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3 clever tools busy designers can't live without

Achieving success as a designer in a crowded market is enough to make any graphic artist giddy. You’ve put in the time. You’ve earned a reputation for professionalism, skill, and ingenuity. You’ve got more projects lined up than you know what to do with.

Which is the only real drawback to success. And it can be a biggie.

Identifying brilliant ideas and bringing them into the world is one thing. Managing all of the moving parts of a project (or multiple projects) is another thing entirely.

With our tendency towards non-linear thinking, timelines can spiral easily. Our propensity towards losing ourselves in the creative process might lead us to spend more time hunkered down over the drawing board than communicating with clients.

So how can busy designers like you and me keep all the plates spinning? I’ve got a few tools that help me keep projects moving forward fluidly.

For brainstorming and organizing thoughts

I use MindNode.com, a simple but powerful digital mind mapping tool. MindNode allows you to get all of the ideas out of your head and into one place. You can connect ideas with one another as you go, or you can worry about that once you’re done purging.

If you’re designing for a website, MindNode provides a straight-forward method for mapping out the information architecture of the site. Likewise, you can use MindNode to organize the structure of a web or mobile app.

You can also share your creations through a variety of channels, allowing others to give you feedback easily in the early stages of a project.

For prototyping designs

If you haven’t tried out UI Stencils, you’re missing out on serious fun – not to mention an impressive analog tool for sketching out your brilliant designs. Kits, which contain stencils that replicate various web assets, a stencil case, a Pentel p202 drafting pencil, and a sketch pad that replicates a website, iPhone, or Android phone.

Rather than saying more about UI Stencils, just take a look. I defy you to not immediately want a kit of your own.


Via UI Stencils.

For effortless project management

You’ve got to get on board with InVision if you’re attempting to juggle various projects and clients. This app is as close to a virtual personal assistant for designers as you can get without designing your own robot butler.

The InVision app provides a collaborative platform for prototyping and managing workflow. You can upload design files and add animations, gestures, and transitions so that testers can have the full experience of a design-in-progress, and they can provide comments directly on the design.

You can manage all of your project screens and statuses from one central location, hold in-browser design meetings, track version control, instantly generate code for design elements, and download project assets easily. You can also use InVision’s Boards to build mood boards and galleries as well as style guides and design presentations.

As if all of those features weren’t helpful enough, InVision goes one step further. As users test prototypes on their iPhones, the app actually captures their interactions, facial expressions, and voice, so you can get a real sense of how beta testers are responding to your design.

These three tools have been game-changers in terms of handling multiple design projects and clients. They’re simple concepts with incredible versatility, a winning design combination.

What are your essential tools when it comes to managing design projects?

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  • Awesome! I hadn’t heard of a few of these tools – off to check them out!

  • Awesome! I hadn’t heard of a few of these tools – off to check them out!