LayerVault Goes 2.0 Amid DropBox, Google Announcements

Cloud-based design collaboration tool LayerVault introduced version two of its online tool this week, amid major announcements from big players in online document storage and collaboration including Dropbox and Google. LayerVault founder Kelly Sutton thinks his company’s additions secure LayerVault’s place in a category all its own, however, thanks to an approach he likens to “building Formula 1 cars for Formula 1 drivers.”

What Sutton means is that while Google Drive and Dropbox may be building tools that are making it easier for everyday users to share and collaborate on work via the browser, LayerVault appeals to a different group of users. “We’re laser-focused on designers in such a way that will never allow Google Drive or Dropbox to compete with us,” Sutton said in an interview. “It’s not in their best interests to focus so much on a single group, nor is it in ours to generalize our product and compete directly with them.”

The new features LayerVault just introduced reflect that aim. Users can now view edits happening in real-time, and open compatible files directly in the browser, meaning less popping in and out of apps just to make a few minor tweaks. Tools added now let them pick colors and create transferable palettes on the fly, for instance, as well as measure design components with a click.

What may be most impressive about LayerVault is a new addition called “Wormhole,” however. The feature allows designers to hone in on specific elements of an overall design and go through their specific versioning history, independent of changes made to the document as a whole.

“Being able to see the revision history for different pieces of a design doesn’t seem useful until you need it,” Sutton said. “Then it becomes, ‘How did I live without this?’ A single design might have hundreds of revisions. If you want to see what typeface you used in a headline two months ago, paging through each revision is incredibly tedious. Now, you have that version in front of you in less than a second.”

Sutton says that the kind of convenience that features like Wormhole provide are helping the company attract designers of all stripes, and thinks that even traditionally low-tech design businesses will eventually come around. “We want our product to be such a pleasure to use that designers take it with them wherever they go,” he said. “Hopefully by the time the low-tech shop officially decides to convert to LayerVault, every designer in the firm has been using us on their own for a few months.”

The big challenge for LayerVault, however, comes not from making converts of designers set in their ways, but lies instead with a cloud-based play from a major design software company: Adobe. Adobe Creative Cloud is part of the design giant’s upcoming CS6 suite, and it provides cloud-based access and collaboration tools that integrate with Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and any other CS6 applications. Sutton admits that the prospect is threatening.

“LayerVault and Adobe’s Creative Cloud occupy the same neighborhood,” he told us. “The outside world still has not seen Creative Cloud working, so it’s tough to say how much we compete right now.”

Even if Creative Cloud crosses into the same space, LayerVault already has a dedicated fan base and, with this latest update especially, a reputation for innovation. Long-term, they’ll have to see if that’s enough to keep it clear of moves made by Adobe and other more entrenched players.

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