5 Design Tools We Can’t Live Without

In the design world, there is a “holy trinity” of sorts with regard to the tools that designers use. It is comprised of Adobe’s Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop. While we adore these products and use all three of them on any given day in the Fidelis shop, there are some other products that we love that aid us in our quest to build beautiful design pieces for our clients. Here are five of our favorites:

1. Unsplash

Unsplash.com provides “beautiful, free images.”
This website is a gold-mine for gorgeous photography that is completely royalty-free. I find myself returning to Unsplash time and time again because it is such a valuable source to find photos for moodboards, website mockups, print designs, desktop backgrounds, or anything that calls for stunning images. Unsplash helps us serve up the “wow” factor at initial meetings with clients before we get the chance to create our own media for them. Even if you aren’t working on a project, you can spend hours drooling over all the sheer beauty available on Unsplash. Just type “dog” into the search bar and bask in the 1,500 wonderful photos that come back. My personal favorite search term is “breakfast.”

The layout of the website is clean and organized and allows users to create collections of photos as they browse. The photos are all high-res and for those interested in photography, each photo has details describing the camera, lens, and settings that were used. You can also support the generous photographers who contribute by donating to them or crediting them in your creation.

2. Adobe Capture

Adobe Capture CC is an app for iOS that allows you to take things from the real world and put them into your designs. It transforms your iPhone into a set of versatile design tools. This app is like magic.

The first main tool in the app is one that lets you vectorize photos. It is similar to the image trace feature in illustrator but the workflow is much smoother because you can take a photo of your sketches and Capture instantly converts your drawings into vectors and places them in your Creative Cloud library.

My personal favorite feature on the app is the ability to create color palettes from things you encounter in the real world. You take a photo and Capture builds a palette from the colors in the image. I use this to take colors from a beautiful sunset or to capture the vibe of something visually pleasing that I find in nature or in a city. It even allows you to import existing photos from your camera roll and steal colors palettes from them.

It doesn’t end there as the app also lets you create textures, patterns, and brushes from anything else you can take a photo of. All of it gets instantly synched to your CC library. To top it all off, using the app is an intuitive and quite satisfying experience.

3. Coolors

Coolors.co is another online resource that is invaluable in developing color palettes that work well together. It has a remarkably simple interface that is a pleasure to use. You can choose one or a few colors as a starting point and then hit your spacebar to generate color palettes that work with those colors. The site lets you save palettes that you have generated and acts as a social network to look at and share color schemes with others. One of the most valuable features is that it provides you with RGB, CMYK, PMS, and HSB codes in one space for all the colors in your palette. Coolors also assigns fun names to each color that you can use to delight your client when presenting a brand package.

4. Dribbble

Dribbble is more of a resource than a tool, but it is one that I find myself returning to over and over again. It is a social network for designers that loosely follows a basketball metaphor in line with its name “Dribbble.” Dribbblers can post “shots,” which are 800×600 images of designs. Users can follow, comment on, and like each others’ content as well as place it in a “bucket” similar to a Pinterest board. You also have the ability to “rebound” by posting a design that is inspired by another post, and people can host “playoffs” where designers compete by creating designs from a prompt. Agencies can create “teams” for their designers to organize all of their content in one place. In addition, Dribbble acts as a marketplace for people to hire designers and agencies. They ensure quality content by using an invite system for membership and limiting the number of shots a user can post each month.

My favorite uses for Dribbble are maintaining a personal portfolio, getting inspiration, and interacting with other designers around me. Also, posting designs that I loved, but were ultimately rejected by clients, is quite cathartic and allows for commiserating with other designers. Join the community and start sharing!

5. Good Old Fashioned Pencil and Paper

There is something to be said about the infinite freedom of a blank sheet of paper. When I get excited about a new project, it’s easy to jump to looking for inspiration online, or opening Illustrator, but it is much more valuable to slow down and reach for the sketchbook.  Sketching allows for you to stay “loose” by creating a bunch of different ideas while avoiding the pitfall of getting locked into a single direction when going straight to Illustrator. I usually go about it by creating 20 or so thumbnails of different variations of an idea before I move to a digital tool. I often use Adobe Capture to take the sketch and develop the idea. There is also something sacred about the process of interacting with a physical medium and letting your hand create something new. One of our heroes, Aaron Draplin, is a strong proponent of the value of starting with the sketchbook. I love this video in which he works through his logo design process. Field Notes, Moleskins, and larger sketchbooks are all great options for getting ideas down on paper.

Photo by Kira auf der Heide. Guess where I got it – hint: it’s the first tool in this article.