Email crushing your creativity? Here's a hack

Email overload
Katie Martynova | Getty Images

Designers, photographers, video editors and marketing teams rejoice! Someone is hoping to rescue you from the soul-sapping email workflow.

Email is a scourge to most creative professionals — whose work requires a collaborative, visual process rather than a disorganized email workflow — and now several start-ups are hoping to marginalize it as much as possible.

Hightail is one of several companies that have stepped up to fill the Google Docs-size void in the creative world. While the rest of us have been sharing work in the cloud, due to large file sizes and proprietary software, creative workers have been stuck in inbox purgatory, exchanging Dropbox links and downloading attachments to open in Photoshop.

Indeed, a survey of 400 creative professionals by Hightail found that 70 percent said email was an ineffective tool for managing their projects.

It's a problem beyond creative collaboration. In a study of workplace emails, researcher Peter Gloor, of MIT Sloan Management Review, found that companies that have more streamlined email had better outcomes, including happier customers and lower employee attrition.

"It really comes back as a pretty resounding problem," said Hightail's chief operating officer, Mike Trigg. "I worked in 3-D animation and music. It's really hard to do that process via email, sending time stamps on a video, saying, 'Cut this segment, darken the corner.' "

But while it's tough to communicate on detailed projects via email, that's still what most people use at work. Hightail bridges that gap, letting the creator email a link the way one does with Google Drive or Dropbox. Clicking the link opens a "space" where multiple users, with or without accounts, can comment directly on areas of the image or video in real time.

Pics.io is a similar tool, that's integrated into messaging tool Slack and Google Drive and uses chatbots to further streamline the process.

"It's really rare cases when just two people are involved into design process," said Pics.io's Yevgeniy Shpika. "In the most of cases it's teamwork where at least a few teammates are working on design. In this case email just doesn't work."

It all comes at a time when other fields that are linear and text-based, like coding, are finding ways to thrive alongside artists that use them, said David Zicarelli, founder of visual coding platform company Cycling '74.

"If you have a team of people working on a project, you can create understanding and agreement much more effectively if everyone is looking at the same picture," Zicarelli said of one of his products, Max.

"The previous workflow was that the computer expert would code a sound and the artist would say, 'That's good' or 'That's not good.' With Max, both artist and expert could work together on the same diagram; the software became a medium for sharing ideas coming from many perspectives."

While email may clog up the creative pipeline, Trigg said it's not going anywhere anytime soon. Which is why his company works within emails, rather than around it.

"The process of creating great stuff is always collaborative, is often broken," Trigg said. "A lot of great work is never realized because of that broken process."