30 Tools No Designer Can Live Without

designer-tools

Designers are extremely busy people. Fact. Not only do they have to make time to find inspiration for their next project, manage feedback, attend meetings, and communicate with their clients, they also have to find the time to actually sit down and do the work.

Let’s not forget the time and effort they have to put into mocking up an idea, creating a visual for sharing or keeping abreast of modern design trends. The role of a designer is so much more than just ‘coloring in’.

To ease the workload of time-poor designers, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the best software, apps, tools, skills, websites and resources that no designer can live without. Each of these tools has been carefully selected for its ability to help you streamline your work, find inspiration easily, show off your amazing design skills, and make collaboration easier.

We’ve broken the guide down into the 10 key areas so you can instantly find what you’re looking for — you are busy people after all. Check it out and feel free to let us know if we’ve missed any off the list.

Hardware Tools

Hardware

If you’re serious about design, there are some essential pieces of kit you will need. We have listed the top 3 pieces of hardware for designers below.

iMac or MacBook
Strictly speaking, now that most design software is available on both PC and Mac, it doesn’t particularly matter which platform you choose. However, the Mac’s pedigree, its powerful and intuitive OS and its built-in support for design peripherals make it the overwhelming favorite for design professionals.

Did we mention they also look great in any creative workspace? Your choice of desktop (iMac) or laptop (MacBook Pro and MacBook Air) will obviously depend on whether you will be traveling a lot, or indeed whether you like to work from home or in coffee shops. If you prefer to be flexible, we would always recommend the MacBook.

DSLR Camera
You may not always want to use your own photography in your design work, but it’s definitely worthwhile having a good DSLR camera on hand so you can easily document ideas and capture images to use for textures, backgrounds and more.

One of the most widely used DSLR cameras is the Canon EOS 1200D, predominantly for its relatively low cost and its ability to deliver 18MP images.

Moleskine
With all this technology available, you still can’t beat good old fashioned pen and paper to brainstorm ideas and concepts. So why not do it in style and treat yourself to a decent sketchbook from Moleskine or Field Notes? Keep it in your bag so you can quickly jot down ideas wherever you are.

Research Tools

Research Tools

Now that we’ve taken a look at some fantastic pieces of hardware, you’ll need to get your creative juices flowing.  In this next section, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best resources available that will help you to get inspired.

Dribbble
Dribbble is billed as ‘show and tell for designers.’ In a nutshell, it is the premier resource for discovering and connecting with designers around the globe. Designers can upload images and GIFs (or ‘shots’ as they are referred to on Dribbble) and other users can ask questions, provide feedback, and debate a designer’s visual choices.

Computer Arts Subscription
Ever since its inaugural issue back in 1995, Computer Arts has been the go-to magazine for anyone into graphic design. Each and every issue is jam-packed with advice, opinion, recent projects and an abundance of inspiration, making it an invaluable resource for any creative professional. If that wasn’t enough, you can also get your fill of Computer Arts Magazine in print, a fully-interactive iPad edition or both.

Niice
Niice is a fantastic tool for gathering ideas and expressing your ideas faster. Its highly intuitive drag and drop interface allows you to create mood boards in a matter of minutes. You also have access to a private personal space where you can collect images and inspiration without worrying about them showing up in public searches.

Layout Tools

Layout Tools

Unfortunately, no one has yet to develop a tool that will design a layout for you. However, there are some tools that can help make the process easier.

Modularscale
One of the most common challenges for any web design project is determining accurate ratios for font sizes. This is where Modularscale comes into its own. This app helps you to decide on accurate ratios for your font sizes, as well as providing CSS font size codes for when you have to copy and paste into a stylesheet.

Responsify
Online grid generators are extremely handy for custom responsive HTML/CSS templates and Responsify is arguably the best of the bunch. Key features include the ability to generate your own grid, or even use these grids as a reference so you can create your own from scratch. You can also use Responsify as a great visualization tool to better understand the use of white space between columns and page content.

Golden Ratio Calculator
Although not necessarily a new innovation in the world of design (it is almost 2,400 years old after all), the golden ratio is found almost everywhere in nature and it applies to design composition as well. It states that “two elements are in perfect harmony when measured to the ratio of 1:1.618”.

Obviously, you don’t need to achieve this ratio for every single relationship in your design work, but understanding it’s value as a timeless design fundamental is certainly worthwhile. This handy calculator should help you to calculate and scale the golden ratio for any workspace.

Typography Tools

Typography Tools

Typography is one of the most challenging yet rewarding parts of any design process. Not only do you have to choose a suitable typeface, you also need to decide on appropriate line spacing, height, point size and so much more. Getting your typography right will make your design work more powerful, more readable, and generally much more effective. If you’re still not convinced by the power of typography, a recent study revealed that people are significantly more likely to agree with statements that are written in Baskerville than in Comic Sans or Helvetica.

Typewolf
Typewolf was launched in 2013 as a response to a general “lack of good resources for choosing fonts for design projects”. Everything about Typewolf has been meticulously approached from a designer’s perspective, most notably the ability to see how real type performs on actual websites as opposed to endless lines of ‘lorem ipsum.’

Typekit
Typekit is a subscription-based font service that curates thousands of fonts from a range of high-quality foundry partners into one library. This makes it perfect for simple browsing, use in presentations or on the web. It’s an endless source of typographic inspiration.

Typecast
Typecast is a tool for designers that provides accurate and standards-based typography on the web. You have over 23,000 web fonts at your disposal, allowing you to combine and compare looks side-by-side. You can also expand your type pairs into fully scaled, web-ready, kerned and colorized stacks of real content thanks to effortlessly simple visual controls.

Branding Tools

Branding Tools

A logo is a visual representation of what your company stands for and therefore acts as the “face” of your business. This makes them a fantastic way of promoting your brand both on- and off-line, and a fantastic way of standing out from your competition. Unfortunately, getting them right can be tricky.

If you’re struggling with your branding, we’ve compiled a list of high quality logo creation tools to help you create your brand.

Spaces
Spaces is a fantastically simple to use tool for creating striking logos in a matter of minutes. All you need to do is input your company name and use a few keywords to describe what it does, and Spaces will automatically generate hundreds of relevant logos. You also have the option to make minor alterations such as colors and typography to create a design that truly reflects your brand.

GraphicSprings
Another powerful logo creation tool is GraphicSprings. In fact, it’s probably the most powerful on our list, which is mainly down to the sheer number of customizations and alterations you can make. One of the most useful features is the option to categorize possible logos based on your business type, such as food and drink, sports and abstract. If that wasn’t enough, you can also hire one of GraphicSprings’ in-house designers to create an entirely custom logo for you.

A Pen and Paper
Although we have included a few handy tools for logo creation in this section, most designers would argue that the most important tool a designer could use to create a logo would be pencil and paper. This is because your idea has to come from an initial thought process, which is then roughed out using a pencil and paper. Unfortunately, going straight to the computer can remove this critical thought process. Once you have your rough idea, you can then use software to fully flesh out your logo designs.

Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are other essential color scheme applications, photography software, illustration tools and presentation resources every designer needs to consider. Check out the rest of the list on the Precision Printing blog.