A Designer’s Workspace: The 20 Tools I Use For Designing & Blogging
Part of becoming a graphic designer is finding your style and process. A designer’s process is not an exact formula, it is the result of lots of experimentation. You will find the best process for you and your work over time and with experience. Your design process encompasses not only the style of work that you do but also the tools you use to do the work. Today I wanted to show you my workspace and talk about the tools I use on a daily basis to create my work and run my business.
Desktop PC with Dual Monitors
When my husband and I got married, I only had a laptop that was getting old and was running very, very slowly. It was super frustrating trying to work on it. Although it did have a fairly large screen, trying to work in any of the Adobe programs was difficult. I had gotten pretty good at moving objects and drawing with the trackpad, if I do say so myself. Once we got married, I started looking at desktop computer options. I was working from home and the laptop just wasn’t cutting it anymore. My husband decided to build me a computer so we could get everything I wanted. So now I have an awesome desktop with dual monitors. It is so helpful to have the two monitors so I can have the internet open on one monitor and an adobe program open on the other and can easily move between design inspiration or parameters and the work I am designing.
I had used Wacom tablets in college, but it wasn’t until I started doing handlettering and working to digitize it that I wanted a tablet for myself. I started doing research. I knew that Wacom was the big name but they are so expensive so I wanted to compare them to less expensive options. I found and have a tablet from Huion and have loved it so far. It was much less expensive but works just as well as a Wacom. So if you are looking to get a drawing tablet, check out Huion.
I use my iPhone for almost everything. I use it for photos, checking email, tracking my to-do list, shopping, games, social media (of course!) and even design work (yay Adobe apps!).
I use my iPad mostly for reading, but I also have a Wacom stylus that I got to experiment with lettering and drawing using Adobe Draw. I still haven’t quite mastered drawing on the iPad, but it has been fun to play around with it and having the ability to then send my drawing into illustrator and edit it is fantastic. (Sadly this was all pre iPad Pro and Apple Pencil...I may have to upgrade at some point.)
Even though I take most of my pictures on my phone, I love having my “fancy” camera for taking on trips when I want nicer pictures, but I also use it for taking blog images. The camera I use is a Samsung NX1000. I love it because it has removable lenses and I also have complete control over the flash being on or off (to the point that I can even take the flash off the camera altogether). It has been a great camera as I slowly stop using automatic mode and learn more about photography.
I am constantly printing out my work, especially any of my printables, to test the colors and make sure it prints out the way I want it to look. I have a large pile of test prints sitting on my printer. The printer I currently have is a Canon MG5300 and is a combo printer, scanner, and copier. I have had it since college and it has always worked beautifully. It is great for printing pictures and has an adjustable paper source on the back so you can print onto paper that is smaller than 8.5x11.
Adobe Creative Cloud
If you are wanting to do any professional design work, than getting and learning the Adobe programs is a must. The programs I use on a daily basis are Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, and InDesign. I use Photoshop to design my blog images, Illustrator to digitally hand etter my Printable Creations quotes, Lightroom (and Photoshop) to edit pictures from my camera, and InDesign to layout my Printable Creations PDFs.
If you like working with video or motion, then Adobe Premiere and Adobe AfterEffects will be the programs for you. AfterEffects is great for making motion graphics also.
Many of the apps have also come in handy. My favorite is Adobe Capture. Through Adobe Capture you can create your own shapes, patterns, color schemes, brushes, and overall looks using images you take with your phone’s camera. I mostly use the shape creation option to take pictures of my drawings and turning them into shapes that I can then access through my library in the Adobe programs. The Creative Cloud app is also helpful in getting handlettering pictures from my phone to my computer since it syncs to a folder on my computer. I also use Behance (now owned by Adobe) for my portfolio...which I need to update. :D
On the Web
I have a shop on Etsy where I sell printable quote and illustration prints and printable wedding invitation suites. It is a great platform for selling your work and getting started with your own creative business. Check out my shop at rayeallisoncreations.etsy.com.
I love Google Drive and all the apps that fall underneath it (Docs and Sheets). I write all my blog posts in Google Docs first so I always have a back-up copy. I use Google Sheets to track my finances from Etsy and freelancing. And all of it is organized and stored in my Google Drive.
