Design Tools I Can’t Live Without
Tools You Can Use
We asked our favorite designers…what design tools can’t you live without?
My Macbook Pro 15 Retina, Moleskine & More
For me, I would say that the most important things are my little Moleskine notepad with a 5.6mm mechanical pencil, my Macbook Pro 15 Retina laptop with headphones and my Nexus 4 phone so I can connect to the Internet. I think with those I can work from anywhere.
Omnifocus, TeuxDeux, Lift App, VSCO CAM, Instacast & More
Omnifocus – I’ve been using it for two weeks, and it’s officially integrated into my life. It’s the ultimate GTD (Getting Things Done) app. It’s for Mac and iOS only. I love it because any thought or task that enters my mind goes right into the “inbox” which I can review and sort later. All of my todos for my work and life are in Omnifocus inside projects and contexts. At any time I can focus on only things at “work” or “designing” or check out all the things I need to do for my band, WMC fest, home improvement, chores, etc. My life is definitely less stressful knowing any time something comes my way I can put it into Omnifocus and forget about it until it matters. It’s a little on the expensive side, but if you’re into GTD, this is probably the king of GTD apps.
TeuxDeux – Super simple and well designed todo app. I used this a lot before I integrated Omnifocus into my routine. I like how it carries over todos you didn’t complete for other days and has such a slick and intuitive user interface. Designers would love this. It costs a small monthly fee but it’s worth it.
Lift App – For building habits. A super simple way of staying committed to habits you are trying to start, keep, or quit. Beautiful interface on smartphones and the web. I use this daily to keep track of my morning routines, exercise habits, or other things I want to remember to do daily. But I use this for personal development habits only. You don’t use this to put your todos into. But things like “drink more water” or “cold shower.” When you do a habit for the day, check it off and move on. It inspires you to keep going by offering encouragement for chaining together multiple days of checking in. It even has a social side where your friends give you “props” for your actions. The social aspect with the dead simple UX make this actually FUN and rewarding to start new habits. It’s helped me start a morning ritual that has gotten me out of bed 2 hours before I have to!
VSCO CAM: Amazing photo app for iOS. Ever wonder how people get such amazing looking photos from their iPhones? This is how. The best camera app I’ve used and you can send photos directly into Instagram from the app and its filters are better.
Instacast: To listen to all my fav design related podcasts like Adventures in Design and the Go Media podcast of course! Available on iOS. Not exactly design related, but this is a tool I couldn’t live without!
Others I like: Buffer App, Spotify, Day One for journaling, Evernote, Pocket, Feedly.
Moom by Many Tricks
Moom: I’m OCD about the software that lives inside of my MacBook Air. So OCD, that I use MooM to make sure all of my application windows are perfectly centered and sized on my screen.
My favorite tool these days is Sketch. It’s a vector-based graphics program that is basically Photoshop without all the heft and unnecessary functionality. Perfect for UI/UX designers building apps fast. Not only is it easy to use, it makes exporting for development a lot faster, with built-in tools to export assets and log CSS styling.
Pencil and Paper
The space-age tool I lean on the most and can’t live without is a suite of products conceived by a maverick start-up from parts unknown called “a Faber-Castell HB pencil & 8.5 x 11 text stock paper”. As far away as I might allow myself to get sucked into the vortex of digital technology, I can always trust my Flintstonian pre-wacom technology to ground my ideas and get me back to the proper starting block. I love sketch books and do my best to keep filling them up, but I love the feel and tooth of standard old-fashioned printer paper. I thank the stars for my MacBook and Adobe illustrator, and I love keeping up with the latest and greatest digital stuff, but the ideas don’t “happen” in there. They can’t. Thumbnailing and sketching is the earliest and purest iteration of my ideas. As long as I keep that perspective, things get made, and made the right way.
WACOM Intuos 5, etc.
When hand drawing work, I use copy paper for sketches, 100# Bristol paper for final art, rubber eraser, Bic#2 .07 pencil, tuff stuff eraser stick, Micron pens and a Drum scanner at Fed Ex Office to scan in final art. These tools have become part of my system; I have felt comfortable with this system over the past 5+ years and use it to get the final results. I am at the point if I don’t have these specific items I’M LOST!
When drawing vectors , I use WACOM Intuos 5 using Illustrator and Photoshop. When drawing vectors I draw my image on paper, then scan it into Photoshop, then throw it into Illustrator. I am so used to drawing by hand that I need to see my own line art before I can create it into a vector image. This way, I know I am getting results closest to my hand drawn style.
Wacom Cintiq 22HD, Logitech Mouse, Mac, Dropbox & More
Wacom Cintiq 22HD: I use this to sketch out and brush up things in Photoshop. Having the ability to draw directly on the screen really merges the physicality of drawing with the benefits of digital design. I use this both in the initial phases of playing with concepts and sometimes in the final stages of icon design when I work with lighting and color.
My Logitech G9x mouse: Most of my day is used with a hand on a mouse, both during work and play. I’ve been using the G9 mouse from Logitech for the past 6 years, and I must have gone through at least a couple of them. Initially build for gaming, they offer great precision, a nice fit and the ability to load up weights to get the exact surface resistance you want.
My Macs: I realize that it might be redundant to mention this, as my Macs aren’t a questions of favorability but rather a necessity for my work. I interchangeably use my Mac Pro setup at home and my Macbook Pro Retina when I’m working remotely. I guess they do fit the bill of tools that I can’t live without.
Dropbox: Working on multiple machines, often changing workstations a couple of times a day, Dropbox has become my go-to service for keeping my files synced up. Working with large PSD files and making sure that I always have access to the most current iteration of a project is a large part of the challenges a designer faces. Dropbox helps me solve this in an elegant way.
Mail Act-on and Inbox Zero: As a business owner, a substantial amount of my time is spent getting back to people. As such, making sure that I’m on top of my inbox easily becomes a focal point of my workday. The plugin Mail Act-on helps me direct the flow of my incoming messages and helps me exercise my email Kung-Fu so I have to spend less time in Mail.app and more time in Photoshop.
Pencil and iPad Sketching Tools
A pencil: while it may not be cool, new or innovative, it’s worth mentioning in this world of computers, tablets and Wacoms. The pencil and paper is STILL the fastest way to communicate an idea visually. Not enough designers use it. As I enter my 16th professional year as a graphic designer, I am sketching more now than ever.”
Also, iPad sketching tools – Layers, Bamboo and Paper are all great tools for quickly sketching ideas during client meetings.
Classic Sport Rollerball Pen, Wacom Tablet & More
I use a Classic Sport Rollerball Pen when taking notes or sketching or looking stylish.
I also use Dropbox, digital storage which keeps my pockets light and my Wacom Tablet.
And Bienfang Marker paper – I think i’m the only one who still uses these pads!
Deviant Art Brush Pack: I was made aware of this fantastic brush pack by artist Megan Lara, and it has become my go-to staple pack for pretty much all my design projects. These are great brushes that actually behave the way you expect and want them to. They have become an invaluable tool in my arsenal. Plus, it’s free!”
I bought the VFX WorkShops Digital Painting Brush Pack on a whim just to try them out, and they have become an everyday tool I use to build a lot of my environmental textures. Great brushes with a lot of versatility and depth and they can really help bring your digital work to life.