InVision Gains 2 Million Users, Adds Freehand Templates (Interview)by@justin-roberti
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InVision Gains 2 Million Users, Adds Freehand Templates (Interview)

by Justin RobertiNovember 12th, 2020
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InVision, a product design and development platform, has grown its user base to 7 million users. Freehand, their free whiteboard tool, is simple and full of basically anything you could want in a whiteboard. Jeff Chow: "Right after the pandemic, we saw a surge in the use of Freehand (InVision’s) tool, and it's remained in a high steady-state since then, about 130% increase from pre-pandemic dates"

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After a year that included 40% growth in user base and a 130% surge in demand for online whiteboard products, InVision has released an update with Freehand template gallery.

The “new normal” of 2020 with so many employees working remotely has highlighted the need to use collaboration software to stay connected with often newly distributed teams.

But what about the impact on creative collaboration tools? In a previous article, I discussed the growth of Canva as a creative productivity tool. Since then, I had the opportunity to speak with InVision, a product design and development platform.

InVision connects designers and engineers with product and marketing on a platform where they can brainstorm, share designs, examine prototypes, make adjustments, and roll-out designs faster.

My opinion: although it’s just a subset of what they do, I've found InVision Studio a great tool for collaborating on web site and landing page designs. It’s so much easier to proof and adjust web content in the context of the design. Freehand, their free whiteboard tool, is simple and full of basically anything you could want in a whiteboard.

InVision is introducing a product update to Freehand on November 12, 2020. To mark the release, I had the opportunity to ask Jeff Chow, VP Product at InVision about their growth in 2020.

Here are Jeff Chow’s responses (some have been edited for length):

What kind of spike have you seen in demand -- how much has your user base grown?

We now count more than 7 million people as InVision users. This is up from 5 million and highlights how much we’ve grown as teams across industries... Companies have a growing need for consistency in their digital experience as they scale and transform. Design maturity is the cultural shift that happens to allow organizations to speed up and execute against a cohesive vision...

Most companies (saw) a post-COVID dip; we have not. Right after the pandemic, we saw a surge in the use of Freehand (InVision’s free whiteboard tool), and it's remained in a high steady-state since then, about 130% increase from pre-pandemic dates.

That aligns with external signals, too. G2 reported that interest in whiteboard products is up enormously. Between the updates that we’re providing in Freehand and the fact that so many companies have gotten used to, and even perfected, collaborating and project development remotely, we expect 2021 to see a lot of growth for our virtual whiteboard product and our entire platform. 

Has the nature of your customer changed?

The nature of the customer hasn’t so much changed as expanded—the same early adopters and designers still rely on InVision, but different sets of people (including developers, executives, marketing teams, even IT and legal) have come to use it heavily as companies are moving rapidly through their digital transformation and design maturity journeys. 

Freehand is a great example of how we satisfy these needs. Digital product design and development starts well before a design tool. 

It starts with the conversations that teams are having around what customers want and need, and how to best collaborate and organize the team so they can deliver... That’s why many of the new Freehand templates tackle challenges well beyond wireframing. Freehand is how teams pull together people to work a problem. When that’s done well, it allows designers to create the best product. 

Since you serve basically two audiences -- designers and the non-designers they collaborate with -- how have their needs changed?

Designers and developers now need to collaborate with a much wider array of people and, thanks to COVID, they can’t just walk down the hall and find them. But this shift was also happening well before the pandemic, as more and more people are now involved in the digital products that teams are creating.

Screen-based revenue is rapidly becoming the primary source of revenue for many companies, and that means that design is becoming more and more multi-disciplinary and important. It requires teams of collaborators with unique combinations of skillsets. They need to move faster than ever before and often that’s in a non-linear way, meaning there is a growing desire to eliminate specific handoffs between teams. The process is much more integrated and dynamic. We see the need for structured collaboration, affording teams the right levels of transparency and access at just the right times. 

That’s part of the reason the demand for Freehand has gone up so dramatically recently. Freehand is designed to be an inclusive experience, making everyone feel empowered to engage and collaborate. We have a maniacal focus on making an experience that is welcoming to everyone, not just the power user. A lot of the time that means the non-designer—it means the various stakeholders of a project that bring value but do not view a tool and its usage as their craft.

