Picnic: Designing a Tool for Collaboration

Internal Picnic: a Sketch Plugin

In the winter of 2017 we launched a promo for a collaborative Sketch plugin we’d built. In the first week alone we had 2,000 signups—now 6,000—jumping to the top of the lists at Designer News and Product Hunt. Since then, Picnic has been featured on GeekWire, and is now nearing launch. You can learn more at picnic.design.

Picnic is Sketch + friends

Sketch is a tool we use to design UI. Picnic allows multiple users to open and work on the same Sketch file, at the same time. The plugin breaks Sketch files down and syncs them over Dropbox, enabling simultaneous, real-time collaboration.

With Picnic projects, you can see what your teammates are up to without having to ask. At our studio everyone—designers and engineers both—uses Sketch with Picnic so we can all start building on day one. Because of a few simple features we've been able to eliminate the need for funky naming schemes or file versioning, sending files to teammates, and heavy asset production efforts.

The positive net result has been fewer words wasted on finding files or assets, tighter collaboration between all roles, and a stronger team presence during the quiet hours of the workday.

Concept validation & pitch


The first eight weeks were spent validating the concept, technically. We had set out to answer a simple question: can we break up sketch files and reassemble them, using a third-party file sharing service, in order to enable real-time collaboration?

As we dug into Sketch’s undocumented API, ferreting out the answers we needed, what was theoretical became possible, and even feasible.

When we could consistently demonstrate that it worked, we gave our plugin a name, made a video and splash page, and pitched Picnic. To our surprise and delight, it garnered support from 2,000 people in the first week, and made the top of the lists at both Designer News and Product Hunt.

Productizing Picnic

Over the next 4 months, we worked on taking Picnic from concept demo to a real product. A large opportunity for gains to be made was in sync speeds. In addition to this, we needed to work out which storage platforms to support for syncing, user onboarding, how a team would manage its projects and licenses, and a good pricing model. 

Given this, Picnic quickly became more than just a plugin. To date, Picnic comprises the plugin itself which breaks down files and syncs the pieces over Dropbox, a desktop Project Manager driven by Electron which collects Picnic projects into a single panel, and a web-based account system for adding seats and handling other admin needs. In particular, our pricing is something we're pretty excited about (stay tuned!).

Private alpha

Product Design, of course, encompasses much more than making stuff. While the support features were being built-out, other members of our team were dedicated to community outreach. From the dozens of interested teams, we chose a handful based on process and size, and rolled Picnic out to them as part of our Private Alpha. We had regular conversations with these teams to collect useful feedback on features and functionality, and fix any bugs that popped up.

Our testers are saying good things

"Picnic fits the way we work. We pair design, and have been able to generate ideas and test them up to 60% faster than before. We're sold."
Eli Silva and Coby Almond, Product Design at Pivotal Labs

"We were dazzled! Working together in a same file accomplishing tasks faster. It seems that a long forgotten gap has been filled"
Jonas Alvarado, Product Designer at Grability

"Picnic allows our design process to be more in sync & collaborative with just using one Sketch file! A must have plugin in the arsenal."
Neil Tan, Co-Founder at Tradetapp

So... when does it launch?

Soon! We're nearing the final launch now, and after that Picnic licenses will be publicly available. If you'd like to be notified when we ship it, you can sign up at picnic.design.