I’m a packrat.
A quick review of my browser bookmarks reveals a crowded menagerie that rivals anything you’ll see on the show Hoarders. I can’t help it. Any time I come across a new tool or resource that I think will help me (however remotely) to be more efficient or creative, I add it to my ever-growing stash.
In the spirit of the season, I am sharing some of my favorites that I’ve discovered this past year. If you have a tool or resource you just can’t live without, share the link in the comments section below and feed my addiction!
I have come to rely on this online app more and more with each project. Typecast is a browser-based tool for speccing and styling typography with real-time results. Try out different font combinations, adjust sizes, letter spacing, and other common CSS text styling. I did a full review last July.
If you want a more professional way of presenting wireframes, mood boards or page mockups (instead of attaching them to an email or creating a PDF) you should check out InVision. Once you sign up, you can create presentations and invite team members and collaborators to view them and leave feedback. The online app also creates a sync folder on your desktop for quick and easy updates to your content. I’ve only found a few things missing that would keep me from making this my go-to app, such as creating sub categories for layouts and setting certain layouts to private, but the attentive and friendly InVision staff assure me those features are being considered for upcoming versions.
Formerly known as Read It Later, Pocket is great for collecting articles, videos and other content for, well, reading later. It’s beautifully designed and I love that the app’s reader interface strips out all the visual cruft like ads and page design elements so I can focus on the content. You can switch to a “web view” to see the content in its original form. The browser plug-in makes it easy to right-click a web page and save it instantly to your reading list. Pocket is also available as a mobile app for both iOS and Android so you can catch up on your reading from just about anywhere.
I know flat design is all the rage right now, but some of us still like to use the occasional drop shadow or background texture. Subtle Patterns is a great resource for seamless textures that don’t scream, “Hey! Look at me! I’m a background texture!” Each file is provided as a PNG in 1x and 2x resolution (for high-res displays). The textures are free to use under a Creative Commons License.
Unless you’ve been floating in a sensory deprivation chamber for the past couple of years, you’ve heard of responsive design and its role in designing sites that can effortlessly morph from a 30 inch desktop monitor to your smartphone. One of the challenges of moving your site’s assets to mobile screens is handling large images. Compressing JPEG files to a manageable size for mobile while maintaining image quality is a bit of a magical art. The JPEGmini app can reduce the file size of your original image up to 5x in a simple one step process with no loss of image fidelity. The free version is available in both Windows and Mac but limited to processing 20 images per day. For $19.99 you can have unlimited processing, which is worth the money considering you could trim hundreds of MBs of image data from your site — making it lighter and faster.
There are many ways to kick-start creativity but one of the best is subscribing to great content sources and letting your inbox serve up some right-brain food on a regular basis. Here are three of my favorites:
You won’t find a better collection of stories and thinking than Medium. Some of the contributors are writers by trade but many are just like you and me; folks who want to share their thoughts without being limited to 140 characters. The site’s look and feel is everything it should be without any distracting design elements: clean, elegant and extremely readable. Myself and some of the other Newfanglers have already spent considerable time fan-girling over the site’s excellent design and content.
Free Stock Photography That Doesn’t Suck
Most free stock sites follow the rule, “you get what you pay for,” which means the images are poorly composed, poorly lit or just cliché. Death To The Stock Photo and Unsplash.com are two exceptions to this rule.
Death To Stock The Photo delivers a new pack of high-quality lifestyle photography to your inbox each month. Themes include “Big City,” “At The Lake,” and “Tech.” Created by freelancers Allie Lehman and David Sherry, DTTSP’s call to action is to end work that’s “stock,” meaning dull or lifeless. For $5 a month, a premium membership provides additional photo packs and access to all the photos online.
Unsplash.com is another great source for big, beautiful stock photos. The site is the effort of Mikael Cho, principal of ooomf.com. Once you subscribe, ten new images from photographers around the world are sent to you every ten days; free to download and use as you wish. The Tumblr site doesn’t provide a way to search for a specific photo, but hey, they’re beautiful and they’re free!
Creative Market is a platform for handcrafted design content from independent creatives around the world. It’s a great resource for icons, web templates, illustrations, patterns and fonts; all at very reasonable prices. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about the latest and greatest, follow your favorite designers, or request an invite to open your own shop.