Alright, here’s the deal. Airtable is a wicked awesome tool. The label of ‘tool’ doesn’t even come close to doing it justice. In laymen’s terms, Airtable makes the tasks of gathering, engaging, analyzing and enhancing data so easy that I’d almost consider trusting a first grader to handle the leads for the online travel agency I help out with on occasion. Furthermore, Airtable is flat out clean. I’m a little OCD, so there’s neat and tidy…and then there’s my standard for organized. Simply put, I’m a happy camper since I’ve shifted over to Airtable since it is so simple to keep things in order and know that the automated portions will simply work.

What is Airtable Exactly?

As I mentioned above, Airtable is real monster of a tool. On a technical level, Airtable is a relational database that doubles as an online collaboration platform. First time users (and many returning frequent flyers) find the platform visually rich and very engaging. While Airtable is a digital tool and digital tools often come with the assumption that human interaction is limited. This is not the case with Airtable – I’d even go so far as to say that it helps cultivate meaningful conversation and draws out intelligent insights that were previously unknown.

Diverse Applications

Airtable is a Swiss Army knife of sorts. Businesses may see it as a CRM with extra capabilities that come as a bonus and your crazy Aunt with the super intense Beanie Baby collection could use it to catalog and inventory all of her precious bean filled toy critters. Students, whether we’re talking high schoolers, undergrads, graduate or doctoral could also find Airtable as a saving grace since the process of tracking assignments, grades, and the dreaded task of a group project become a breeze with Airtable.

Airtable Vocab

Before we break down the three major plans, it’s a worthwhile cause to do a quick review of the terminology used in the Airtable universe (the following is borrowed directly from the Airtable support site).

Base: A Base is a single database containing all the information you need for a project or interest. It’s the equivalent of a workbook in traditional spreadsheet programs.

Table: Each Base can have one or more tables, similar to worksheets in a spreadsheet. Tables are used to hold a list of one particular type of item.

Views: Different ways to look at the data in a table. You can save your own views, meaning you can have unique settings for column and row order, hidden columns, and filters.

Fields: Fields are the database equivalent of a spreadsheet column. Unlike in spreadsheets, each Airtable field can have a special field type for different kinds of rich content. The field types include: file attachment, checkbox, phone number, long text, and select dropdown. They help ensure that your data stays tidy and consistent.

Record: Records are the database equivalent of a row in a spreadsheet. Each record is basically an item in your list.  In a table of books, each record is a different book.

Plans and Pricing

The plan breakdown and associated pricing scheme is simple and an easy expense to justify – at least in my opinion. There are three core price tiers and then the always mysterious enterprise option.

Airtable Pricing
Airtable Pricing

Free Plan

The Free plan, aka everyone’s favorite plan, is well…free! This introductory level allows for unlimited bases, 1,200 records per base, 2GB of storage per base and a two-week revision period. To make things even sweeter, there is no cap on how many users you can have on this plan.

Plus Plan

Next up we have the Plus plan, which will cost you $12 per user per month if you pay on a monthly basis. An annual one time payment will save you a few dollars and bring you monthly expense down to $10/user/month. As with the free plan, the plus plan allows for an unlimited number of bases. The cap on records increases to 5,000 and the storage space jumps up to 5GB. Lastly, you get 6 months of revision and snapshot history, which is quite handy in the event things manage to go totally sideways.

Pro Plan

The final standard plan is the Pro plan option, which costs $24/user/month and the annual price pack brings the damage down to $20/user/month. With the Pro plan you get unlimited bases, with 50,000 records per base and a whopping 20 GB of storage per base. The revision period also doubles to a full year of backups to fall back upon.

Major Features

The very essence of Airtable is a system for creating and editing mounds of information (aka databases) in a group setting – do note that there is no rule saying you can’t go solo if you desire to do so. For those not in the know, a database is just a fancy term for a set, or sets, of things grouped together. Airtable takes a very existential approach to this whole open definition because you can literally organize and make sense of information about anything.

Airtable Empty Base
An empty Airtable base. Seems kinda familiar, doesn’t it?

