The best product design tools
I've been designing digital products for the last 15 years, and here is my list of tools that I can't live without in 2020.
If you asked me just a few years ago which tool I used for app design, I would not have hesitated to say Sketch. Thankfully, things have progressed at such a rate with Figma, that I see no benefit to sticking with Sketch when I can design in the browser on both mac and pc.
I was unhappy and stuck in the Adobe ecosystem for years, mostly due to the lack of competition when it came to Adobe Illustrator. Since the launch of Affinity Designer, I've escaped the clutches of Adobe, and have had no complaints since.
This is another one of those little apps that I can't live without. Not only does IconJar allow you to organize and group your icon sets, it allows you to easily export, and drag and drop individual icons out to design software of your choice.
When I sketch, I like to go pretty quick and loose. Using Field Notes is nice because I don't feel like I'm "ruining" a nice sketch book during these frenzied sketching sessions.
AnimationsAnimator by Haiku
Long gone are the days of firing up After Effects for simple animations destined for web. With Haiku, you can create animations with their intuitive timeline view, then export them to video, GIF, or even straight into Lottie.
This is a little mac app that lives in your status bar, which tells you if there is enough contrast in your design to meet accessibility guidelines. It's pretty straightforward to use, you simply click the eyedropper, select a color on your design (say the background), then click the other eyedropper, and select the item you want to compare the contrast to (say the body type). Once both are selected, it will show you the rating according to the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines.
MeasurementsPixel Snap 2
This is a recent discovery of mine, and I've already found it useful on a number of occasions. Pixel Snap allows you to measure the distance between two objects, whether it's in your design, or on some random webpage. They did a really great job with edge detection, and it's reliability is unmatched.
This is a pretty obvious one at this point, but I figure I'd add it anyways. I work as part of a remote team, and communication is essential. With Slack, we have private channels for the team, and separate channels for contractors and clients. Easy.
I've been a principle user for a long time, and can work pretty fast and effectively within it. Their small dev team means they ship updates slowly, and at at this point their competition has not only caught up, but surpassed them in features. Protopie is a great little app that allows me to do everything I could do in Principle, but with the added benefit of hardware specific controls and logic.
This is hands down my favorite tool I've discovered in a long time. Before using notion, I would have project information scattered throughout Dropbox, Google Docs, Google Sheets, and wherever random locations files tend to find themselves in. Since switching to Notion, I have a central hub of all of my information, split into projects that's easily accessible wherever I am.
It really has been a game changer for me, and I haven't even hit the limitations of their free plan yet.
Since I work remote, I tend to have to access a variety of public wifi, through coffee shops, co-working spaces, airports, or otherwise. At this point, I've been using a VPN long enough that I can't imagine not having it on when I'm using these public access points. If you're a remote worker, take the extra step to ensure your connection is private, it's been the best few dollars a month I've spent.
This is another one of those tools that have changed how I approach web design. Before discovering Webflow, my job typically involved doing the strategy and design for a site, then passing it off to a developer for full implementation. This isn't a bad way to go about things, but I really hit the wall when it came to getting momentum on personal projects—changes were slow, and got expensive over time.
With Webflow, not only can I design the whole site, but develop it myself without code. Their CMS tool is crazy powerful, and everything on this site you're on now has been built and optimized for it, whether it's design articles, or shop items spanning a variety of categories.
I've used a variety of Font Management software over the years, but the latest release of RightFont is my favorite. It's got a simple interface, has Google Font integration, and has auto-activation for most popular design tools. I have a type library organized by category in Dropbox, and whenever I need to set up a new machine, I simply have to drag and drop it into RightFont.
If you're doing any sort of writing, I'll never hesitate to recommend Grammarly. It's a comprehensive grammar and spelling checker that will identify various errors and suggest improvements. I've been on the pro plan for a while, but their free plan is worth checking out if you're on the fence.
Every image that I add to this site first gets run through the ImageOptim Mac app. It's great because I can bulk upload files, doesn't require an internet connection like other services, and it saves me at least 70% on file size.
I've been using Namecheap for a while now, and it's mostly because of their overall design of their site and mobile apps. Things are easy to find, customer support is quick, and like the name says, they're pretty cheap.
Wordpress HostingWP Engine
When I do need to work with a client on a Wordpress project, I like to stick with a higher end host like WP Engine. They'll manage the server itself, update Wordpress, protect against vulnerabilities, and give you access to 24/7 support. When it comes to client hosting, I tend to take as little risk as possible, and WP Engine is one of the most recommended in the business. They may not be the cheapest option, but when you've hit a snag and need to contact customer support, you'll see the benefit over the cheaper guys (HostGator, I'm looking at you).