Design collaboration can be tough. When you’re designing for a client, particularly in a freelancing or remote working relationship, it can be difficult to collect and manage design feedback for changes and modifications. Many designers are still using email for their reviews, slinging large files back and forth and losing track of change requests in long email trails.
These are the problems ProofHQ claims to solve for designers and clients by enabling web-based design collaboration, proofing and approval. Like lots of online apps ProofHQ says that it saves designers time, reduces costs and increase margins. In the current economy that could be a real benefit if it works, so let’s take a look.
Creating a proof
Using a simple web interface, a new proof is uploaded and can be assigned to a specific client and workspace. Permitted file formats include PDF, PSD, JPG, BMP, PNG, TIFF, DOC, PPT and XLS.
Clients are entered by email address, and are emailed with a custom message and a personal link to the proof. Sure beats emailing large files or sending download links – which raises another feature of ProofHQ. ProofHQ can be used to simply send large files without creating a proof. Just about any file type is permitted, including ZIP. A great way to send print-ready artwork to the print shop, or even send code to developers.
This is where things really get interesting. Clients receive an email and open the proof with just one click. Clients don’t need any native apps as everything happens in the browser. Once the proof is opened clients can start adding comments, asking questions and marking-up the proof. The drawing tools are very easy to use, although I would have like to see a simple text tool and some more shapes. I really appreciated being able to put a URL in the comments and link to other web pages. Attaching a file to a comment would be useful though.
In the example below, a comment has been added asking whether the can be lightened in a specific area. This comment was created by using the box tool to draw a box around the area and a comment was entered. On the example you’ll notice two other comments – one indicated with an arrow, and the other indicated with another box. Comments are displayed by clicking on the mark-up (in this case a box or arrow), or on one of the comments listed in the sidebar on the left (hidden in this screenshot).
Comments that have been added to a proof can be seen by everyone with access to the proof. It’s easy to respond to someone else’s comments, creating a threaded discussion which is anchored to a particular feature of the design. This quickly removes ambiguity between different reviewers and the designer. For me this is one of the most powerful uses of ProofHQ, as all team members can see exactly what everyone else has said and join in the discussion.
At the end of the discussion the proof owner can set an “action” for the comment, such as “ignore” or “please make change”. I didn’t quite figure out how I would use this feature as I work directly with my clients, but I guessed that it is used when the process in managed by a project manager who needs to let a designer know what to do with each comment.
Designers can print out a To Do list of comments which shows clearly each comment thread. This is a fairly simple feature, but one that I personally found most useful. It would also have been helpful to have a view of each page showing all comments as well.
In the real world very few design jobs get approved without at least one revision and ProofHQ seems to understand that well. New versions of the proof can be created, which then starts another round of discussion. Reviewers can easily move between versions for comparison and can even compare two versions side-by-side to check visually that change requests have been implemented. Once reviewers are satisfied, they approve the proof which informs the designer their client has approved the modifications and the project can proceed.
Another recently added feature, and one I find particularly useful for collaborating publicly on redesigns, is embedding proofs in blogs and wikis. Using simple embed code (as easy as embedding a YouTube video), a proof is embedded on a static website, blog post or wiki page. This allows public viewers to zoom, pan, view existing comments and move from page to page. Such a facility is incredibly handy for facilitating public review of upcoming website redesigns, such as the much publicized Facebook profile redesign. For websites and social networks striving to harness public trust and collate feedback, embedding ProofHQ proofs and calling for comments is an efficient way to present versions, collect feedback and demonstrate transparency – all in one place. Neat.
ProofHQ uses the embed code to integrate with Basecamp, but I don’t use Basecamp so couldn’t test this. It would be nice to see integration with some other project management tools, as Basecamp is not the only project management app out there.
Getting super efficient
Dubbed the ‘Uploadr‘, ProofHQ’s desktop uploader for Mac and PC can be used to efficiently upload files up to a ginormous 75MB. Using a simple interface, designers can drag a new proof onto the Uploadr, enter the usual proof details and the proof uploads in the background, allowing designers to continue on with their work. Once uploaded, reviewers will be automatically notified by email. Sweet huh?
ProofHQ and the project cycle
So ProofHQ does seem to deliver hat it promises. I was quickly able to improve feedback, version control and approval with my clients and even used ProofHQ as a sales tool when I pitched to new clients.
The biggest challenge is probably getting clients to use something new. My tech savvy clients loved ProofHQ from the first time they used it. They said that the app was dead easy to use. One less technical client needed a five-minute run through first. Having said that, the investment of those five minutes saved a whole round of revisions on that project and probably saved me and the client about two hours the same day.
ProofHQ offers a 14 day trial on all plans. There is a free plan with some functions restricted and then paid plans that increase in price based on the number of proofs that you use each month. There are unlimited workspaces and reviewers, which is cool for me as I often have over twenty active projects open at one time.
One concern that I had is that this is yet another monthly subscription and the cost mounts up. However, this is one app where I could directly link time savings to use, so it was easy to justify.
What do you do?
Many designers are still using email to manage their proofing process. How do you currently do it? Email? FTP? Online? Please let us know in the comments.
Review Written By Andy Howard
Andy Howard is a designer, digital strategist and UX consultant based in Australia, currently traveling and working around the world.