From enquiry to project delivery — 12 tools that can help you with your design process.

I have worked at agencies for 8 years and freelanced full-time for 1.5 years. Over that time I've developed a workflow for projects of various scales and timeframes. And whilst various tools have come and gone during that time, these are the tools that have stuck around and that I still use today. One thing that freelance has afforded me is no more time sheets! For those who work in ad agencies and design agencies holler at me, I feel felt your pain. They were the bane of my existence. Anyway moving on from my rant below is my list of handy tools.

Enquiries

1. Inbox by Google  - I get a lot of enquiries by email so inbox allows me to intuitively organise, group and pin emails effectively so I can keep track of the different leads and clients. I also love the clever way it bundles categories together automatically. Purchases and travel are particularly handy. I had a business trip around Europe recently and had multiple flights so I was pleasantly surprised that it was all neatly grouped together by date and location. Experiences that delight the user beyond their expectations is always a big tick in my books. I've heard mixed feelings about inbox from fellow colleagues but for me it's great. 

 

Project proposals

I like to handle and close most leads via email, through casual conversations and getting to know the person, project requirements and organisation but for detailed projects I like to use indesign.  

2. Indesign  - My tool of choice for creating project proposals for mid to larger scale tenders. Anything above $30k USD requires a more in depth overview of the job and deliverables. For jobs over this range it is worth investing a bit more time on the proposal. 

 

Ideation and prototyping

3. Axure - Is what I've used for wireframing over the last few years. It is particularly useful for building sitemaps and planning site architecture. It's also used as my go to for prototypes used for usability testing. The focus is on structure and logic so it's great that you can make iterations fairly quickly when you get user feedback. 

4. Flinto - I love how lean and light weight this is. It's very easy to connect screens together with quick default animations. Also very easy to send prototypes to the client for them to test on their phone. Great for when designing mobile app screens with basic flows. I am yet to try their new mac app but will update this space with a review when that happens.

5. Invision - I know this is a favourite among many designers. And it is undoubtedly a great tool, particularly if there is a large site architecture. I've used it for some projects due to requirements of various ad agencies and direct clients and most of the time its been great. But sometimes I feel like it can be a bit bloated and cumbersome (does too many different things which is a pro and a con). So I tend to opt for Flinto particularly for quick mobile interactions. Also unrelated but I'm totally looking forward to their design disruptors movie, check it out if you haven't already. 

6. Principle  - This is a new one in my repertoire, but I can already tell I'm going to be using it a lot moving forward. The speed and efficiency to which you can realise and test your ideas is fantastic. You can read my post about it here, or grab a project source file here.   

 

Concept designs and design direction  

7. Photoshop - I'm not going to go into the details about this one. Everyone uses it and I've used it since the dawn of time. 

8. Skala Preview - Great for when I'm in photoshop and want to check the spacing and how the designs feel natively on various devices, phones and tablets etc. Ever since their update to connect via lightning cable it has been fantastic. When it previously used the wireless connection it was a bit glitchy, but now its boss. 

9. Sketch  - Another hot favourite among many of my peers. I've bought sketch but unfortunately have only managed to dabble with it for a bit. And because I am not as proficient with it yet I haven't used it for client projects, so I have to try to carve out time to test it to it's full potential. The biggest set back for sketch at the moment is adoption. Many clients and agencies still prefer photoshop files.

 

For communication and feedback

10. Red pen  - I know invision has authoring and feedback tools as well. But I love how lightweight and intuitive Red pen feels. I've used it for so many of my projects and it is easily one of my favourite tools. Feedback feels snappy and there are a lot nice touches with the ui.

11. Slack - Great tool for communicating and keeping files and conversations with clients in one place. Love the way notifications work and it is a smooth and seamless chat and collaboration tool. 

 

Project Delivery

Note: Project delivery is a case by case basis. Nearly every single project is unique so dependent on the requirements projects are delivered differently and with various tools. But probably the tool I use most consistently is Google Drive.

12. Google Drive - For remote jobs all documentation, files/assets, use cases and notes are added to Google Drive. Overall it's a simple and no fuss tool except when you are trying to collaborate and working on files simultaniously. In particular source files such as psds or ai files - which I think dropbox does a better job at syncing. But most of the time I still default to Google Drive.

 

WORTH MENTIONING

Google docs + sheets - I have an accountant who manages most of my finances but an honourable mention goes out to google docs suite. I use google sheets to keep track of outgoing invoices and docs for user documentation, briefs etc.

And this demo for Adobe Project Comet looks like it could be a game changer too. Time will tell. 

 

Thanks guys and I'm sure you guys are familiar with a lot of these, but just thought I'd share my tools and workflow. Would love to know what you guys are using.