Tools of the Trade: Apps I Can't Imagine Work Without

For a while, I've been receiving emails with questions about tools I use for daily work. I wrote a bit on the topic in my older post about how my design process works, but this was mostly about managing projects and deliverables, not apps I use daily for my work, so I thought: hey, whatever, might as well write a toolkit post, right?

Let me just get started by saying that just like buying a pair of Jordans doesn't make you a basketball player, buying all the apps that other designer uses doesn't make you a designer. A lot of things I use came out of my experience and personal preferences, so please don't treat this as an ultimate list of tools to be a better designer.

File management: Sync

Sync is my go-to Dropbox replacement for more sensitive data. They put a lot of focus on privacy and encryption, so I prefer using Sync over Dropbox for most of my stuff. I keep my Dropbox paid up to collaborate because I love their collaboration tools, but Sync took over as a place where I keep my stuff.

Design: Affinity Suite + Sketch

Even though I've been a Sketch guy for a while now (pretty much since before Sketch was really a serious contender to Photoshop in the space), I kept my Adobe CS6 installed on my computer up to the point where Serif released the first version of Affinity Designer. A while later they released Affinity Photo and basically I was sorted. Now that they are planning to also release a DTP app called Affinity Publisher, I'll be able to absolutely ignore Adobe forever, which I hope to do. My current toolkit looks as follows:

  • logos, icons, complex vectors: Affinity Designer
  • photo manipulation: Affinity Photo
  • interface design: Sketch

Prototyping: Framer.js

Love it or hate it, HTML & JavaScript are still very viable tools to prototype, especially when you're doing more complex prototypes or need to actually pull some real data down from some API. This is why even though I've been working with pretty much all the interaction and prototyping tools, I ended up with Framer as my first choice. The learning curve is probably the steepest, but the rewards are worth it.

Coding: Sublime Text 3 + Vintageous

Back when I worked as a product designer in Kanbanery, I've been working closely with sickill, who basically pointed me at how to be good at Vim. Since then, I've been mostly using Mac flavour of Vim as my primary text editor everywhere, but sometimes I looked over at friends using Sublime. Couple of times I felt like I might switch, switched, tried to work in Vintage mode (as a Vim user you really get used to having all the commands in your home row), got annoyed that it barely works and gave up. That was until I discovered Vintageous, a third-party Vim mode for Sublime. Since then, I've been happy ever after with my code editor being the best of Vim's functionality and Sublime's cool addons that don't require you to spend a day setting up.

Other things I use daily at work

  • Noisli. If you've been working remotely for a while, you're probably used to working from places that provide a certain “white noise” ambience that can actually help you focus, like coffee shops, airports, trains etc. If you want these noises to travel with you everywhere, get Noisli.
  • Spectacle. If you're working on Mac, you're probably aware how broken the window management is. Spectacle gives you a bunch of useful shortcuts to actually make it less terrible, like “make current window take left half of the screen” or “make current window actually full screen without going into this weird Mac OS X fullscreen mode”. Highly recommended.
  • Sip. Because design is often about creative stealing, right?
  • Bartender. Because having a lot of icons in your Mac OS menu bar is literally the worst.
  • Focus. For those days where your will to work instead of looking at funny videos on the internet is just not strong enough. Also has a built-in (kinda) Pomodoro timer, so I don't need another app for this.
  • Pinterest. Obvious tool for obvious reasons: sometimes you just need to gather a lot of reference images in one place and Pinterest is great at that.

…and that's it! If you have any thoughts or tips on what you think is missing from this list, or if you want to ask me about how I use any of those, feel free to reach out on Twitter!

Mariusz Ciesla

Designer that codes. Director of Something, Somewhere, Eventually. Definitely not a stack of bunnies in a trench coat.

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