts more templates than I could dream up, and also contextualizes them like Miro does. It also offer tips and tricks within each template that make it even easier to adapt and customize. The collaboration tools are not as robust as Miro, but I find myself able to work faster and cleaner with my team in Mural.
Try not to get too confused by the Mural/Miro thing—I thought people were talking about the same product for a while there!
Whimsical is another one of the new kids on the block, with a catchy tagline: “Communicate Visually. Lightning Fast.” A free account gives you access to four boards you can build out as team workspaces. You can collaborate on flowcharts, wireframes, sticky notes, and mind maps. There is a wide assortment of templates to work with, including journey maps, user story maps, and Venn diagrams. Who doesn’t love a Venn diagram?
Whimsical is not as robust as some of the other platforms mentioned here, but it is worth every penny. The price for upgrading to unlimited boards is currently $12 a month (discounted if billed yearly).
If you prefer pen and paper, I highly recommend you try the Grapic app on your mobile devices. I was able to sketch out a diagram and invite a colleague in the UK to sketch with me. The technology behind the app is fun to watch in action. Again, it’s worth a peek!
Keep your eye on these collaborative tools as they are evolving quickly to meet the needs of remote workers. Remember, they all boast integration with the communication tools and office suites we are used to working with.
Explore more on Twitter:
@Lucidspark @MURAL @MiroHQ @WhimsicalPowers @GrapicApp
Phylise Banner is a learning experience designer with more than 25 years of vision, action, and leadership experience in transformational learning and development approaches. A pioneer in online learning, she is an Adobe Education Leader, Certified Learning Environment Architect, STC Fellow, performance storyteller, avid angler, aviation enthusiast, and currently training to be a private pilot.