Over the past 9 years running my design studio, I’ve trialed many apps looking to find the right ones. After many attempts at finding the perfect all-in-one solution, I came to realize that the better solution was to group apps by function and use a variety to get the job done. Not only does this help the dreaded “eggs in on basket” effect, it also allows you to branch out and not limit yourself to one solution that is missing certain features.
Here’s a round up of the many apps that find their way into my design toolkit daily!
Adobe Creative Cloud – Design Programs
Let’s face it! It would be mighty hard to do my day to day without these lovely programs. While Photoshop & InDesign are my staples, I often reach for Illustrator and Adobe Premiere and After Effects for additional design work involving logo design and video production. These pretty much stay open all day every day!
Pancake App – Invoicing
For the first years I ran my business, I was bouncing from invoice app to invoice app and wasn’t quite satisfied. My goal here is simplicity with a few rules.I need to be able customize the emails I send to clients for each invoice as well as the actual invoice design. I also needed a quick way to get reports and reconcile my payments with my accounting system (see below) at the end of each month. Pancake App to the rescue! Pros here is that it takes care of what I needed, installed on my own web server and has regular updates. While Pancake App offers a lot more features including project management and time tracking, I prefer other apps to tackle those. Bonus: This app comes with a one time fee, not monthly.
Wave – Accounting
When it comes to the financial guts of my business, I prefer simple just like with invoicing. It seemed like annually I was trying a bunch of different accounting packages before choosing Wave this year. Wave offers everything I need to balance my accounts, check reports with my invoices, store receipts for expenses and most importantly reconcile my bank statements easily for tax season. With an income/expense studio, I don’t need all the bells and whistles. Note: I still use a good old fashioned spreadsheet as a check system and total look at my business finances. Wave helps me fill it in much faster!
daPulse – Project Management
This one took a bit of warming up to because I found I was most picky when choosing a project management tool. Originally I wanted to be able to invoice, run accounting and project management through one app. It just wasn’t working out. I tried daPulse and where it really shines is with its layout. I don’t need a beefy system, but I do like to see things in a color coded list, with the ability to flag certain stages of a project. This makes it super easy to add additional team members and pull up in studio for a quick weekly review. I create my own project board and break out sections for Print, Web and Completed. Then I have columns for crucial stages of the project and can swap a color coded status as needed. It’s simple (there’s that word again!) and an awesome way to quickly see what my team and I need to do. Oh and everything fits into one screen and one page. No flipping around multiple areas to see a project status!
Evernote – Note Keeping
This app took some getting used to, but once I started filling it with client notes and files I never looked back. This app is open all the time and stores everything I have for a client. I break notebooks out by client and store project based notes and files in each sheet within the notebook. It makes it easy to keep things remotely synced as well so I always have access to my client project info. This app minimized my paper filing tremendously!
Slack – Communication
Slack is one of those apps I am probably only scratching the surface with! I use it primarily to communicate with my remote team, send files for proofing between us and offer quick feedback on a project. While most of this can also occur in daPulse, Slack works more like IM and is a bit quicker for those instant feedback scenarios.
Dropbox – Cloud Storage
I never would have thought Cloud storage would be such a vital tool in my kit until Dropbox. It’s like a virtual USB stick that actually made me not have to buy USB sticks anymore! It’s great for my remote team to keep their files as well as a way to sync files between computers.
LogMeIn– File Transfer
Designers can store a lot of huge files. I don’t have every single file I create in Dropbox and I also have multiple computers between my office and home office. Therefore, I needed a reliable solution to easily transfer files from one computer to the next that didn’t involve storing in the cloud. LogMeIn is actually a great tool that remotely logs you into another computer where you can see the desktop as you would if you were sitting in front of it. I primarily use it to transfer files between those 2 computers. It’s super easy and surprisingly fast. I can move 2GB when I leave the office and find the files on my home computer when I get there! It’s also a great backup because I essentially have duplicate files. It also works for Macs & PCs.
join.me– Screen Sharing
As I work with more and more remote clients, I find the times I need to train them on how to update their new website, review a magazine prototype and more! join.me makes it easy to launch a screen share session quickly. You can even share a direct URL for the client so that they don’t have to download anything.
And there you have it! A look behind the scenes of the apps that keeps my design studio running! What are your favorite tools of the trade? Share in the comments below!