Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll have heard of Basecamp being described as the project management app to rule them all. Built from the ground up in 2004 to help users complete projects without getting in their way, 37signals‘ Basecamp has been a runaway success. It has become the weapon of choice for software companies, universities, design agencies, freelancers and everyone in between, because it did one thing well: helping teams work together on projects. Since then it has helped manage over 8 million projects.
Having learned a few things along the way, the team behind Basecamp gave it a fresh coat of paint and a few tweaks under the hood. Naturally, as users (and ardent fans) of this wonderful app, we just had to take a closer look. I went ahead and signed up for the trial to create a new project and kick the tyres on this redesign. Hop in and let’s take a ride through some of the major updates to Basecamp.
Basecamp is a project management app that allows teams and clients to plan projects and communicate easily and transparently. The redesign for 2012 brings not just aesthetic updates but also plenty of changes to how the app works and handles, which have been in the works since April 2011. The idea was to go back to the basics – to simplify, speed up and become more usable for all kinds of projects.
All projects created in the previous version are now housed in what’s called Basecamp Classic (while the current version is called Basecamp) and can be migrated into the new system easily, maintaining all your content and users.
Basecamp now has four plans to choose from, differing in the number of projects you want to oversee. These plans start at $20/month for up to 10 projects and go up to $150/month for unlimited projects. All packages include unlimited users, SSL encyption, daily data backups and file storage space. You can try a free all-access trial for 45 days, after which you’ll have to select a plan. The only unfortunate part of their new pricing is that there’s no longer a 1 project free plan.
The project management app space is crowded with plenty of strong contenders. While some cost nearly the same as Basecamp, others are out to beat it hollow when it comes to pricing. Others are priced nearly the same.While Apollo is pretty close at US$148/month for unlimited projects, a new kid on the block named Blossom.io costs just US$9/month. Project Bubble costs US$99/month for unlimited users and up to 50 projects, while Pivotal Tracker costs US$175/month for 50 collaborators on unlimited projects. And then there’s dozens of advanced to-do list style apps that have cropped up with a variety of styles and prices. It’s a confusing, crowded space where price is only one of dozens of differentiators.
The best way to decide if Basecamp is worth the money is to try it for yourself and see how much it helps you and your team through a project. The current free 45 day trial is great for that, and with unlimited users on all accounts, it really might work out better for your team than other project management apps even if price is your major concern.
Basecamp’s previous iteration was functional but had begun to look dated. The new design is clean and brings in some of the features you love about current web apps (drag and drop, fewer clicks to enter content, fewer page reloads, etc.). Plus, it does away with some usability and navigation niggles with a fresh approach on how users would find their way around the app.
The first thing you’ll notice is how every graphic element is thoughtfully styled and perfectly detailed. 37signals has never been one to follow the herd when it comes to design and has managed to come up with something that looks novel yet familiar. Subtle textures, clean typography, soft shadows and lots of Ajax magic come together in a tasteful new interface that’s a delight to use. With so many other apps looking suspiciously similar to Basecamp Classic, though, we have to wonder how long it will take before other apps start ripping off Basecamp Next’s fresh new design.
The new design takes cues from stacks of paper to create a simpler user experience that removes the need for a learning curve. An entire project can be viewed on a single page and navigation mimics flipping through sheets of paper, allowing you to dig deep into details and return to your project overview with a single click. It’s great to no longer have to open every Basecamp link in new tabs for fear of losing my place while browsing a project.
Using the new Basecamp
In order to try out Basecamp’s revamped interface I decided to create a new project to build a music review site. If you do have an existing account, though, you can import your data from the older Basecamp Classic into the new interface to get your team up and running quickly.
Once you’ve created or imported a project, you can start adding items to a to-do list, upload files using the new drag-and-drop interface, start a discussion to get your colleagues talking or mark events on the calendar. As with Basecamp Classic, you can add comments to any of these items and also attach files in discussions. What’s different is that pages don’t refresh when you choose to add content – everything happens on a single page.
A welcome new feature in this version is the Text Document. It offers a simple way to add textual content that may be crucial to a project, such as a design tip or an overview of terms & conditions – just name your document, start typing and allow it to autosave as you go. There’s no need to open up a desktop text editor the next time you need to create a document. If you’ve been using Basecamp for a while, you might notice that this replaces Writeboards, but has more features, too.
An older feature that was already great has been improved further – the calendar. It now shows six weeks at once, with options to add events for single or multiple days, view as many calendars as you want in a single view, control users’ access to calendars and send out reminders to everyone concerned. Clicking the Next 6 weeks title allows you to navigate through time to see events from any period on your calendar with ease. And as before, you can always subscribe to the calendar in your favorite calendar app as well.
Collaboration made easy
Apart from being able to invite people to a project at any time, you can now finely control what kind of access they have to your data, as well as their ability to create new projects and manage others. Plus, it’s now easier than ever to add Basecamp contacts to companies (and groups within companies – Designers or HR, for example) for easy sorting and collaborating. You can look up people, message or add them to projects by simply typing in their company or group name and they’ll be added to the list at once.
You can also add people to conversations temporarily (such as clients for their feedback on a piece of work) without them having to become a part of the entire project or even having to sign up for Basecamp – they can reply via email and their message will become a part of the discussion. This is the great thing about a project management tool that doesn’t charge per user: you can always feel safe inviting everyone into your Basecamp, and won’t need to worry about having to pay for extra accounts.
Keeping track of time
Basecamp makes it easy to find out who’s working on what and when. You can view a timeline (called Daily Progress) to note the progress on your project, check on colleagues’ task completion status and even receive daily email updates so you’re always clued into how your project is going. Everything’s updated in real time so you don’t have to keep refreshing pages to see if anything new has come in. There’s also a History feature that shows all the actions on every item for easy reference.
Interestingly, though, there’s no way to enter the amount of time a task is supposed to take, or record how long the team member took to complete the task. It’s more aiming for the big picture, seeing how the project progressed over time, rather than looking at the precise time each little task took.
Is the redesign an improvement?
I’ll say! Basecamp is now extremely fast, looks great and is much easier and nicer to use than before. Gone are the days when I’d dread looking for a piece of information or a file in a project, or have trouble keeping track of all my responsibilities. Every change has been fully thought through to help make the app simpler and quicker to use, reducing time spent managing the project and increasing time spent actually working on the project.
There’s no official mobile app yet and the new site isn’t designed for phones, but I’m hoping that’s in the works. Other than that, this is definitely a step forward for the app. Be sure to give the new Basecamp a try; we’d love to hear your thoughts on the biggest update ever to the most famous online project management app.