It is also worthwhile to note that Airtable has a dash of spreadsheet software mixed into its DNA. At first glance the online platform looks an awful lot like a spreadsheet. This familiar look makes it very approachable for new users who are unsure if Airtable is for them.

The Airtable team and a bunch of power users have done us all a great favor by creating a rather large library of templates. This allows new users to dive right in with a pre-made template and middle of the road users can tailor a template to their specific needs. Regardless of where you are in your growth as an Airtable user, the templates are a huge time saver!

Teamwork & Collaboration

Another element at the core of Airtable is the ability to collaborate with your teammates. As the ‘creator’ of a table, you can invite peers and assign them to one of three levels:

Creator: this level grants the user equal authority for the base as the original creator;

Edit-Only: this level allows users to add, delete, and modify both rows and views. They cannot edit field types (aka columns).

Read-Only: self-explanatory—need we really explain that these users are unable to change any part of the base?

Getting Started with Airtable

There are three ways by which you can create a base: a pre-made template, build one from the ground up, or import a pre-existing data set. If you wish to upload a data set, it’ll have to be a CSV file, or you can simply cut and pasted if the data set is small enough.

Just as we’ve all done hundreds of times with our standard spreadsheet software, you can prep your table by freezing any number of fields or records, tweaking the format of each field, and so on. As mentioned earlier, Airtable is visually rich, and this theme continues with the formatting interface, which is filled with icons to help make sense of all the options.

Views

The ability to create and save custom views in Airtable is another key feature, and one that further supports collaboration. In addition to the classic grid view, other options are Calendar, Gallery, or even Kanban. Kanban isn’t just a way to view information differently. It’s also a methodology for working. With Airtable, you and your teammates can create kanban boards and manage your work with them. You can easily switch from kanban view to a grid view when it helps to see tasks laid out in a different fashion.

Airtable Kanban Famous Books
Example of Kanban view featuring ‘Famous People’s Favorite Books’ by David Peterson

The everyday language and plethora of icons make it easy to navigate Airtable from the get-go so you can start customizing the views of your tables with ease in no time. This relative level of ease holds true even if you lack a sound foundation with other available spreadsheet software. For instance, rather than the struggling through the complicated formulas in Excel, Airtable makes it so that it is more along the lines of asking Alexa to “show me this, but not that”. Airtable lacks a Gantt chart view (timeline views typically showing the duration of tasks and other relationships among tasks). However, in most cases, you’re better off employing a project management software if you rely on using Gantt charts.

Super Cells

Cells in Airtable can expand into a full sheet of additional information, without reloading the page or opening a new window. When a cell is expanded, you can add much more detail that might not be relevant when you’re examining the database as a grid. For example, I’ve created a database to help me keep track of my abundance of tech nick nacks, which there are a ton of in case you were wondering. I’ve reserved the grid view for easily seeing a list of everything from dongles, disk drives and mystery devices I tend to forget about and their value.

However, just like Transformers, they’re far more than what meets the eye! If you expand any cell, you will discover a wealth of additional information, such as uploaded warranties and receipts for the item, pictures of it, or just notes. Drag-and-drop uploading works, too, and there is plenty of room for images since the Plus plan comes with 2GB of storage per base and the Pro plan comes with 20GB of storage. The expanded view gives you a place for comments, where you can use @ symbols before people’s names to flag their attention.

Airtable for Your Personal Life

As discussed earlier, you can use Airtable to manage any kind of collection imaginable. For instance, my 8th grade science teacher could use it to document his extensive sneaker collection. Most collectors tend to use a database management app specific to their collection. The reason is those apps typically link to a database that has records of the items already. Most every collection can be documented using Airtable, but the disadvantage is the time it takes to set up and manually add entries. The advantage is that you can design the database to be exactly what you want it to be. If prefer convenience, you’re better off scanning barcodes. If you like a lot of control, Airtable is a great tool.

Next Steps

Do you think that Airtable could enhance, or at least streamline, your creative process? Well the best way to find out is to put it to the test first hand and take it for a test drive. You can do so by creating a free account.

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About Andrew Roche

Andrew Roche is an underwriter by day at United Wholesale Mortgage and a digital marketer by night. Andrew is currently pursuing an MBA in Marketing & Finance through the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University.