10 Tools To Help Designers Complete Projects Faster

I do a lot of things — arguably too many — and the only way that I’m able to accomplish them is by keeping myself very organized and doing things efficiently. That last part often boils down to speed, because there are always fast and slow ways to get any task done, and if there’s a way to do it quickly and correctly, then that’s the route I’ll take. After all, the fastest way to do something is to do it right the first time.

While putting together this list, I thought of things that are both super affordable (read: free or close to it), as well as things that are super pricey. Not all of them will be perfect for you and your scenario, but in my experience, they’re all excellent for working faster.

GuideGuide

As someone that loves having things perfectly aligned, GuideGuide is my dream plug-in. But in case you haven’t heard of it before, let me give you the gist.

You know how you can pull an alignment line in Photoshop and Illustrator? GuideGuide lets you do that by entering in various parameters — margin, number of columns, etc. — and then clicking one button to execute them all. What does that matter? Well I was working on a flyer design the other day, and in the process I needed to layout the bleeds. I could have pulled out four lines, but by entering it all in GuideGuide it was easy and quick. Then I organized that same flyer into columns with gutters, using the bleed lines as the inside edges. It basically does all of the calculations for you, which, if you’re no good at math like me, is amazing — and fast.

Seriously, I can’t recommend this one enough.

GuideGuide for Photoshop

GuideGuide for Illustrator

Fontself

If there’s one thing that I want to accomplish in the next year, it’s creating my own font. And before Fontself, I wouldn’t have known where to start, other than using Illustrator. Thinking about it now, I would’ve created individual files for each letter, then done a bunch of googling, then hope I found something.

FontSelf makes your life so much easier. I could go into all the nitty-gritty of the whole thing, but as it turns out, smarter people than I have already done the hard work for me. Point is, whether you’re hand drawing and then scanning your type, or creating it all in Illustrator, turning it into a real, live OTF font is easy.

So what do you do with your new creation? Sell it, silly.

Armature

I don’t do much in the way of web design, but many of my friends do. And in the course of their routines, they’ve spent months and/or years building up this library of wireframes that they use to render designs in Illustrator. Now that’s fantastic, but Armature has all that stuff built in. From navbars to OS-specific headers, this app has everything you’ll need to wireframe your next site. And, as they say in their fancy video, since it’s in Illustrator, you can resize it to whatever size you like with no problems. And doesn’t that make everything go a little bit smoother?

See, tools like this that make my life easier are the reason why I feel like I’m living in the future.

TextExpander

Why is a text expansion product in a roundup about tools for design? Basically, text expansion as a concept is pretty straightforward: you type a few keys that the expansion program recognizes, and then outputs your request. For example, if I type ;clr, it gives me a list of every color I use with my sticker business, and after each one it hits the Enter key. Why is that important? Because it makes entering in long amounts of data faster. Or you can also use it for other things, like I did on a recent project.

A few weeks back, I had to design 106 different patterns and all of them had to have one common dimension. In this case I chose 4 inches, and then designed everything up in Illustrator. When it came time to lay those vectors into mockups, I needed to adjust the proportions of the vector to match the proportions on the image. To do that, I had to multiply the 4-inch side by a number — .34285714, if you’re wondering — and then copy the vector and paste it into Photoshop. That gets old fast, so instead, I made a TextExpander snippet that did the math for me. Instead of trying to remember the number, I just entered in the snippet (;4) and moved on.

Seriously, TextExpander is a handy tool to have, even if you’re not a writer.

Vaunt

Choosing the right colors for a project can be a daunting task, at least in my experience. What I usually do is look through images that I like and try to pull out appealing combinations whenever I see them. But that can be complicated, because you’re working the eyedropper all over the place to get just the right hue, and then doing that again with the secondary color, and so on. And if there was a way to make that faster, well I’d be all for it.

Vaunt is a free app for the Mac that pulls the dominant colors from any image and then outputs them into whatever format you like, from HEX to RGB and so on. It’s one of those handy little apps that speeds up my decision making process, and that’s something I definitely can appreciate.

