What about anonymous comments on Penpot shared prototypes and designs?

Community member @prononext has shared their needs for anonymous comments (no need for a Penpot account) for shared prototypes. I quote from their feature request.

By implementing this feature, we can create a more meaningful and productive conversation with our customers and enhance the overall effectiveness of our design process. The customer communication is where the success lies, and this new feature will take it to the next level.

Similar requests are commonplace for other collaborative design tools and yet it’s hard to see this at work. Why is that? I can’t speak for other tools but I can share some of the rationale behind tagging this type of requests as “not a priority”.

The opinionated “why not”

Penpot’s aim is to go beyond existing broken feedback workflows. Stakeholders (aka clients) don’t feel they belong to the design process because it’s a terrible experience every time they try to use the design tool to provide feedback. I’ll share a fun story as an example.

A few weeks ago I was having dinner at a nice restaurant in Palo Alto (California) before flying back to Spain and I ended up having a conversation with a perfect stranger sitting next to me at the bar. It turns out this perfect stranger was a super senior executive at a tech megacorp who became quite excited about Penpot and our ambition to be truly inclusive for all stakeholders. He would look me in the eyes and would almost yell "I hate F***! I really really hate that tool! Why is everything so tiny? I can’t use it properly! I can’t give feedback or review the work of my design team! It’s a mess! It’s horrible! I need an alternative! Please, please, be that alternative!"*

Most probably this passionate executive was suffering from a dysfunctional feedback workflow. Who knows? Perhaps he was even in the need of guest commenting!

However, the root of the problem here was that he never felt he was part of the design process, at best he’d a “guest” from time to time. The tool had no convincing way to prove to him he was a “power user” or VIP.

At Penpot we would like to make it obvious to those stakeholders that there’s a ton of value for them in having a fruitful conversation within the tool. This means a great onboarding experience but also a clear incentive-driven set of features. In other words, we would rather redefine that experience rather than “patch” it. It actually takes much more work, but the ROI feels much larger!

The technical “why not”

Anonymous or guest commenting is a risky business. It can be done but it’s a never-ending whack-a-mole game. One of the biggest risks is that you can’t easily enforce terms of service for anonymous users, so you might have to point at the project owner as the ultimate responsible of what was edited or added as “anonymous”. People always think of the happy paths for a specific feature but as a product team we need to consider all the ways this could be maliciously exploited (spam, storage, phishing, intrusion attacks, etc).

There are various ways to implement this. You might want to have a hardcoded platform-wide “guest” user that is legally impersonated by any number of sessions. Effectively, you’d have a password-less user. You could also create a new password-less guest-user on the spot (Google docs probably uses this technique) just for that session. In both cases, you need to keep all this data persistent.

Since password-less guest users can’t self-identify, you need to ask for some metadata (give me your name!) before allowing to post (or else, it’s a different type of mess), thus causing a bit of friction every time the stakeholder wants to give feedback and quickly ending up in one person using different ways to refer to themselves. I might start with Pablo Ruiz-Múzquiz but then use “P” or “@diacritica” depending on my mood each time.

Mockup by outstanding community member @prononext where they show required fields wizard

As a designer, you’d love to comment back and continue that thread within the tool but there’s no way Penpot can notify such activity by email/app to the stakeholder (unless you ask for an email address, at which point this starts to dangerously look like multiples logins while also increasing spam/phishing attacks incentive!).

There are valid tech workarounds for every single issue, but we would prefer to work on a better solution altogether and test that before investing resources in this potential rabbit hole.

I hope I made clear that stakeholder feedback is critical to Penpot. We’re considering different ways to make Penpot really accessible and valuable to all stakeholders, not only designers. You can look at what we’re doing for developers, for instance. Features like Flex Layout bring developers into the tool, willingly! Similarly, we’re looking forward to finding ways to make Penpot a wonderful experience for all product stakeholders.

I would like to thank @prononext and other community members for their thoughtful requests. We get so much valuable feedback (I mean, look at their github issue, that’s the way!). I also want to apologize if we sometimes have to say “not yet” or “not exactly that way”!


Thank you very much, Pablo, for taking the time for such a detailed explanation. As an UX/UI designer, every time I read something like this I learn a lot!

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Hello @diacritica,

Thank you for your detailed explanation regarding my proposed feature of public (non-logged-in) comments on Penpot. I appreciate your willingness to open up the discussion to gather more ideas on how to involve customers in the design process in the best possible way.

As I mentioned in my previous comment on the Github feature request, there are various ways to realize the feature of comments for non-logged-in users, and I would like to offer a few more examples that could be considered:

  • A setting checkbox to disable public comments entirely, giving users the option to turn off the feature if it is not needed or desired.
  • An additional permission setting in user profiles to allow users to delete comments, providing more control over the content and quality of the comments section.
  • A setting to create a list of predefined project stakeholders who need to enter their correct email address before commenting, or receive an individual link, so it is immediately clear who commented.
  • The share popup could be edited to include stakeholders, making it easier to involve them in the process.

I hope that these suggestions will help the Penpot team to develop this feature in a way that meets all the necessary security and logical aims, while also meeting the needs of Penpot users. I look forward to further discussions and collaboration on this topic.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Potentially, the percieved need to have anonymous comments might be less high when sharing outside of teams would be easier? (aka sharing with people who have a penpot account but are not team members and should not/do not need to have access all files of a team which might be frequent with agencies, freelancers and open source projects)

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Yes, I would argue that feature could also help a lot.

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I also think anonymus commenting would be great. But even if you are not going to do it. Inviting someone to become part of the team should be a LOT simpler. I am collaborating with a designer right now who is coming from Graphic design so used to apps like indesign, illustrator and such. Since its a pain to use those, I am trying to get her on board with me to use penpot in our projects.

She does not care about Penpot, I do. :smiley:

So, I want to make it super painless for her to use it. In this particular case, I imported her pages from the pdf, into a penpot file and added my comments to it so we can discuss parts of design that way. First, she cennot comment if not logged in. Fine.

Then I send her an invite to become part of team.

I test this myself to see how it goes. Firs she makes the account, then email confirmation, then questions about what she does as she works, then how many designers are in her team, then onboarding …

That is too much. I get that you want to understand your users, and want them to understand the app.
But that is too much to just share the file fir commenting.

I love penpot, and want to use it as much as possible with the people I work with.

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Your comment left me thinking if we could know beforehand if that “sharing + invite to create account” action should deserve a super-fast registration process. There is a risk of missing key information to better understand the new user (after all, we basically ask 3 questions) but there’s also a risk of having some friction for that specific use case. I’m not sure whether adding anonymous comment is the “solution” to this or rather a different onboarding process for registration-through-invite-to-comment use case… hmm…


I beleive there should be a way to share the file without having to register. For instance, it does not have to be anonymus completely. It can be some form authentication that does not mean the user needs to become part of the team.

For example:

I click the share button > In the modal I choose the email adress of the person I want to share it with > and click send invite.

The person on the other end receives the link and the temporary password > person clicks the lnk > penpot file page opens with the modal asking for email and [temp] password > next step in modal asks user to set the new password > done. She is in the file.

This way you do not loose the opportunity to ask normal questions durring the registration process, and sharing of files become easier.

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