Pitch: a big leap in collaboration for creatives
How this new presentations tool is raising the bar for creative teamwork
|Rapha Menezes||Nov 10, 2020||1|
Tools for presentations have been fundamentally unchanged for a very long time. Pitch is the latest to enter this space, coming out of closed Beta recently and showing an appetite to win over users from Google Slides and others. Their strategy seems to rely heavily on differentiating their product from existing solutions by having a much sharper focus on a narrower category of users. It's early days for Pitch, but we can learn already a lot from their product and decisions taken with this strategic focus. Let's dive in!
Creative work is teamwork
Pitch revolves around the insight that designers and creatives work in teams. While tools like Google Slides treated collaboration as an afterthought, in Pitch they are at the very core of the experience. First off, everything lives inside workspaces, clearly outlining a space for this team work to happen. Setting up a workspace is a mandatory onboarding step. Compare that to Google Slides with a more document-first idea: you can immediately put content into slides, but collaboration is buried behind its Share button.
Another interesting onboarding insight is that teams usually belong to the same company and share email domains. Pitch automatically matches email domains to any existing workspace, dropping you right in without any added friction. This is not only convenient, but a sign that they have prioritized really high giving users a multiplayer product experience from the start.
After getting into your workspace, you get to see how really serious Pitch is about team collaboration. First, they don't shy away from stealing ideas from successful work collaboration tools. Their UI is structured very closely to Slack, even borrowing the very terminology of "workspace". I believe this isn't a coincidence, but a clear choice to give people a sense of familiarity.
Another example of that is that Pitch launches already allowing for multiple workspaces and seamless switching between them —a feature built much later in Slack's life that led to a lot of positive buzz and growth. It's likely that this is even more important for Pitch than for Slack, given their target audience—creative people—often work independently in many agencies, or across multiple projects in different companies at the same time. And this is important: it's too easy to dismiss features like this one, especially early on, because they are too complex. But, with their clear target user in mind, we can see why Pitch decided to ship this sooner rather than later.
Into the workflow
Understanding users often means diving into their workflows. How do people do their work right now? What works well? Where can your tool fit in?
This is another layer of product crafting that Pitch has nailed. Generally speaking, it's easier to build something that fits loosely into many different workflows than perfectly into a single one. Pitch clearly takes the approach of fitting well into an existing creative collaboration workflow, hoping to deliver a superior experience to this segment of the market, luring them away from more generalist tools.
A few things stand out about how Pitch is crafted for teamwork workflows. It starts with actual workflow controls prominently displayed in the UI, right at the top of the right-hand toolbar. Under Workflow, users can set statuses on each slide. This is a simple, yet meaningful improvement over existing tools: you have a more granular control over the work (a slide vs. a whole document), and a simpler way to inform teammates about that work (instead of email or Slack). Pitch understands well that communicating status is a core part of the design workflow, and optimizes for that. This feature allows teams to automate triggers for review, feedback and approval processes with much less hassle.
Another welcome addition in Workflow is to assign owners to slides. Imagine a team of three designers working on one presentation at the same time: each one of them can easily split and track their work, without any back and forth using Slack or Emails. No more "slide 3 is ready for review when you get a chance". Here, Pitch is doing some process heavy-lifting for users.
What takes the cake in Pitch, though, is Live Collaboration. It's built from this great insight that creative work is done together, live, in the same space and at the same time. Sure, collaboration happens also asynchronously, but live is where the magic happens. In this feature, Pitch includes real-time video chat in a very clever, non-intrusive way: slides are the main stage, and your teammates' faces float on top of it following their cursors.
First, this cuts a lot of middlemen software in the workflow. Before, you'd be aligning on Slack, jumping to a Zoom call, sharing your screen so you can all look at the same thing. In Pitch, it's all there, in one app. Second, from the UI design perspective, Pitch strikes a balance between making people present while still keeping the underlying content fully accessible and workable, which is important because the work relies so much on visual cues. Finally, most of the value will come from making this real-time collaboration more frequent and pleasant. Teams will not want to go back to their old workflow!
Takeaways and what to watch for
Pitch demonstrates in their product clear signs of being a (potentially very successful) product-led organization. For products where switching costs aren't high, a strategy that focuses on maximizing product-fit for a narrower niche is a great way to leapfrog incumbents. This is something a lot of product people know intuitively to be true, but have a hard time applying in practice. In Pitch, this shines through when you see collaboration features tackled early on, and a purposeful focus on teams instead of single users.
This sharper user focus helps to blur the lines on product categories, too. Presentations are not necessarily just presentations, and a deep exploration of creative collaborative work can surface even more use cases to later be addressed by their product. I expect to see a lot of horizontal movement in this space, as tools like Miro expand their use cases into presentations, and Pitch potentially expanding into workshops, meetings, ideation and so forth. Here, the distinction between presentation, whiteboarding, and creative teamwork gets blurry.
Design and creative software isn't defined anymore by what it does, be it presentations or interfaces. What will matter for the future is how these tools fit into creative teams, to facilitate and enhance their creative work. That's what Pitch is betting on, and I believe it's a very good bet!