WeTransfer

I’m a huge fan of Dropbox, but sometimes I have difficulties sharing my files. It’s not a problem with Dropbox, but instead with the recipient. Maybe they’re not too tech savvy, or possibly they just blame it on something stupid like, "My computer doesn’t like Dropbox." Right. It’s the computer.

Anyway, in those situations I use WeTransfer. It has two tiers: paid to send over 2GB of files, and free for everything under 2GB. And in my case, since I don’t have to use this often, I just send multiple batches to that computer illiterate friend.

But the best part about the service for me isn’t the price, it’s the autonomy. I drag and drop the files onto a browser window and then move on with my life. I don’t have to keep it as the dominant window, nor do I have to follow up with it constantly. It just works. And since that helps me to work faster, I’m all about it.

Wacom Cintiq

Now I know what you’re going to say here. "But Kevin, that Cintiq monitor costs more than my first car!" And you might be right, but man, the potential for increased productivity is intense.

A few years back, I toured the design facility for a motorcycle manufacturer in Canada, and during the tour one of the designers showed us how they do renders in Photoshop. That guy used his Cintiq like a ninja, clicking and swiping through things so quickly that it was difficult to keep up. Seriously, I remember being impressed with how fast he added new layers and worked through this process, and it made me think about how it could take my work to the next level. Speed is everything, sometimes.

And yes, there are some additional options if you want a pen tablet, but for me, my wishlist is filled with a 27-inch monitor.

Spyder5Pro

I work in both print and digital, and my bigger frustrations come from inconsistencies in color. There have been tons of times where I create something that I think is one color, but it’s not, because my monitor wasn’t color corrected. And even if you think you’ve got it close, most of the time you’re way off. You need something professional to fix the problem (and help you work faster in the process), and that’s where the Spyder5Pro comes in.

The Spyder5Pro is a monitor calibration tool, sure, and you’ve probably heard about them before. But it also has a light sensor built in, meaning that it can adjust the colors on your screen based on the lighting in the room. That’s critical if you move around a lot. And for $190, can you complain? I mean, sure, you could, but that’s money well spent in my opinion.

Solid Stage Storage

Nothing has made my work go faster than converting from traditional spinning platter hard disks to SSDs. And although that may seem like hyperbole, it’s not. Let me explain.

Hard drives have been around for decades, and the technology that runs them has been based on what is essentially a record player for digital media: there are disks that spin at various speeds, and an arm that accesses the data on the disk. The problem is that if those spinning disks collide with the arm at any point, or get out of balance, or any number of things, they can fail, potentially wiping out the data stored on them. In addition, it’s common knowledge that all traditional hard drives will eventually fail, so it’s just a matter of time.

But the big issues is speed. The faster the hard drive spins, the faster it can read data and deliver it to you. An SSD (solid state drive), on the other hand, are super fast. They can go at least twice as fast as a traditional hard drive, with the potential to even triple and quadruple that speed.

What does this all mean to you, the designer? If your computer isn’t already equipped with an SSD, upgrade it today. Not only will you be able to access and save your data faster, but you’ll be able to work faster as a result.

Squash

Here’s a typical workflow for me: create vector > render vector onto mockup > save PSD file > export as JPEG > optimize for the web. That last part gave me fits for a long time, because I wasn’t quite sure what format — JPEG or PNG — would be best, and I wasn’t super happy with the options provided by Photoshop. Then I found Squash, and my life moved so much quicker.

Squash is a drag-and-drop system, and it works with PSD files. Drag your PSD onto Squash, and it will output a JPEG compressed the way you like it. Do you realize how much time that can save you when you’re doing several hundred files? Yeah, it’s a lot. And that’s why I love Squash.

Work Faster

If I can do things more efficiently, I can get more stuff done. And if I get more accomplished, I can make more money. And if I have more money, I can buy that island that I’ve been eyeing, which means that I can finally realize my dream of owning a volcanic island that has a lair shaped like a skull. Wait — I didn’t tell you about my dreams of becoming Dr. Evil? Oh. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it in public then.

Until next time, keep on hustlin’!


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