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Digital tools can now make brainstorming as easy, efficient, and generative for distributed teams as it is for in-person meetings. We tested a number of online whiteboarding platforms marketed as brainstorming tools, and we found Mural and FigJam to be the most intuitive and seamless to use.
Like most digital brainstorming tools currently on the market, our picks share many of the same core features: a shared workspace with the ability to add and arrange text, sticky notes, and shapes on any number of different digital whiteboards. Users can either start with a blank whiteboard and create a bespoke document tailored to their team’s brainstorming process, or choose from any number of pre-made and crowdsourced templates within the platform. Mural’s template library is particularly extensive and well-organized. Both also help users facilitate discussion and build consensus with features like timers, voting, reactions, chats, and integrations to video-conferencing and messaging softwares.
Both of our picks have multiple subscription levels, with a free version that includes a limited number of boards and sharing permissions, a paid individual plan, and more expensive team and/or enterprise-level plans. (See the Pricing Deep Dive section below for more on how to choose a subscription tier for your team’s needs.)
Given that the brainstorming process differs so widely between teams, organizations, and industries, we highly recommend trying out a few free versions of these tools before making a final decision to understand which is best for your team’s specific needs, but either of our two picks would be a great place to start.
FigJam is the online whiteboard tool from Figma, the cloud-based design platform. It offers an intuitive digital whiteboard on a dynamic, customizable, and fun interface, with plenty of user-generated and native templates for a number of purposes.
- Starting at $3 monthly per user for the first pricing tier, it’s among the most affordable brainstorming tools we’ve tried, while not sacrificing on usability and features.
- FigJam is among the easiest to use, particularly with the keyboard shortcuts that allow you to add new stickies and shapes with just one keystroke.
- FigJam is legitimately fun to use, with bright colors, a built in music player, and widgets like a photobooth, rock paper scissors, and warm-up questions from team-building software Donut.
- The user-generated templates are in a separate library from the pre-loaded ones, which makes them more of a pain to use.
- While FigJam offers an integration with Microsoft Teams for brainstorming within a video call, it doesn’t offer a Zoom integration, so workplaces that use Zoom will have to share their screen to brainstorm during a meeting.
- Boasts an impressive set of integrations that includes Teams, Airtable, Adobe creative cloud, Asana, Figma, Google Workplace, Notion, Slack, Zoom, and others.
- Features a particularly organized, searchable, and extensive template library, with both Mural templates and community-created templates in the same place.
- Balances a clean interface with an extensive, intuitive menu of built-in features, including a timer, voting (with options for multiple votes, anonymous voting, and timed voting), and stamps and reactions.
- Mural is the most expensive option of any that we tested, and though the templates and features are worth the cost, teams with less intense brainstorming needs may find lower or no-cost software a better choice.
We evaluated five platforms—Mural, LucidSpark, Miro, FigJam, and Freehand—on price point, ease of use, features and templates, and available integrations, using a custom board based on an existing template for dot-voting brainstorming. A common brainstorming tactic used internally at Charter, dot-voting involves all participants adding ideas on sticky notes to a shared board for a pre-set amount of time. After the timer goes off, all participants have a set number of votes to add to ideas they want to advance.
To get the most accurate test of the platforms, a subset of the Charter team conducted brainstorming sessions on each platform like we would in a typical brainstorming meeting. The facilitator populated the boards with blank sticky notes before the meeting, gave the participants a topic to brainstorm, set a timer for all to add ideas, and then asked participants to add votes to their favorite ideas using either pre-made dots, stickers, or a built-in voting feature. Afterwards, we solicited feedback from participants on their experience using each of the platforms.
Our picks are Mural, which starts at $10 per user per month for a paid plan, and FigJam, which starts at $3 per user per month (both also have free basic options, which we describe more below). From our research, these tools generally fall into two pricing tiers: those with more expansive features and templates, with plans starting at $8-10 per user per month, like Mural, Miro, and LucidSpark, and those with more limited functionality, with plans starting at $3-$4 per month, like FigJam and Freehand.
Mural stands out for its intuitive platform, extensive template library, and ease of use in onboarding new members and guest editors. Figjam also stands out for its ease of use, particularly the keyboard shortcuts that facilitate editing whiteboards and open editing permissions, as well as its playful interface and bevy of widgets. Here’s how each of our picks stacks up on specific key features:
Onboarding and visitor permissions: We found Mural and FigJam to be among the easiest platforms to onboard visitors and new users to a workspace. Both had an easy sign-up process and welcome flow that allowed collaborators to join the board quickly, which is helpful for teams with outside collaborators or teams with a single shared account. Both platforms also allow visitors without accounts to join, edit, and interact with boards on the paid subscription levels. For those unfamiliar with digital whiteboards, FigJam and Mural offer both on-demand and live webinars on their websites.