...Freehand empowers the sort of inspirational, aspirational, and exciting co-creation that happens when groups of people are moving together in alignment, with the most mature design processes in place. There is a hunger for a platform that, even with COVID, can help teams get to that state and stay there. 

How did the pandemic affect product direction?

The pandemic didn’t so much pivot the product direction as it increased the demand for it and the urgency that we applied to ensuring we were serving our customers’ needs with innovation and updates more frequently than ever before. User feedback was always key, but now it’s become even more important. Indeed, that’s why we are releasing templates, which is one of more than 20 updates to Freehand specifically that we’ve launched since March.

What drove the new release?  Was the schedule accelerated or driven by demand?

We were always planning to include templates for Freehand, as templates are a very useful tool, but the exploding demand did accelerate the schedule. Our customers have unprecedented pressure on them from their customers and companies. We didn’t want to leave them hanging if there was anything at all we could do to make them more efficient and productive.

Did the new normal of 90% remote workers expose anything that needed patching or outright fixes with that kind of load?

We brought in a lot of new talent in the past year to take InVision into its next decade, from 7 million users well into even more. I’m part of that new guard, working with so many who have been here for years and know our company and customers well.

Of course when new teams come in it requires looking at the back-end, at the code, and ensuring that it’s strong enough to support what we anticipate will be continued and surging demand.

It also means thinking about our product direction, the changing market, and how we can best serve our customers. Things like additional security measures, new ways to educate and inform collaborators on the best practices, all of that is part of how we’re taking our platform from where it is now to where we’re going. 

How much are you anticipating the need/user base for InVision and creative collaboration tools like it to grow in the next few years?

We believe the demand for Freehand, and, in fact, all of the collaboration tools that InVision offers, is going to go up sharply over the next few years. 

For one, even after the pandemic finally ends, the “work from home” trend isn’t. That is going to make structured collaboration all the more important. 

Second, thanks to the pandemic, companies are earning a larger and larger percentage of their revenue from digital sources. 

Before the pandemic, we thought digital transformation would take years. The transformation of huge segments of the economy instead happened in months. This is putting even more pressure on digital product design teams. 

Companies will be hiring more project managers, designers, and developers. More and more people are going to rely on InVision for product design and development, and to upskill in the learnings they need to increase the design capabilities of everyone within their organization. 

Design maturity is a cultural shift across an entire organization. InVision—with our platform, our education, and our community—is the way that teams learn how to go from a level one design mature company (meaning the least design mature) to a level five, where design teams have a direct impact on obvious aspects of the work, like product usability and customer satisfaction, as well as less obvious and more critical aspects of an organization, such as company strategy, revenue, and valuation.

For more on this, check out our New Design Frontier study, amongst the largest study of design teams ever conducted, and the basis of our Design Maturity Assessment, a product that we offer to customers who want to understand and diagnose their own design maturity. 

Anything you'd like to add? 

Freehand templates, along with our other recent product updates like Specs (a specialized place for designers and developers to curate and document what’s ready to be built) support diverse collaboration across the entire organization.

These two updates are examples of us being responsive to customer demand and changing marketing needs, and the growing desire for product teams (and all workers, frankly) to learn from and collaborate with others both within their own organization and also outside of it. What matters to everyone now is having an approach that’s flexible enough to capitalize on great thinking regardless of where it comes from.


Invision Freehand template gallery.

The Freehand product has been updated with the addition of a templates gallery with more than a dozen templates for your online whiteboarding needs. These were internal templates developed by and attributed to the major brands that shared them, including American Express, Asana, AWS, Xbox. etc.

Due to the increase in demand, InVision launched more than 20 customer-requested updates in Freehand this year, including sticky notes, emoji reactions, quick voting, version history, and exporting as an image.

InVision stated, “a virtual whiteboard is key to the entire digital product design and development workflow.” I’m sure that can be true depending on how you collaborate but it does seem that InVision Freehand is addressing a clear need, to translate the in-office white board to something equivalent for remote workers.

With pandemic still trending up in the U.S., it is not hard to imagine that the demand for new ways to collaborate more effectively online will continue to grow -- creating bright prospects for InVision.

InVision Freehand screengrab.

*Header image: Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash
* Other images provided by InVision