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Designer tools: 16 essentials for every design toolkit

Last updated on 
August 12, 2020

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Innovative, useful concepts are central to every successful designer. But to get there, you need the right tools – from creation and prototyping, through to mastering client communication, workflows and profitability.

Thankfully, there is no shortage of new software for designers, but the sheer amount of choice can be paralyzing. Digital design is also constantly evolving, with new ideas coming out all the time, meaning many apps quickly lose their relevance or become superseded by a new competitor.

But certain design tools have withstood these changing trends and fashions. Cropping up in almost every digital designer’s toolkit, here are the 16 staple designer tools you should know about.

1. Concept Inbox -  for prototype collaboration

concept inbox@2x

Concept Inbox’s motto is “don’t tell them, show them!” – and it’s easy to see why. This program allows any designer, product manager or marketer to collaborate easily with their teams and provide feedback with in-context annotations on creative works.

2. Visual Inspector - for quick, codeless edits

visual inspector@2x

Built by designers, for designers, Visual Inspector is the ultimate in-browser design tool to quickly adjust design properties without opening an app. Easily change design properties like position, colors and gradient or edit website text inline without having to code.

3. Sketch - for collaborating with developers

sketch@2x

With Sketch, every property is easy to create and assign – no need to go into Photoshop’s layer-effect tab and get confused with thousands of redundant settings and possibilities. And because everything is CSS-based, you’re also able to tell a developer what values or settings to use straight away.

4. Buildfire - for mobile app designs

buildfire@2x

Aside from Sketch, which also builds apps, Buildfire allows you to create app design prototypes and test on your phone for free. Upload your own designs or use its built-in concepts to get going, and only pay when you actually want to publish your app.

5. InVision Studio - for UX/wireframing

invision@2x

InVision Studio’s objective is to put the designer at the center of their work with no creative constraints, allowing designers to discover new techniques. Before its release, UX designers used Sketch for an interface, then manually uploading files to InVision for prototyping. Now, the Studio app serves as an all-in-one UX design tool within one brand suite.

6. Wipster - for video annotation

wipster@2x

Wherever there’s collaboration in the post-production process, there can also be conflict – especially when balancing both task prioritization and continual feedback. Wipster helps by offering an intuitive platform built for reviewing and approving different stages of video production in one space as you go.

7. Cinema 4D by Maxon - for motion graphics and 3D

Cinema-4D

Created for artists who want to create powerful, but hassle-free 3D creations, Cinema 4D is something sacred among 3D artists. It’s used for everything from modelling to simulation effects, producing realistic, textured forms to impress clients - and it offers helpful tutorials for beginners, too.

8. Visme - for infographics

visme

There’s nothing quite like transforming visual concepts and projects into an infographic. Visme allows you to do this with minimal effort, with the option to either select from the application’s templates or use ready-made blocks for beautiful charts and graphs.

9. Streamline - for ready-made icons

Streamline@2x

Got a great design and want to find the right icon to complement it – or want to build a totally new concept for a niche industry? Streamline has over 30k icons in 720 subcategories for you to choose from. Just locate and download the one that tickles your fancy.

10. Dropbox - for filesharing

Dropbox@2x

Multi-device access, flexible storage, file recovery… what’s not to love about Dropbox? As a designer, you’ll need somewhere to save your files – and Dropbox’s cloud-based backups mean you don’t have to worry about losing anything. You can also easily edit, share and archive content with a few clicks.

11. Framer X - for illustrations

framerx@2x

With its automated layout design, premade components, and predictive vector editing, Framer X allows you to draw everything from delicate illustrations to custom icons – and you can fine-tune your designs as you go with its advanced path editor.

12. Timely - for capturing design time

Timely@2x

As a designer, you don’t want to waste any creative hours on low-value tasks like time tracking. Timely saves you the hassle by automatically capturing all your work activity in the background for you - no fiddly timers needed. With a complete digital record of all design time, you can better control you workflows and productivity. Real-time dashboards break down activity and budget spend across all your projects, and AI time sheets help you bill accurately for all your work with minimal effort.

13. Evernote - for sharing inspiration

evernote@2x

From managing big projects to noting down new concepts that suddenly come to mind, Evernote helps you Capture ideas and inspiration in notes, voice, and pictures – as well as keep track of your deadlines. Use notebooks, tags, or Evernote’s powerful search tool to find everything you need quickly and share it with the rest of the team.

14. zipBoard - for communicating on web designs

zipboard@2x

Mock designs can be messy if you’re using systems that aren’t built to build and absorb feedback quickly. zipBoard acts like an online whiteboard for your web design to get real-time feedback from project managers or other designers. You can also track bugs, issues or functionality problems as you go.

15. Slack - for communicating with other designers

slack

Slack has become a firm favorite among designers as it makes communicating with coworkers effortless - and even fun. But on top of that, you can join on designer-specific channels like Designer Hangout and Creative Tribes to share discussions, see what other designers are creating, and even get feedback on-the-go.

16. Keynote - for presenting

keynote

Create stunning design presentations with Keynote to pitch to new clients. Once you’ve chosen your canvas, simply replace placeholder text with your own copy and images. If you want to use the canvas for your presentation, simply replace the placeholder text and graphics with your own words and images.

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and capacity to keep everyone connected.
Lead happier, healthier teams.

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