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5 Essential Tools for Designers

Posted on 8th July 2017


A great designer needs great tools. They aren't everything of course -- a great designer could probably out-design most other people with a simple sketchpad -- but they do enable the designer to deliver the desired digital output. To put it another way, great tools allow designers to reach their potential.

We could list hundreds of terrific apps and tools that help designers increase their efficiency -- from productivity apps to great reference books to specialist pieces of software. But what if we had to pick just five?

1. Your Choice of Computer

If you're creating digital designs, you need a computer. Most designers choose either a PC or a Mac and often have strong opinions about which one is better. However, personal preferences aside, either one can do a great job.

The MacBook Pro is one of the most popular tools, but Microsoft is increasingly aiming its hardware at professional designers, with the Surface Book designed to compete directly with the MacBook. There's also the Surface Studio, a 28-inch desktop that can be positioned upright as a monitor, or flat as a huge canvas.

Whichever computer you choose, look for compatibility with your chosen software, and we recommend at least 16GB of RAM.

2. Professional Design Software

The design field you specialize in will determine the core software you need. Adobe's Creative Cloud is the big player in this area, with tools such as Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects. However, other choices, such as Serif's Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, are available. If you're already working as a designer, you've probably learned on one set of tools, but that doesn't mean you need to stick with it. Try several and choose the best.

Depending on your role and working style, you will also need other software, such as UI/UX software and productivity tools.

3. The Humble Sketchpad

A basic paper sketchpad is the quickest way to brainstorm, record ideas and test designs. It's light, easy to carry, and you can take it with you everywhere. Like most creative people, you probably get great ideas at the strangest times. With a sketchpad, you can save that idea, regardless of whether you're in a restaurant, taking a walk or relaxing at home.

4. Your Smartphone

This is another tool that's easy to take with you on the go. If you're like most people, you're probably never further than 3 feet away from it at all times. Your phone, and more specifically, its camera, is an incredibly useful tool that you should be using every day.

Wonderful designs are all around us, and you never know when you'll see something you want to record. Saw a great menu design? Take a picture. Spotted a cool new piece of graffiti? Take a picture. You get the idea; the more you look, the more inspiring designs you'll see.

5. High-Quality Graphics, Effects and Fonts

Most great designers can create almost any image they want from scratch, but that's not very efficient. A huge range of graphics, effects and fonts is available at low prices online, and the cost of buying them is far less than the value of your time if you were to create them from scratch. By accessing these resources, you'll be able to great better designers more quickly.

Here are a couple of our favorites:

  • has thousands of graphics, photos, templates and more. There's even a whole section dedicated to free resources to get you started.

  • has fonts for every occasion based on a huge variety of themes. And, of course, there's a free section. Who doesn't love free?

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