This Designer’s Toolbox

If you ask any web designer or front-end developer what tools they use regularly, the answers will most likely include Photoshop, Illustrator, or another program out of the Adobe Suite; a text editor (I prefer Coda); some sort of color picking tool; maybe a screenshot clipper…

Outside of these regulars, however, you often don’t hear about the tiny apps that make our days tick. These are the icons that have a permanent place on my dock or menu bar, and are all set to start on login. If you haven’t heard of them, I highly recommend checking them out and seeing how they improve your workflow.

Characters

I hate searching for unicode characters, but if you do any coding, you know the importance of including ascii codes for characters such as ampersands(&) and spaces, and the ease of accessing decorative ascii elements like arrows(→) or stars(✭). Characters is a nifty app that sits in your menu bar and lets you easily select from about 600 characters, including those listed above, currency symbols, bullets, and more. An easy switch toggles between designer and developer mode – the former copies the character itself while the latter copies the actual code to the clipboard for easy copy/pasting.

Frank Deloupe

Out of all the color pickers I have tried and tested, this is my favorite. The usability of the app for its primary purpose is fantastic – click the icon in the menu bar, select “Color Picker”, and a magnifying loupe tool appears, allowing you to select a color from anywhere on your screen to the pixel-perfection. A little-big detail is the subtle change in the dropper after you select a color, designating your select.

BUT it gets better! Frank DeLoupe works with your registered version of Photoshop by automatically changing the foreground color to match your selection. The setup process is very quick and you need only do it once. Whenever Photoshop is running, this tool helps your workflow immensely (it is far superior to the default Photoshop eye-drop).

Size Up

Raise your hand if you hate resizing windows! Although I love my MacBook Pro, one thing I miss about the more recent versions of windows is the “snap” feature – drag a window to the left side of the screen and snap, it takes up a perfect, beautiful, 50% of your screen. The app cinch (by the same developers) did an ok job replicating this effect, but the customization of working with Size Up makes it ideal. Set your own short cuts, and organizing your windows is as easy as a few “Shift-Control-Arrow key”s. Some programs (eh hem…PHOTOSHOP) don’t respond to either of these apps for some reason, but I guess there is no sense in asking Adobe to conform.

Dropmark

I am a pinterest fanatic – I love being able to visualize my inspiration, but it has its flaws. Dropmark makes up for some of those. First, I hate that I can’t create private boards on Pinterest. Dropmark allows me to share boards with specific clients and individuals in order to work together on creating a mood board to discussing UI patterns. Pinterest also misses the mark on organizing pins and dealing with them once you have filed them – deleting pins is an ordeal in of itself and organizing them within a board is impossible. Dropmark deals with these issues as well with an easy-to-use interface. Add in a great desktop app for your menu bar that makes it easy to bookmark a full site into one of your collections, and you have a remarkably simple, beautiful, usable app.

Shush

I take many meetings from home. I have a 9-year-old stepdaughter who loves to have friends over, a noisy dog, and a very annoying cat. The two do not combine well for professional communication at all times. That’s why I love Shush. Regardless of whether my mic is active in a google hangout or other video conference, by default my mic is turned off through Shush. Holding down fn let’s me activate it whenever I am talking, and double clicking fn turns locks it on until I turn it off with another hit of the key. A nifty indicator on the app icon in the menu bar gives me another indication of my mic’s status. This way, my co-workers in India don’t have to listen to my stepdaughter shriek with laughter, or the dog howling that he’s hungry (or me quickly shouting at them to “SHUSH!”).

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