Basecamp from developers 37Signals is a web-based project management application, all centered around working as a team and collaborating on mutual projects. It’s an app that I use every day, as do my colleagues here at Envato. For us, Basecamp does a fantastic job of managing all the content we produce during our planning and writing processes. However, the way in which we use it is just one of many possible contexts the app can be applied to.
A reader (thanks Chris Cocchiaraley), suggested we take a look at Basecamp in a web designer’s workflow, and a simple Google search showed that it’s actually a popular use of the software. With a fairly recent revamp of the service, including a massive UI overhaul, on paper, it seems like Basecamp could be the perfect addition to your design workflow. How about we take a look?
What is Basecamp?
As previously mentioned, Basecamp is a project management web app. It puts a whole team’s communication and work onto a metaphorical single page which hosts your tasks, communication, files, documents and more, keeping everything tied down to a single location online.
Basecamp also handles multiple projects. You can switch between multiple projects with a single set of credentials, and even aggregate them all onto a “Daily Progress” timeline. You’ll also, optionally, receive daily updates digesting the various occurrences on each of your assigned projects. Basecamp features a calendar, some fantastic integration with emails, a universal search of tasks, people and files, and more.
Pricing starts at $20/month for up to ten projects and 3GB of files, rising to $50/month for 40 projects and 15GB of files, $100/month for 100 projects and 40GB of files and maxing out at $150/month for unlimited projects and 100GB of file storage. All the pricing tiers have support for unlimited users, SSL data encryption and are backed up daily. There’s even a no-credit-card-required 45-day free trial to try it out.
Your First Project
The basic structure dictates that you’ll belong to a single Basecamp with multiple projects. Of course, you can be part of multiple Basecamps, accessible via Launchpad but generally it’s more of a case of you having a single Basecamp to encompass all the projects your team will work on together.
Once you’ve setup a Basecamp, you’ll create your first project, offering a project name, some minor details for a sub-heading and inviting your members by email. The process is super simple, and easily allows you to invite people from other departments, companies, or even get clients in on the action. Then, you’re free to start using the app in any way you see fit.
For Group Communication
If you’re working as part of a group, you probably talk to each other. Quite often, I bet. This probably takes place in the generic and less-than-fantastic technology we call e-mail, where it’s quite hard to keep track of things in a sea of mail, and even less ideal when trying to talk with more than one person on the other end.
Basecamp’s discussion feature is fantastic for this, and puts all your project-related talk all in one convenient location. To begin a new discussion, you simply need to afford it a subject and some content, and then tick off the people who you want to notify by email. Your discussion is public, so anyone can come and join (anyone invited to the project, that is), but only those you choose will get an email notification.
Particularly useful is the ability to loop in additional people to just the single discussion. They won’t get access to your Basecamp, but will receive the message via email, to which they can reply. This means you can easily get another department involved in your discussion without giving them full access to your project. Alternatively, you can use the feature as a method to communicate with clients, but making their feedback available for everyone in your project to see and reply to.
For Task Management
Basecamp offers a fantastic platform to keep all yours tasks together, while being individually assigned to members of your project and with a due date optionally set.
The whole to-do list system is very versatile and can be used in a number of ways. You can quite easily go as in-depth as creating a to-do list for every task that needs to be completed, adding individual items for each part of said task. Or, you could create to-do lists for the overall stages of web design, creating items for what each one entails.
Items can be assigned to individual users, making it easy to delegate and hand out responsibility for particular tasks. Each user will get all their tasks from all their projects on one particular Basecamp aggregated on their “Me” page, making it easy to keep track of everything they have left to do.
You can also assign items a due date, which is factored into your Basecamp’s calendar. The calendar features all your to-do’s items at their due dates, offering a different spin on what’s coming up. You can add multiple calendars, public only to the people you invite (and colour coded too!). If you’re an iCal (or, in Mountain Lion, just Calendar) user in Mac OS X, you can subscribe to these calendars too (although, be warned that calendars are public to everyone who has the iCal subscription link, so be sure not to share it with people whom you don’t want to view your calendar).
For File Management and Documents
If you send files around attached to emails, you’ve probably come to realise it’s a terrible system; files will no doubt be lost easily, you might end up picking an older version or the wrong file quite easily. Basecamp brings all your files and puts them together with the rest of your project.
