In general, project management software has struggled to be beautiful and useable. Most end up looking like arcane spreadsheets, understood only by high tech manager mages. But the unfortunately named Dapulse (starting at $29 per month for five users) adds a breath of fresh, high-design air to the world of business. It’s simple and colorful, and lets you easily organize your work. But for the same price, or less, you can get far more powerful—if uglier and more complicated—tools for managing your work. Check the case studies of companies, like using Dapulse.

Many project management services offer licenses on a per-user per-month model, but Dapulse charges for groups of five licenses. This makes comparing prices across services tricky. Thankfully, Dapulse also offers a 30-day free trial of the service, and won’t ask you for a credit card. Note also that you can save 18 percent if you opt for yearly billing, or 32 percent if you pay for two years at a time.

A Dapulse Basic account will run you $29 per month for five users. This snags you unlimited collaboration boards Dapulse uses to coordinate tasks for your company, basic customer support, and 5GB of storage. Pricing wise, this is a pretty steep entry point. ProWorkflowcosts the same for five users, provides ten times the storage, and includes heaps of advanced project management and billing tools that are absent from Dapulse.

Dapulse Plus costs $48 per month for five users, and gives you access to private boards, sharable boards (which are visible to users outside your company), priority customer support, and 50GB of storage among other features.

The Pro level account will cost you $72 per month for five users. This tier adds single sign-on using Google, and the ability to restrict access to certain boards. This tier also offers 24-hour customer support, though this feature is apparently not yet fully operational. Dapulse also lists a top-level Enterprise package for $144 a month for five users, but that tier is not yet available. That’s not too unusual in this space; PureCloud Collaborate is also rolling out new features and pricing options.

Like Basecamp, Dapulse does not offer an entirely free option. You can look to several other services like Zoho Projects, AsanaFree at Asana, or LeanKit for a limited but permanently free experience.

dapulse1Features and Interface
Dapulse is beautiful. I’ve tried to think of other ways to describe its highly responsive interface, which uses pops of bold color against ample white space, but I have completely failed. Everything on the screen responds to a click or mouseover, and the system is among the quickest I’ve encountered. Flourishes like little crowns to denote the owner of a task are as cute as they are useful. If your single criterion for a project manager is beauty, then look no further than Dapulse.

The top of Dapulse houses your search, which covers entries and people, along with shortcuts to alerts and a directory of other users. The right rail has spots for your main boards, private boards, shared boards, and items you want to track.

Dapulse is built around rows of items, which are called Pulses. Each Pulse can represent anything, but usually an item of responsibility like a project or a specific task. Pulses are stacked into different, customizable sections on each board. So you might have a stack of Pulses for tasks to accomplish this week, and another for next week’s tasks. If you don’t complete a Pulse right away, you can click and drag it to the next stack. Easy.

You add context to each Pulse by adding columns to the stack. Columns can show status, who’s responsible for a Pulse, a date, or text. For example, you can add a column to show who is in charge of a Pulse representing a task for the week. You can add another column to show the exact due date. You can then add several status columns to show the different stages that the Pulse will have to pass through.

Status columns are the most important part of Dapulse. As a Pulse progresses, you select a different block of color and text to reflect the, well, status. Green is default for complete, but you can select any color to represent a particular issue, and enter custom text as well. You can also click the corner of each status box to open a threaded conversation, providing even more context about a particular stage.

Clicking on a Pulse opens a new page where collaborators can share information about that pulse. There are spaces at the top to upload files, host question and answer sessions, and leave notes. Below is a Facebook-esque update feed, recording activity and comments on a pulse. Throughout the Pulse, you can use Twitter-style @ replies to highlight a particular user, pulse, or board. Neat.

But for all Dapulse’s glitz (and there is a lot) and focus on simplicity (there’s a lot of that, too), I felt that there simply weren’t enough features. For example, you can subscribe to boards or pulses, and you can assign responsibility for a pulse, but there’s no easy place to see what each individual is responsible for. You can search for this information or see a disorganized list of links on each user’s profile, but that’s it. ProWorkflow is a far more complex (and uglier) service, but it offers both high-level project management and easy task management so everyone can see what they have to do and how it fits into the larger picture.

Dapulse also frustrated me because there wasn’t a good way to link day-to-day work with high-level projects. Let’s say you have a board for your company’s monthly goals. And then you create another board for your team that breaks down how they’ll accomplish one of those goals. Though you can add text indicating that individual tasks are part of a larger project, there’s no direct link between the two.

Asana is more focused on task management that makes clear connections between tasks, sub-tasks, projects, teams, and individuals. LeanKit uses kanban, a system for project management that displays tasks as cards moving across a board, and does a great job of linking individual tasks to larger projects. You can open up a LeanKit card to see an internal board of sub-task cards, or tie a card directly to another card on a different board. Dapulse can’t do any of this.

On the extreme other end from Dapulse is Smartsheet, which is about as beautiful as a spreadsheet. In fact, it is an enormously powerful spreadsheet, capable of linking between tasks and even performing the arithmetic common on spreadsheet software. It’s ugly and intimidating, compared to Dapulse, but it’s also endlessly powerful.

More about Dapulse on PCMag.