Templates: Both our picks have a library of templates for a number of use cases, including brainstorming, retros, note-taking, and prototyping. Mural, our higher-priced pick, features a particularly organized, searchable, and extensive template library, with both Mural templates and community-created templates in the same place. FigJam also has a wealth of templates to choose from if you include the public community templates, but the pre-loaded templates are more sparse, and it can require some digging to find the right template in the community library.
Widgets and integrations: Both platforms also include an embedded timer and integrations with many of the most commonly used workplace apps, including Zoom, Slack, Asana, and Microsoft Teams. Mural, like the other higher-priced platform we used, also includes intuitive embedded voting features to make brainstorming and planning easier, which FigJam lacks.
For teams that brainstorm infrequently or are looking for something already included in their existing work software, a few additional options to consider.
- Jamboard is a free Google Workspace tool that allows up to 50 users to collaborate on a shared whiteboard through a web browser and mobile app. For teams running Google Workplace, it’s an easy way to brainstorm directly in a Google Meet (or start a call from your whiteboard) without having to download and create an account for yet another workplace app, and the whiteboards save directly to Google Drive. For teams with physical offices, Google also makes physical digital whiteboard devices to facilitate hybrid brainstorming sessions and hybrid meetings. For teams with more intense whiteboarding needs, though, Jamboard won’t give you all the integrations you might hope for, like a timer or voting capabilities, and the web version lacks an integration to easily embed documents from Google Slides, Google Docs, and Google Sheets.
- Freeform is a new collaboration app launched for Apple devices including Mac computers, iPads, and iPhones at the end of 2022. It allows users to create shared whiteboards with up to 100 collaborators, and features seamless integrations with the full suite of Apple apps, including iMessage and FaceTime. It’s a solid, free option for Apple super-fans, but the lack of integrations with the most common workplace apps and lack of availability on non-Apple devices may be deal-breakers.
- For teams with infrequent brainstorming needs, there are also templates available on Notion, Google Docs, OneNote, and Google Slides. You can also create your own template for dot voting or idea generation tailored to your organization’s needs.
Pricing deep dive
Mural has four pricing levels: Free, Team+, Business, and Enterprise. Here are some tips to help you determine the subscription level that’s right for your team:
- If you don’t have extensive whiteboard needs and can live with just three boards that you wipe clean after each brainstorming session, go with the free version.
- If your team brainstorms often with different groups of collaborators and different facilitators, go with Team+ ($9.99 per seat monthly if billed annually, or $12 per seat if billed monthly), which offers unlimited whiteboards, a seat-based pricing model, editing permissions for visitors without existing Mural accounts, and more advanced integration features.
- If your team requires advanced support and admin controls, consider Business ($17.99 per member per month, billed annually). It offers single sign-on for all users, unlimited guest users (registered users from outside the organization), integrations with Microsoft Azure Active Directory and Okta, and advanced support.
- If your workplace requires multiple workplaces, confidential collaboration rooms, and the most advanced administrative features, go for the Enterprise level (inquire for pricing).
FigJam similarly has four pricing levels: Starter, FigJam Professional, FigJam Organization, and Enterprise:
- If you don’t have extensive whiteboard needs and don’t require all features and widgets, go with the free version. You get just three FigJam files with unlimited collaborators, but you won’t be able to use built in audio conversations, voting, or open sessions, which allow guests to join the whiteboard without logging in.
- If you want access to upgraded features and unlimited files, as well as team libraries and advanced sharing permissions like password-protected open sessions, go with FigJam Professional ($3 per editor monthly if billed annually, or $5 per editor monthly if billed monthly).
- If you require advanced administrative and security features, like centralized content management, single sign-on, widget management, and activity logs, go with FigJam Organization ($5 per editor monthly, annual billing only).
- Consider Enterprise ($75 per Figma editor monthly and $5 per FigJam editor monthly, annual billing only) only if your organization also uses advanced Figma features and requires the top-of-the-line administrative and security controls.
How we chose what to review
We sourced our five candidates using online research and suggestions from online workplace forums, like Reddit’s r/productivity subreddit. With an extensive ecosystem of digital collaboration and productivity tools, we excluded products that were more narrowly focused on mindmapping, like MindMup; diagramming and project management, like Whimsical; and agile processes and retros, like Metro Retro (you can read our coverage of the best retro tools here).
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