Become A More Effective and Proficient Designer

Recently on Twitter I’ve been posting short tips and tricks on various ways to become a better designer by setting up your computer and using various programs to their full advantage.

Below are various techniques I use to keep my computer organized, accessible and favorable that help me be more effective, proficient and more informed designer.


Sure Tweetie looks slick and pretty, but you can’t underestimate the power of Tweetdeck….

Want to find new high quality fonts? Try setting up a search with the keywords ‘free font.’ If  your interested in a particular subject of graphic design, such as typography, set up a search and keep an eye on the pulse of information that passes through.

Also, I have a group called “Top Twits” on my Tweetdeck that I organize some of my favorite designers and people into. This allows me to eliminate more chatty banter and focus more on what I want. Also, if you have an iPhone or iPod touch both groups and searches will sync up and stay current whenever you make changes if you have the iPhone/Touch app.

Find more Tweetin’ designers to follow here.

Organize your bookmarks

Ok, so now you have your Tweetdeck set up and you’re catching loads of great information and links. Sure you might not need 600 free design icons right now, but at some point you will… and what better way to access them quickly is keep your bookmarks organized.

Have a look at my bookmarks folders below and start organizing and collecting. The next time you need logo inspiration or looking for beautiful grid systems you have them at your finger tips.

Also, try using Xmarks to keep all of your bookmarks synced and up-to-date across browsers and computers.

Keep an inspirational photo album

Besides bookmarking useful links, I also find web imagery that I like to collect for future inspiration. Try using Evernote, – also has Firefox pluginLittle Snapper or iPhoto (if you’re using a Mac). Create albums/groups and keep them organized.

Organize your fonts

I cannot stress enough how much time this will save you in the long run… organize your typefaces!

How many times have you sifted through thousands of fonts try to find that perfect san serif, while passing by scripts, serifs, etc? Try creating groups such as:

  • sans
  • serifs
  • scripts
  • blackletter
  • decorative
  • grunge
  • playful/handwritten
  • slant
  • slab
  • symbols and icons
  • headline
  • even organize by foundry!
  • web-safe

Create template folders to keep clients organized

If you don’t already keep your files and clients organized then now is the time to start. I created a base ‘client template folder’ that has nested folders inside so I’m ready to start adding files and documentation to it as work comes through. Have a look at mine below:

If you can’t read the above the folders are organized by the following: deliverables, fonts, images, inspiration, invoices, project files, project worksheet (questionnaire responses), quote, terms and agreement. I then keep my client folders inside a main folder dated by the year.

Create document templates

Hate having to write out proposals or send out quotes? You can simplify the process and spend more time designing if you create a base terms of agreement, invoice, etc. Just plug in the necessary information and charge the little bit you required and your ready to send it out.

Make it easy to move around

Laptops aren’t just good enough these days. It’s all about the cloud computing and it’s time to take advantage of it as a designer.

I am a huge fan and daily user of Dropbox. It allows me to work on my desktop – for example – and quickly move files across computers to my laptop. It also makes it easy to share large files and folders with clients. This app will definitely help with proficiency.

Organize your mailbox

This helps me out in a big way, especially with all the emails I receive from my readers, clients, etc. Try creating client folders and drag your emails from each client into the right folder. This will help in referencing them later.

Tip: If you’re on a Mac, create smart mailboxes for automatic organization.

Subscribe to blogs using a good aggregator

In a previous article I posted 16 tips on how to become a better designer and one of them was read and subscribe to design blogs.

Besides finding valuable information on Twitter to bookmark, try subscribing to the RSS feeds of your favorite blogs using a good aggregator, such as Google Reader. This will help you stay up-to-date with what’s happen in the design community (which is a really important aspect of improving your skills).

As a treat here is my OPML (?) files of my 300 blogs I subscribe to, so feel free to download it and import into your Reader! Knock yourself out! What are some of the ways you organize your computer in order to be a more effective and proficient designer?

Discussion and Comments

+ Add to the discussion
  1. Nice Tips. ur bookmarks are very well organized!
    Nice Article

  2. Tim Garza says:

    How do you access the opml? its all in code

  3. Lucas Tadeu says:

    Great content!Really useful tips. Thanks for posting.

  4. MarcoBarbosa says:

    Very good! Being organized is the key.

    But your bookmarks look so extensive!

    I always organize mine as a few folders and then I have folders inside folders. But I realize I’m rarely using them since Firefox awesome tool bar. I guess it’s time to reorganize.

  5. Rhian says:

    Thanks Brian! I just found that you are featured in HOW magazine as one of the top 10 design blog. I am not sure if this is old news but thought I should let you know :)

  6. orangetiki says:

    I know for myself I have to separate the time I spend searching Sm and working on jobs. Jumping between the two is rough. I like to set certain time to work and illustrate and an hour here n there jumping through what I need. Everything you listed are great ideas.

  7. Dave Sparks says:

    Thanks for the article Brian – I read it a while ago and am quite pleased that having stumbled upon it again I’m actually still using plenty of the tips! Testament to their usefulness no doubt.