I use Wordpress as my blog platform. Once I finish typing my posts in Google Docs, I copy them over to Wordpress and “design” them, adding all the images and headers. Other than some issues recently with it not posting at the scheduled time, Wordpress has worked great.
Wunderlist is a recent addition to my process and I can’t say enough good about it. I was having a hard time keeping track of all the different steps of my different projects and all the to-dos I had. I had tried different ways of scheduling my week in advance but I kept feeling overwhelmed with all the things I needed to do. In comes Wunderlist to save the day. I use Wunderlist as my to-do list but to also help in project management. I have folders for my different blog post types with lists in each folders for the major steps (Research, Writing, Graphics, Wordpress, etc) of the post creation process. I can then move the task through the process, adding sub-tasks when I need to break down the process even farther. The most useful part for me is being able to set due dates for the tasks I create. Once due dates are set for the different tasks, I just leave Wunderlist up on its “Week” viewing option and it has all the tasks that are due within the next week organized by day...automatic to-do list for the week (Love!).
Feedly is a website that helps you keep track of all the different blogs and websites that you want to see new posts and articles from. You just add the site to your Feedly and then every time there is a new post, you can see it in your Feedly feed. You can even organize the sites you want to see into categories. Typically, I just scroll through my Feedly at some point during the day and save any interesting articles to my next tool, Pocket, to then go back and read later.
As I mentioned above, I save articles from Feedly to Pocket so I can go back and read the articles later, but they are all in one place. This helps decrease the amount of tabs I have open at one time. Pocket has been really helpful when it comes to writing my Friday Living the Creative Life post. When I read a good article in Pocket that I want to share in my post that week, I just favorite it. Then on Thursday, I can just open the favorites tab on Pocket and I don’t have to sort through all the other articles I have saved. After Friday, I archive the articles that I shared from my favorites so I have a clean slate to start the week. Pocket is also the holding spot for articles that I share on social media using Buffer.
Buffer is a social media scheduling tool. I use it for scheduling my posts on Twitter and Facebook during the week. It’s nice to schedule posts in advance so I can spend more of my time designing. Instead of worrying about posting things at different times during the day, I can actually just be social when I get on social media.
Previously Latergramme, Later is an Instagram scheduling site. It is easy to use and you can schedule up to 40 posts at a time for free. Similarly to Buffer, I like having things scheduled so I know things are being posted and when I do get on Instagram, I can be social.
I use Evernote to keep track of blog post ideas, personal project ideas, and also my master process checklists for my blog posts. So right now, I mostly reference notes I already have in Evernote rather than add lots of things to Evernote.
I have had Dropbox for awhile just for cloud storage and a way to share files with different groups of people. I recently upgraded to a Pro account so that I could use it for my Printable Creations each week. One of the features of the Pro account that I wanted to be able to use is the ability to set expiration dates on a file that I share. That way, the printable I share is only available for a week. After a week, the link expires and you can’t access it anymore. Check out this week’s Printable Creation here (it’s only available through Wednesday when I post a new printable).
I have been using the Strathmore Sketchbook since college for everything from sketches, to notes, to lists. I have gone through at least 3 or 4 of them. I have a couple other sketchbooks I have tried, but always come back to this one. The pages are thick and durable, perforated so I can tear them out, and it is an easy to carry size. Or as Goldilocks says it is not too hot and not too cold...it’s just right! I am actually about to fill the one I have so time to buy a new one.
I have a set of drawing pencils that I got for a class in college that I use when I am doing sketches for my Printable Creations. If you like to draw, then having a set of good drawing pencils in different weights is handy. I use a 2H (H for hard so it draws lightly) pencil to sketch and then go over the sketch with my Micron pens to finalize.
Last but not least are my handy dandy Micron Pens. Similarly to the pencils, Micron pens come in different sizes so you can draw tiny lines to thick lines depending on what you want your sketch to look like. Once the sketch is inked, I take a picture with my phone and upload it to my Creative Cloud app so I can edit the picture in Photoshop and then place it in Illustrator and trace.
There are so many different tools you can choose to use so this is not an essential list for every graphic designer. These are just the tools that I have found to work best for me and how I like to work. Through experimentation, you will find your favorite tools for your design process.