There are literally hundreds of online apps for taking notes, managing tasks, collaborating with others or capturing contact data. We've seen Sharepoint, Basecamp, and ZOHO mature and give birth to Solo, Rule, Projecturf and many others. All have innovated in one area or another, and offered us an improved design and user experience. But all of them seem to fall short of perfect. Either they become too expensive or complicated, or lack simple features like attachment thumbnails or access levels. While the demand is still high, more and more development studios are rising to the challenge and releasing increasingly functional and beautiful apps for creative project management and related activities. Here are five fresh new apps to hit the scene so far this year. Let's see how they stack up.
ZURB is a fairly new startup that has devised a suite of online tools for designers and developers, each focused on an essential part of the creative process. Solidify excels where so many other prototyping and wireframing tools fail by providing a drag and drop interface builder for creating clickable prototypes and mockups. You upload your own graphics to assemble your design layout and interface, then create your links and action elements. Finished prototypes can be shared with one click to colleagues, clients or anyone for testing, and Solidify will even produce reports for you to help point out potential problems.
Solidify and its three companion tools are currently in a private invite stage, but you can submit your e-mail address and get free access quickly to check it out for yourself.
Dropmark is an elegant and flexible solution for sharing files visually, taking the power and ease of an app like Dropbox and combining it with the graceful layout and functionality of Pinterest. The aim is to provide creatives in any industry with a different way of approaching collaboration. You can create any number of collections of images, audio, video, text, documents and maps from your computer or the web, then share it with anyone you want. The drag and drop interface makes adding stuff a breeze, and also allows you to rearrange items to your heart's content. There is even a browser extension for grabbing clips from across the web.
Visitors are treated to lightbox displays, slideshows, built-in audio and video players and a full-screen mode. Sadly there are no versions or comment features yet, but they are on the to-do list.
Skylight is a complete project management solution for individuals, teams and full agencies that seems to finally get it right. It offers the basics you would expect - projects, tasks, resources, contacts, files, accounts/deals - and allows you to customize it all through custom fields,filters, colors and drag n' drop modules. Every element is tied to the activity stream and interacts with other modules, and some features really stood out over the competition. Multi-media uploads such as video and images show a thumbnail preview, and can be viewed in full size (a big drawback for Rule, for example) and include inline comments and an Approve marker.
Skylight integrates with Google apps, Basecamp and MailChimp, making this one of the most thorough project management tools for creative I've personally seen in awhile. Skylight is free for small teams or individuals, and a very reasonable $15-35 for design teams and startups.
For those who don't need the level of complexity offered in Skylight, Projector focuses on a more simplified approach through tasks, groups(concepts) and deliverables (files), designed specifically for creative professionals. Collaborators can quickly review tasks and click Start to log contributed time, which is added to the activity stream and final reports. Like Skylight, you can drag and drop modules around on your main project page, but unlike Skylight, you don't get access to advanced feaures such as file attachments, integrations or contact management. Projector is beautiful in its simplicity, and its focus on agile planning allows it to be extremely effective.
Projector is free to use for individuals and includes unlimited clients and projects. Team rates start at just $15.
Trajectory is a web and software development planning application similar to Projector, but with the added benefit of a powerful discussion and collaboration feature. Through the Ideas panel, you discuss the goals for your project with team members or clients to begin building your project strategy. Stories are then created based on that discussion, and help you work towards implementation. As Trajectory's developer Thoughbot explains, "We wanted a tool that was good for writing user stories, bugs, and to-dos but was also really good at discussion. Trajectory solves both these problems."
Trajectory does everything in promises through a clean and intuitive interface, but it has a few drawbacks that may see it end up with its predecessors in short time. It lacks implementations and a mobile app, and has a very high price tag. While you get a free 14 Day trial, a Trajectory account will cost you between $50 and $300 per month which is more than most teams and studios can comfortably afford, making this solution better suited for agencies and large organizations.
All five apps hit the mark in terms of excellent design and usability. Each offers exactly enough features to satisfy the app's publicized role, and adds surprisingly useful ones where you wouldn't expect them. DropMark and Solidify are clear winners for creating a near-perfect solution for a specific purpose or design phase, while Skylight really polishes off the collaborative CMS type application at the right price point.
This is a guest article by Vail Joy who is a long-time writer, designer and copy editor with 15 years of experience in corporate business writing, music journalism and internet media design. When she is not hard at work designing something, she loves writing for Wix.com, the free website builder.
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