Files can be uploaded individually, or as part of a discussion or to-do item, which they’ll be attached to.
Basecamp can also host documents, which are similar to discussions but feature a sticky-style post atop that is easily seen on the project’s homepage (versus gradually hiding away over time as a discussion does).
A downside to having all your files in one place is that all your files are in one place. The “Files” section can get easily filled with files uploaded as part of discussions or comments. This can be avoided by uploading externally, and dropping a link when you don’t want to see the file haunt you in the “Files” section. Basecamp will intelligently embed the media if it’s capable of doing so, too!
For Mobile and Email Work
Basecamp’s also pretty great for working mobile too. You can very easily take Basecamp on the go with the email integration recently introduced. You can add to your Basecamp’s to-do lists, discussions, files and documents by simply sending in an email to your custom project email address. While this is great on any platform, it’s particularly useful when contributing on mobile.
Allow Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, to explain why this is such a great feature.
One of the things I’ve loved about it so far is that I can sketch an idea on the whiteboard/chalkboard in a meeting room in our office, take a picture of it with my iPhone, and email it directly to a Basecamp project. It’s such a great way to get the physical results of a brainstorm, meeting, or sketch session right into Basecamp. And now that it’s in Basecamp, I can erase the whiteboard and not worry about ever losing that idea.
Also, say you received an email from a client with some feedback, a new feature request or something that you feel should be shared with your team. You can quite easily do so by just forwarding on the email to your Basecamp address, where it’ll be automatically added to the project for all to see and read.
Email’s also fantastic for using in conjunction with other apps that might email you, allowing you to potentially integrate some of the other services your team uses right into Basecamp through the proxy of email.
For Client Communication
I’ve already touched on this throughout the article, but I felt it necessary to highlight just one more time because it’s part of what makes Basecamp in a web design context so fantastic. Your Basecamp might be private and exclusive to just those you invite, but it’s incredibly easy to get people involved on a per-item basis.
This way, when you make progress on a project, it’s super easy to create a discussion, loop in a client for a bit of input while your whole team can read and join in if needed. Likewise, being able to easily forward on emails into Basecamp make using it as the hub of your entire web design workflow an absolutely delightful experience.
For Keeping Up-to-Date On a Daily Basis
Even if you’re not living inside Basecamp, the app still allows you to keep up-to-date offering daily digests of events in a number of forms. In Basecamp itself, you can hit up the “Daily Progress” link at the top to see all the actions taken by the users on your project on a stylized timeline that’s pretty useful, allowing you to track versions or just look up when things were done.
By default, you’ll also receive a digest by email, every day, that lists all of the changes and additions to the project on a particular day. This way, even if you don’t log into Basecamp one day, you’re still kept up-to-date with what’s happening on your projects.
And It’s Super Expandable
The fantastic thing about Basecamp is it can really be used on any scale you want, and it’s incredibly versatile when it comes to expansion. You can start out with just one project, but then rapidly add new ones as they arise, all whilst allowing users to be tied to them by just one account, all their tasks aggregated together.
They Have Apps, Don’t They
Basecamp also has an app platform which can extend the functionality of the service, including native mobile clients that keep you up-to-date on your projects while on the go, such as Everest for Android (and as beta on OS X).
For web design teams, there are a couple of extra apps which stick out such as BugDigger, an app that offers up easy bug reporting for sites with automatic screenshots to Basecamp. The issue tracker DoneDone also interfaces with Basecamp to offer a simple yet effective way to track issues with projects.
A list of some of the other Basecamp integrations and apps is available on Basecamp itself.
Ultimately, Basecamp makes for effortless communication and collaboration, which is fantastic if you’re working on a web design project. It’s come a long way from the complex and largely disorienting experience of the original iteration (I often got lost in the old UI). Now, in the second rendition of Basecamp, we see a drastically simplified UI that’s back to just the basics of the service, with a much easier-to-navigate layout. Times have certainly changed for Basecamp, so if you tried out the previous version and weren’t too happy, the experience has greatly improved and you should definitely check out the current iteration.
As people whose livelihoods depend on technology, web designers are ideally matched to what Basecamp offers. With the ability to keep everything located in a central hub, while being able to invite people in on a per-item basis, Basecamp can fit fantastically into your workflow.
Whether it’s bringing together ideas while planning, or sharing work while building, if you’ve used Basecamp in a web design workflow, be sure to share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.