While countries across the globe scramble to contain and mitigate the spread of SARS-CoV-2 — better known as the coronavirus — millions of people are adjusting to the new reality of working entirely remotely.
Remote work has become a potentially life-saving necessity. Many companies have decided it is simply too dangerous to allow their staff to continue working on-site, and many countries have implemented stringent lockdown policies in an attempt to halt the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
However, working remotely is significantly easier for some knowledge workers than it is for others.
Designers and user researchers face unique challenges when working remotely. Collaboration is crucial for these professionals, but working virtually with other creatives can be a poor imitation of working alongside one another face-to-face. Virtual collaboration may not be ideal for designers, user researchers, product managers, and other specialized knowledge workers, but it’s a lot easier today than it used to be.
In this post, we explore what we’re calling the “collaboration stack” — a set of tools that designers and researchers can use to collaborate, no matter where in the world they happen to be.
Before we get started: This list is far from exhaustive and isn’t intended to be a definitive list of the “best” tools available; what works for one researcher or designer may not necessarily work for another. Rather, these are tools that we’ve found to be most useful to us and have strong potential to help researchers and designers create engaging, meaningful product experiences.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the collaboration stack!
Used by major organizations, including GitHub, IBM, and Intuit, MURAL is a digital workspace tool designed for visual collaboration.
MURAL allows creative professionals to collaborate on shared projects in real-time. MURAL offers users dozens of templates suitable for a wide range of projects, from storyboards and service blueprints to product roadmaps and importance/difficulty matrices. Users can also create custom boards and projects from scratch, which makes MURAL a remarkably diverse tool for designers and researchers.
In terms of everyday use, MURAL feels fast and responsive. Input delays are virtually nonexistent, even when working with large project files with multiple editors. MURAL integrates seamlessly with industry-standard communication tools, including Dropbox, Jira, GitHub, Microsoft OneDrive and Teams, Google Docs, and Slack, which makes incorporating MURAL into existing workflows practically effortless.
MURAL’s diverse functionality isn’t the only reason we’ve included it in our collaboration stack. MURAL features robust security protocols that make it an ideal choice for distributed teams. Although MURAL is far from the only player in the increasingly competitive virtual workspace vertical, it’s a strong product designed with the unique needs of creative professionals in mind.
UX design is an ongoing, iterative process. The more data UX practitioners have at their disposal, the better informed their decision-making will be. This means better products and happier users, which is why Userzoom is an essential addition to our collaboration stack.
Userzoom is a UX insights platform aimed at researchers, designers, marketers, and product teams. Userzoom allows UX practitioners to test, measure, benchmark, and optimize the UX of any digital product, at any development stage, from a single centralized dashboard.
For UX teams working under coronavirus lockdown, Userzoom’s fully remote usability testing features are likely to be a significant asset. Userzoom allows researchers to gather qualitative and quantitative data in both moderated and unmoderated sessions. Users can also create custom benchmark studies and set them as custom templates for future studies, saving researchers valuable time and effort. Researchers can capture audio and video responses from study participants, and can also choose to rely on Userzoom’s intelligent sourcing options or create custom user testing segments based on unique criteria.
As any UX practitioner could tell you, usability doesn’t occur in a vacuum. That’s what makes Userzoom’s competitor benchmarking features so powerful. Researchers can not only benchmark usability tests according to internal data, but also that of competing products. This gives UX practitioners unparalleled insight into how their products stack up against competing solutions, allowing for more precise, targeted improvements that can meet users’ needs and exceed their expectations.
With a wealth of additional functionality, from NPS and brand-awareness surveys to information architecture validation, Userzoom will be a strong addition to any UX team’s collaboration stack.
Next up in our rundown of the collaboration stack is EnjoyHQ.
Designed specifically for product teams and user researchers, EnjoyHQ is a knowledge repository that enables researchers to centralize customer feedback and research data into a single source of truth for entire organizations.
EnjoyHQ allows users to gather research data from a wide range of tools and software platforms to derive greater insights into how and why users interact with specific product features. Interview material, testing session data, quantitative and qualitative research data, and more can be centralized in EnjoyHQ, allowing researchers to go beyond surface-level observations into deep, incisive insights that can be used to make better products.
Users can segment their audience research data by almost any metric. EnjoyHQ’s sophisticated sentiment analysis helps researchers identify both positive and negative feedback across multiple channels, and users can create engaging, visual reports of their findings to secure greater buy-in from project stakeholders.
User research doesn’t occur in a vacuum, which is why EnjoyHQ prioritizes seamless real-time collaboration. Users can create collaborative projects that can be integrated with a range of productivity and business intelligence tools, including Box, Dropbox, Intercom, Jira, and Salesforce, among others. Multiple teams can collaborate on the same projects, and EnjoyHQ’s robust permissions controls to ensure that only the right people can see the right data at the right time.
See how EnjoyHQ can improve your user research processes by starting a completely free, no-obligation trial today.
Mind-mapping — the process of constructing diagrams to illustrate and organize information — usually involves a conference room, a whiteboard, and lots of people. So what do you do when your creative team is distributed across multiple time zones? XMind seeks to solve that problem.
XMind is cloud-based mind-mapping software that allows users to quickly and easily create mind maps that can be shared and used as the basis for further research and planning. However, XMind goes far beyond creating simple diagrams and offers a robust toolset for collaborative work.
Each node on an XMind mind map can contain a variety of information. Users can attach specific files in individual mind-map nodes, including multimedia content such as images and audio recordings, which makes locating relevant project documentation and interview material easy. Nodes can also be hyperlinked to online resources, including internal wikis and intranets.
XMind can create sophisticated visualizations based on a range of preset templates, including fishbone charts, matrices, timelines, and tables. Individual branches can be collapsed and expanded like drop-down menus, and users can create unique relationships between nodes. XMind is a simple yet powerful tool that can help UX designers and user researchers visualize their ideas and develop better products, no matter where they happen to be working.
So far, we’ve explored research repositories, user research tools, and virtual whiteboards. But what about actual design tools? Fortunately, there’s no shortage of cloud-based tools aimed at designers working remotely, but InVision is one of the most powerful.
Used by major brands including Airbnb, Amazon, HBO, and Netflix, InVision is a design platform that enables users to create a range of sophisticated visualizations for virtually any project. InVision is particularly popular in the app development and product design communities thanks to its diverse toolset and extensive range of design templates. App wireframes, navigation flows, architecture documents, website mockups, mood boards — InVision can handle them all with ease.
For UX designers, InVision is a remarkably robust product. Thanks to its integrations with leading design tools such as Sketch and the Adobe Creative Cloud, designers can utilize visual assets from a range of sources within a single project to create rich, dynamic prototypes. Project collaborators can add notes and comments to design documents in real-time, including free-form handwritten notes using digitized inputs.
InVision wasn’t just designed for designers. It was built to streamline the entire product design and development workflow. Designers can prep documents for handoff to engineering teams by converting visual assets such as Photoshop files into development-ready specifications. Engineers can inspect individual elements and share feedback instantly, which reduces friction and allows for faster, leaner product development.
With an ever-expanding marketplace of tools, plugins, and extensions, as well as one of the most diverse feature sets of any design platform on the market, InVision will be a valuable addition to any remote design team’s arsenal.
The humble web form is among user researchers’ most valuable tools. However, encouraging users to not only respond to forms but also to answer questions honestly, is challenging enough at the best of times. That’s why Typeform is included in our collaboration stack.
Typeform is a tool for creating simple, elegant web forms. One of the tool’s greatest assets is that researchers don’t need practical programming skills to create Typeform web forms or embed them into their sites or landing pages — all the technical heavy lifting takes place behind the scenes. This means researchers can spend more time asking the right questions than worrying about client-side validation or CSS property compatibility tables.
Although user researchers may get the most out of Typeform, designers haven’t been overlooked. Typeform users can access a vast library of stock imagery and royalty-free video footage, which allows designers to create gorgeous visual forms in minutes.
Qualitative survey feedback can be invaluable to product teams and researchers alike, which makes Typeform a solid choice for teams looking for new ways to gather user feedback without the technical overhead.
The next tool in our collaboration stack is Slack, the world’s go-to asynchronous communications platform. The chances are pretty good that you’re using Slack already, but the emergence of COVID-19 has meant that a lot of people are getting to grips with Slack for the very first time.
Since launching in 2014, Slack — an acronym of Searchable Log of All Communications and Knowledge — has fundamentally changed how, where, and when we communicate at work and beyond. It’s arguably the most popular asynchronous communications tool in the world, boasting more than 10 million daily active users.
Utilizing conventions popularized by Internet Relay Chat (better known simply as IRC) in the ’90s, Slack connects individuals, teams, and even entire enterprise companies. The platform’s use of channels makes it easy to keep discussions on-topic, and its powerful and intuitive search functionality makes finding and surfacing institutional knowledge effortless.
With integrations with virtually every major productivity tool on the market and a robust marketplace of apps, bots, and extensions, Slack is almost endlessly customizable and can be easily adapted for virtually any workflow. Not only that, Slack is a lot of fun to use — something that can’t be said for the vast majority of business-focused productivity tools out there.
Although some of the tools we’ve included in our collaboration stack already support video conferencing features, sometimes a dedicated tool is a better choice. Case in point: Zoom.
Video conferencing platform Zoom has long been popular with techies in Silicon Valley thanks to its excellent video and audio quality and its ability to maintain call quality at scale. Although Google has made considerable improvements to its Hangouts in recent years, Zoom has always prided itself on the technical quality of its product — something that has translated into a dramatic increase in both usage and users as COVID-19 spreads worldwide.
One of Zoom’s greatest strengths is that it offers superior video and audio quality even when conducting meetings with dozens — or even hundreds — of attendees. Zoom offers full, high-definition video for meetings of up to 1,000 participants and can handle 49 separate video feeds onscreen simultaneously. Zoom connects seamlessly with Gmail, Outlook, and iCal, which makes scheduling Zoom meetings effortless. The product also has a live chat feature, eliminating the need to rely on additional tools during meetings.
The product’s end-to-end encryption makes Zoom ideal for enterprise firms, and its freemium product is very generous, which makes Zoom an excellent choice for bootstrapped startups and companies with lean budgets.
Collaborating in a Crisis
Although nobody knows for sure how long the coronavirus pandemic might last, the impact on how we work will be immense. The emergence of COVID-19 has forced millions of companies to reevaluate their disaster response plans as well as how they can enable their staff to do their best work in times of crisis.
Fortunately, with more ways to collaborate than ever before, we have all the tools we need to stay in touch and work together during challenging times. How we work might be changing, but we can still create engaging, meaningful experiences for our users wherever we are and whatever challenges we may face.