  8. Larissa says:

    Great post. I am curious to know if you use a font software manager to activate/organize fonts? I find that I have tons of fonts on my computer and am trying to figure out a good way to deal with them all.

  9. Brian says:

    I use Suitcase Fusion 2 to organize my fonts and highly recommend it. What’s nice about it is that it automatically turns on fonts when you need them and turns them back off automatically when you close the project to keep your system running up to speed.

  10. chad engle says:

    @Brian @larissa
    I use Linotype Font Explorer (about the same thing Brian uses) and I like it. Brian makes so many good points on how to get organized. Fonts are a HUGE one especially if you are trying to find, edit and delete.

    I use little snapper to keep all my web inspiration in one place. The app is amazing and can run in the background. I like it because you can categorize them inside of app and keeps your inspiration gallery nice and neat.

  11. Tareq says:

    very nice, i’m gonna use this for sure, keep the good work on

  12. Fantastic post! I have already booked marked this under the folder “Awesome”.

  13. Liz says:

    A mix between folder-izing your bookmarks and using a Feed Aggregator, a couple weeks ago I organized the feeds I subscribe to into folders and it has changed my day considerably! I am able to get through my new stories easier and am now missing less.

    Depending on what youre into, will determine how you organize it, but as an example — mine are organized in the following folders:

    Local, Music, Humor, Designers, Designy Stuff, Blogging, Freelancing, Movies

  14. printedproof says:

    Awesome post Brian. Love how TweetDeck is the first thing mentioned! Organization is such a key to being efficient. Especially for people like us who spend 99% of their time at our desk…

  15. LyndiT says:

    Love the tips for organizing an increasingly overwhelming supply of information is always helpful. It is as if I have found I had a walk in closet I didn’t know I had. Thank you!

  16. Awesome read! I use something similar to dropbox but they are for sure a time saver! They make the thumb drive “things of the past!” and dang your so organize! I need to work on my organization skills :P

  17. This is great advice, thanks for sharing.

  18. vipin says:

    Really very great post, will help most of the designers to become better in their work..
    Thanks for posting

  19. Very nice and useful article.

  20. Jeana Lawrence says:

    Thanks for the OPML file. That’s a big help!

  21. John V. says:

    Organise, organise and orgarnise! Certainly valid for most jobs one can do. Great article!

  22. [...] How To Become A More Effective, Proficient and Informed Designer [...]

  23. Jillian says:

    absolutely beyond in love with this post, after finally taking the time to read the whole thing of course… ugh thanks Brian! seriously!

  24. Joshernaut says:

    I already use everything you have listed as well as my intranet, and has anyone else here tried feedly? great for organizing feeds on Firefox via google reader… All RSS magazine style.. :-)

  25. Emina says:

    Thanks for the post. There is really a lot of valuable info here. I really like the idea of organizing the fonts into different categories and bookmarks. I often find myself looking for something that I know I saved but can’t find it because it is not where it is suppose to be.


  26. [...] How to Become a More Effective and Proficient Designer [...]

  27. Xpirt Design says:

    Again….Great write up. Sometimes I find myself being lazy and forget to organize my bookmarks. I like your idea of saving inspirational bookmarks as well.

  28. Patrick Heck says:

    Hey Brian, great Article. But I am wondering how you manage to read 300 blogs at the same time. Do you just randomly go through or do you have a system?

  29. Brian says:

    It’s like when you read a newspaper… there are hundreds of articles each day in the paper, but instead of reading them all, you scan the titles and pick out what’s interesting. So even though I subscribe to 300 blogs and, lets say 200 new articles a day, I’m only reading probably a third of them that interest me. The others I ‘star’ in google reader and read later.

  30. [...] How to Become a More Effective and Proficient Designer [...]

  31. [...] How to Become a More Effective and Proficient Designer [...]

  32. Javier says:

    Thanks! What a great article, and I totally took advantage of your OPML file.
    Keep’em comin.

  33. dresses says:

    Thanks for the post. There is really a lot of valuable info here. I really like the idea of organizing the fonts into different categories and bookmarks. I often find myself looking for something that I know I saved but can’t find it because it is not where it is suppose to be.

  34. Garett says:

    Amazing! Thought I had it down, but this has some great tips and pointers I hadn’t even thought of yet! Thanks!

  35. [...] The Design Cubicle: How To Become A More Effective, Proficient and Informed Designer » // share this [...]

  36. Thomas says:

    Great piece, very helpful
    I really enjoyed the part on font organization and your categories for sorting them.

    I first read this article a while back and have been meaning to sort out my bookmarks for some time.
    Do you still have that list of suggested folders for bookmarks?

Brian Hoff
About Brian Hoff: Designer, Writer and Speaker

I’m a graphic designer living in Brooklyn, New York who loves creating compelling and useful websites and memorable interactions across the web. When I’m not designing I can be found writing, speaking and occasionally part-time teaching at colleges — all on the subject of design. I started this blog to share my passion and experiences with designers and clients. I'm most active on Twitter; say hello: