Miro Takes Whiteboards Into the 2020s

Tuesday, March 3, 2020
Christopher Sirk
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“It takes great teams working together to build outstanding things.” 

The above quote is the M.O. for Miro, an online whiteboarding platform for visual collaboration. It’s targeted at on-site and remotely distributed Lean and Agile teams, with applications for product development, UX research and design, and more-or-less everything in-between. 

Miro helps teams to overcome obstacles like geography and time zones, and to create a unified #nofriction space to share texts, images, docs, comments, plus cooperate and build things in real-time. 

What Miro does, it does well

To be fair, there’s not exactly a shortage of apps targeted at remote work. Miro, however, is distinctive for its status as a hyper-flexible tool, with a myriad of potential applications. 

The ‘blank canvas’ starting point can be spun off into many dedicated day-to-day business applications like project management, design thinking, brainstorming, or building a proposal. Within the whiteboard view, you can make use of a bunch of cross-channel collaborative tools, including text chat, voice, and video.

In case the idea of building from a blank screen stretched out forever is too daunting, Miro comes equipped with a broad range of templates, including a Coggle-esque mind map, a Kanban, a flowchart, a customer journey map, and a product roadmap. 

You can draw with your cursor (or a writing tablet), and the app’s ‘smart drawing’ will automatically convert your squiggly lines into straight ones, generate connecting arrows, and morph wonky-looking shapes into eye-pleasing geometric forms. If you want to delete something, you can scribble over it and it will all disappear.

You can also digitize and add your physical, IRL sticky notes with text recognition technology (akin to the kind your local bank ATM uses to read your checks).

Altogether, the app’s UX succeeds in approximating that sense of social closeness and ‘tactility’ you get when you’re working in the same room as other people. You can manipulate items in subtle ways, add a broad range of elements to the board, and generate a ton of clutter working in one corner and clean it up later—in other words, the Miro vibe approaches the hands-on creativity you get working with objects in a studio. 

Miro is a great utility for ideating and sharing concepts and project propositions to people. Your somewhat anarchic collaborative labor will come out looking highly presentable with minimal effort, instead of looking like glued-together debris. 

You can also easily use private and public links, ala Google Docs, to share your work with clients and other stakeholders who may not use Miro themselves. 

Miro is available as a desktop app, as well as in mobile and tablet versions. That makes it easy to swap from one device to another and keep working on or viewing the same projects. 

Integrations

Miro offers a ton of integrations, which is key for making the most out of the platform. There’s 1,500+ available via Zapier, linking Miro to CRMs like Salesforce, plus a Microsoft Teams integration that allows you to embed your Miro boards as well as receive comments in your Microsoft Teams Feed. 

The crucial Google Drive, Dropbox, and Slack integrations are all there as well, and it’s clear a lot of attention has been paid to building them out. You can drop Google docs and spreadsheets into your Miro whiteboard and collaboratively edit them in real-time. 

The Dropbox integration allows you to automate file sync between Dropbox and Miro so you can manage all your project files in Miro. 

Slack integration (probably the most important of the bunch) allows you to keep a running project dialogue for your Miro board, as well as approve board access, @team members to speed up review cycles, and keep on top of team member invites for the right project(s). 

The vendor also offers a comprehensive help center, including the lesson-based ‘Miro Academy,’ as well as a company blog with some very worthwhile content to snack on.

About Miro, the company

Miro was founded in 2011 by Russia-born founders Andrey Khusid (CEO) and Oleg Shardin (COO). Both are graduates of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, a comprehensive interdisciplinary school equivalent to MIT or Caltech. Before Miro, Khusid and Shardin worked at Russian-based digital agency Vitamin Group, doing web and product development and designing apps for clients.

Miro started with 7 team members. Less than a decade later it now counts 250+ employees and 3.5 million users, including teams at Netflix, Twitter, Expedia, eBay, Deloitte, and PwC. The company is backed by Accel, a major VC firm that has funded the likes of Slack and Dropbox. 

An app for the flexible future

Like Airtable, Trello, and others in the collaborative project management game, Miro seeks to break us out of the restrictive, super-siloed productivity apps we’ve used since the late 20th century. Unlike some of these more niche-focused competitors, Miro implements a lot of collaborative project board types (Kanban, mindmap, product roadmaps, etc.) in one package. 

This open flexibility gives Miro extra mileage. For example, beyond the business world, it’s been spotted in use as an educational tool at Carnegie-Mellon University and elsewhere (the app is free for teachers and students).

It might be argued that, at the moment, one of the major challenges all developers are trying to overcome is the ‘flatness’ of digital apps. The end goal? Giving us the same agency in the digital world that we enjoy in the physical one, where we can interact with things around us in endlessly nuanced ways. 

While digital tools still aren’t there yet, an open-ended, well-designed visual project management apps like Miro can help make remote, computer-based work feel just a bit more ‘real.’ That’s definitely a major accomplishment, and the sort of asset any business would do well to have in its corner. 

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