Making InVision LABS: Behind The Scenes At InVision’s New Incubator

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InVision recently announced Craft as a plugin for Sketch that adds real data into the mockup design workflow. This was branded under InVision LABS which quietly launched on the same day.

LABS is somewhat of an internal incubator for InVision’s team of creative designers and developers. Their goal is to solve design challenges with free tools and resources released under the InVision LABS library. Every designer would agree this sounds incredible.

So I reached out to the InVision LABS team to get the inside scoop on how the idea came about and what we can expect in the near future.

invision labs white office space
InVision LABS Prague office space

Many people from InVision offered statements for this piece, so all quotes are credited directly to the InVision Leadership team.

Starting LABS

The concept for LABS first started when some folks at InVision were discussing a cool idea. This idea was the initial prototype for a Sketch plugin, now known as Craft. Funny how small ideas can blossom and grow so quickly.

As discussion continued the concept seemed worth pursuing, and the very first inkling of InVision LABS was an early-stage prototype of the “images” plugin from Craft.

As you can imagine this was a very basic idea. But most good ideas start with a small concept and change rapidly as they grow.

“It was rough,” says InVision’s team, describing the early prototype of Craft. “But there was a kernel of a good idea there. We started riffing off of that, and then brought the product team in closer to cross-pollinate ideas with.”

craft plugin for sketch by invision labs
Craft for Sketch. Source

From there everything grew quickly and the pieces were falling into place. InVision could benefit greatly from an incubator-type system where small yet passionate ideas could thrive under a larger brand.

Their goal was to create something where new ideas could flourish uninhibited by social constraints. A brand within InVision where any idea could be entertained, and possibly put into action, with big risks and little costs.

Very few companies can find that balance but InVision LABS hit the mark.

With a LABS entity, you are free to try whatever you want, to invent entirely new ways of doing things and then put them out there for others to react to. It’s the true spirit of early stage startups

This is a common ideology with incubators and it’s similar to what Google has done for years.

Someone in the team has an idea for a cool feature, but it doesn’t exactly fit with the company’s product. So this idea is branded under its own name and released separately. Not everyone can make the next Gmail but they can follow a similar ideology.

But with a product like Craft it can be difficult to find a purpose. Is Craft meant for building brand recognition? Or improving trust from the userbase?

These may be side-effects, but the LABS team simply wants to create products that help people.

In many ways the best outcome of LABS would be that we would stumble onto new ideas that help us disrupt ourselves.

Unexpected Growth

After Craft launched there was tremendous feedback all over the web from sites like Reddit and Designer News.

The team had a difficult time nailing down exactly what this project should be in the grander scheme of things. But as InVision currently describes it, “LABS is a bit of a playground for new ideas.”

These new ideas seem to focus primarily on workflow problems.

invision labs craft logo

Designers often have trouble with small yet pesky nuances in their design workflow. Sometimes it’s related to software, other times it’s related to team communication or sharing files for a presentation.

InVision LABS is devoted to improving the community as a whole. This isn’t just about internal work for InVision employees, but rather about advancing the quality of modern design.

Everything we do with LABS is a free gift to the community—that’s the only big rule we have.

With the promise of free content and a dedication to the design community, it’s fair to assume LABS will be something to watch in the coming months.

The LABS Team

At the moment there’s a core subset of workers taking on tasks for InVision LABS, some with more responsibility than others.

But the team is very fluid with many moving parts. Some people pop in-and-out as needed, although it’s generally open for anyone who wants to contribute.

“The LABS team started very small, with a dedicated team, and since then we have brought on a few more, and increased collaboration across the broader team.”

invision labs office with dog mini-fridge and logo
InVision LABS office space

There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to LABS, which operates in tandem with the fast-paced world of startup culture. The LABS project is viewed as an extension of InVision with the same marketing team and very similar goals.

Based on the immediate success of Craft there is a growing number of people dedicating themselves to LABS projects. This is good news since it’ll likely be around for a while, and opportunities are still fluid enough to allow new ideas from anyone.

And thankfully most people at InVision are creatives, so they’ve given their full support to the idea since inception.

“There was shared passion early on around having a sort of ‘no rules’ creative space that we could use to try out crazy ideas without fear. If there was any uncertainty at the beginning, there isn’t much now.”

invision labs office wireframe sketches
InVision office whiteboard

But it wasn’t just internal members who were psyched about the idea. Designers from various social networks sent messages of adoration for Craft.

Whenever anyone creates a new product, they never really know what sort of impact it’ll have. There are always hurdles with marketing and market fit, along with other variables that can be tough to predict.

This made InVision’s Craft launch even more exciting and memorable.

“We figured it might go over well, but we were blown away by the crazy amount of love it received at a truly viral level.”

And interestingly enough this goes far beyond just designers at InVision.

Their marketing design team has been placed in charge of branding for all aspects of LABS. This carves out a small hole in most areas of the company with a couple teammates heavily invested in LABS’ continual growth.

Looking Towards The Future

It’s hard to say what to expect from LABS because the InVision team is still figuring out what it is.

invision labs office logo wooden blocks
InVision LABS block logo

But I(and others) love the idea of an incubator for free design tools. And when asked about the LABS launch process, the team did mention a lesson learned regarding the importance of tools in the design process.

“When you take something people do over and over again, and find a way to make it even a little easier, the impact and appreciation is extraordinary, and that’s very fulfilling.”

Since the concept hasn’t really been nailed down, the idea of LABS is still very much fluid. But if we had to pin down a definition I’d say it’s an incubator operating as part of InVision with the goal of creating free design tools that improve the designer’s workflow.

When I asked about future projects or plugins I was met with a wall of secrecy. The LABS team is not ready to reveal anything yet, but I was assured that big plans are in store for the future.

Thankfully I was able to get a small hint:

Users can expect to see Craft integrate deeper with InVision, as we are aiming to build more and more bridges between the two.

I asked about profits coming from LABS and if there were any plans for monetization. But I was told that LABS is more about giving back. This is a gift for the design community and not merely a vehicle for premium merchandise.

InVision already offers premium services and they feel it’s better to give back free resources instead of adding more paid content onto their brand.

thanks for using invision note
InVision office corkboard @ClarkValberg

So is LABS around for the long haul?

Considering there’s a whole landing page dedicated to the LABS project, I’m willing to assume this will become(or already is) a permanent wing of InVision’s business structure.

And after skimming the LABS website I noticed a small submission form asking designers to submit their own ideas. So if you have an idea for a webapp, plugin, or some other nifty design tool, you can work with InVision to release it together.

Visit the LABS webpage to find the submission form near the bottom of the page. You can submit your idea directly to the team and see if it’s a good fit.

labs craft invision app signup form
InVision LABS idea submission form

InVision takes pride in their work and the design community as a whole, so you know that anything published by LABS will be of the highest quality and the greatest value to designers.

But aside from helping with LABS, there’s also plenty of room at InVision for a full-time career.

It’s not just fun to work at a place where ideas like this can come to life so quickly; it’s downright inspiring.

If you share a passion for design and improving the workflow of designers then consider joining the team.

Many positions are remote and InVision offers quality benefits for creatives. There aren’t many places like this where you can contribute to a product so beloved by designers the world over.

InVision and its LABS associate are laying the foundation for a brilliant future in the design space. And if you’re unfamiliar with InVision check out their website to see what all the fuss is about.

Author: Jake Rocheleau

Jake is a writer covering a broad range of topics from UI/UX design to illustration and digital design trends. You can find out more on his portfolio site or follow his updates on Twitter @jakerocheleau.