UX toys, in a purple toy box.

Purple, a new UX collaboration tool review

I came across www.purple.pm in October-ish, and having recently been to a Prince tribute disco*, thought I’d stick a pin in it for a later date.

So when a few weeks later my current project hit a bit of an organisational bottleneck, I figured now was the time to find out more.

What is it?

Purple is a good looking web app to help UX teams manage their projects. It’s a space to keep all the files, docs, artefacts etc that you churn out. In their own words Purple is:

“Collaborative boards that simplify UX planning.
Share documents, lists, prototypes, and designs in one place.”

At this point, unless you really really like aubergines, you may be thinking “meh, there’s a new one of these every week. I want summink sick!” So why did I decide to give it a try?

  1. it was free to try the beta version (I’m cheap)
  2. it looked really simple to use (I’m simple)
  3. it lets you easily see details (I’m easy)

Number 3 was the most interesting thing for me. Being able to see and interact with a range of different types of docs, all in one place, on the same screen — and that’s quite cool.

Let’s set the scene

Our project is for a big 6 UK energy company; delivering a product in a ‘greenfield’ environment; involves a lot of data; B2B with B2C to come later; about 40 people with 3 designers (UX/UI); we’re dealing with the nation’s energy needs, so no room for error; briefed to be visually groundbreaking; the usual internal politics; a focus on trying the new; while doing things the old way…

Design thinking is very very very new to the client and part of our legacy is to introduce a design led approach to problem solving.

Previously, every sprint had led to a reappraisal of that particular version of the MVP and delivery. This meant the project was still settling down and there was space to try new organisational/project tools.

So, in the interests of discovering and exploring the latest, we gave Purple a go.

A pretend purple project in progress

How it works

Signing up and setting up the sprint was too simple to even talk about, so I’ll jump straight in with some basics: Purple allows you to build the elements of a project on a board. Each board is made up of a series of cards. The cards can be lists, images or simple text. Cards can all also be Google Drive files or Sketch/Marvel/Invision/Adobe XD/Figma files.

You can organise and group cards into project phases, or any organisation scheme you want. You can scroll along the project left to right, or use the slide out menu as a traditional navigation. Moving cards around is a simple drag and drop. If your eyesight is good enough you can read a doc from the standard view, even scrolling through the doc in its place (eg scrolling to the bottom of a Google sheet and switching between tabs or clicking links). You can click on a doc to zoom in. You can also switch to Focus view to see just one file at a time. You can edit some files where they sit (Google), others you can comment and explore (Sketch).

In action!

I chose to test Purple to manage our 4th sprint rather than the full project, which allowed me to dive straight in without having to migrate everything over. Our sprint was largely focused on research and the test also became one of our sprint goals (the 3 UXers all had slightly different objectives, but broadly all research for this sprint).

Set up

Rather than project phases, I organised our Purple sprint into 4 sections: Tasks, Competitor research, User research and UI concepts.

Look! Nothing in To Do, everything in Done!

I used 3 list cards to act as a mini Trello for the sprint, dragging and dropping items as they progressed from one list to the next. This helped keep track of who was doing what and when. Worked perfectly well!**

Integrating

Google docs and sheets were the tool of choice for writing up all the user and competitor research findings and analysis. In both cases it was incredibly easy to integrate with Purple, simply copying the Google url and pasting in to the Purple card. Everyone with access (done by shared link or invite) can then see and interact.

Integrating Sketch took an extra step of downloading a plug in, but once set up it’s a couple of clicks to sync a page.

That’s it really, all quite simple. I like simple.

Using it

As I mentioned right at the top, Purple is incredibly intuitive. Everything worked first time. I found it a handy way to keep everything together — all the different files as well as to do lists. It gave a good view of all the sprint tasks in action, with detail just a click away. And navigating by scrolling left and right is very intuitive. I enjoyed using it and it helped get the job done.

I find some other collaborative project tools joyless and needlessly complex. Purple is certainly neither of these things.

A Google sheet AND a Sketch file?? What Voodoo is this?!

Making it better?

I was expecting to be able to lay cards out in 2D rather than just 1D. I wanted to map all the tasks, keeping certain documents in columns along a row of project phases/sections. I found that as the number of files in Purple increased, I could see a time when finding a file by scrolling right, or down the slide out menu, would be irritating. Our sprint only had around 20 files to share. I’ve had other sprints which produce a couple of hundred easily. Our whole project will end up with thousands.

I don’t think Purple will be quite such a joy with that many files.

I got in touch with the Purple People about 1D v 2D and the founder, Chris, came back to me which I thought was a lovely touch. Their testing found that as a 2D canvas it became confusing, with multiple project members placing things to their own mental model.

And who am I to argue with usability results…?

However Chris mentioned that they’re exploring other ways to augment the linear flow, so maybe this will happen at a later date.

Purple Prose or Purple Rain?

So this is the big question, will I use Purple again?

Yes.

Will I use it for a whole project?

Possibly. Maybe for individual sprints. But I’d love to have my mind changed! And I will use Purple for specific sprints or projects when it fits, because I did find it valuable.

I’d recommend giving Purple a go. It’s a great tool, easy to use and does a few things quite cleverly.

Like Prince the Petit Purple Popster, it’s small but perfectly formed…

*Purple Stardust, a Prince v Bowie party at Festival №6. Which was ace. http://festivalnumber6.com/music/purple-stardust-prince-bowie-disco/

  • *as I type this very sentence I get a Purple email with some of the latest tweaks! These included being able to assign tasks in lists to people.