Apps for maintaining a designer lifestyle

I often receive many emails and interview questions asking what my favorite Mac apps are or what web apps I find most useful in my line of work and business. As an Apple fan and lover of all things “apps” I decide to write a more condensed list featuring some of my must-have apps that I use everyday (or almost everyday) to run my independent design business with explanations of why I like them and what I use them for.

Little Snapper

PURPOSE: LittleSnapper is a beautifully designed tool for capturing, organizing, tagging, and sharing online inspiration.

HOW I USE IT: It’s always extremely helpful to have inspiration that is well-organized and at your finger tips—and LittleSnapper does it with ease and elegance. Whenever I come across online visual inspiration that I enjoy I either snap the web page or crop an area to my liking. I then store them into folders (better known as Collections in LittleSnapper), such as footers, typography, websites, color palettes, lists/tables etc, so I can easily access some arsenal when needed for inspiration. I also use it to take full screenshots of web pages.

HOW OFTEN USED: A few times daily

WHY I LIKE IT: Beautifully designed and integrated with Flickr and Ember for easy sharing. Check out my LittleSnapper inspiration here.

Subernova

PURPOSE: SUBERNOVA is a project management and team collaboration tool with a slick and simple interface. You can use/access it via the web, adobe air app and even your iPhone.

In the words of the creators: “SUBERNOVA makes you more productive by taking the stress out of remembering important details of your projects, lets you track time, send invoices and estimates, collaborate with team mates or clients and keeps your business smooth by keeping tabs on late payments, deadlines and more.”

HOW I USE IT: Although SUBERNOVA has many features without going overboard like other project management apps, I mainly use it for tracking time, and organizing my clients and projects I’m working on at the time. I’ve tried many project management apps and always keep coming back to SUBERNOVA. I also enjoy how often the team adds new features and updates — and not just pointless features so they can say “hey look we update our product more than you!”

HOW OFTEN USED: All day long.

WHY I LIKE IT: Intuitive interface. All the right features without being too much or too little. Works and accessible from anywhere.

Numbers

PURPOSE: Simply put: pretty spreadsheets and data entry.

HOW I USE IT: I’m not a crazy spread sheet enthusiast, but I do use Numbers to organize and track my revenue and expenses for my business. It keeps things nice and tidy for when Uncle Sam comes collecting during tax season.

HOW OFTEN USED: A few times a week.

WHY I LIKE IT: For those afraid of spread sheets (like me), Apple makes it a bit more pleasant experience. Works just like every other Mac app, so it’s familiar.

Coda

PURPOSE: I was looking for a one sentence explanation, but Panic’s website says it all for Coda: Text editor + file transfer + svn + CSS + Terminal + Books + More = Woah!

HOW I USE IT: I use it whenever I do any development for websites.

HOW OFTEN USED: A few times a week.

WHY I LIKE IT: Great all-in-one powerful tool.

Suitcase Fusion 2

PURPOSE: A powerful font manager for Mac and Windows.

HOW I USE IT: To obsessively organize, tag, and manage my fonts.

HOW OFTEN USED: Everyday.

WHY I LIKE IT: Easy installation of new fonts (it’s quick). One database file contains all your fonts so its easy to take them  on the move. Temporary vs. Permanent fonts allows you to temporarily activate a font(s) for a specific project and then automatically turns off the font when finished with the project to allow your system and apps to run faster. Also, turns the font(s) back on when the specific file is opened that requires it.

Tweetdeck

PURPOSE: The powerhouse of Twitter apps for managing your main stream, replies, lists, searches and more in an accessible layout.

HOW I USE IT: For more more through explanation on why and how I use Tweetdeck, here’s a slightly older, yet informative, article for you.

HOW OFTEN USED: Too much.

WHY I LIKE IT: Great all-in-one powerful tool. Organize great, useful information easily.

Woopra Desktop App

PURPOSE: Website analytics.

HOW I USE IT: To manage my blog and various websites statistics and analytic…. in real-time.

HOW OFTEN USED: A few times a week. Especially when I am getting heavy traffic I get a kick out of watching the real time numbers.

WHY I LIKE IT: Google analytics on steroids. Real-time stats. Military-style interface looks bad-ass. :)

Dropbox

PURPOSE: Online storage. Online backup. Photo sharing. File sharing. File syncing. File/Folder restoration.

HOW I USE IT: I couldn’t live (or work) without Dropbox. It has become such a valuable service in my business I can’t remember what I did without it. I work directly off Dropbox and keep all of my files on it (if you are running Time Machine on your Mac, it will even backup your Dropbox if you are nervous about only keeping it online!): this helps to keep my files synced across multiple computers. I purchase the 50GB membership with an additional $3.99 per month of unlimited restoration capabilities — meaning that if I need to revert back to an older version of a file I can, no matter how old or how long ago it was. I also use it to create share folders to collaborate with others and share large files with clients.

HOW OFTEN USED: All day, everyday.

WHY I LIKE IT: Here’s a full review of Dropbox I did a while back, but I’m sure you can understand why I like it from the above.

Droplr

PURPOSE: Extremely quick File/Folder sharing. Image sharing. Note & Code storage. Twitter integration.

HOW I USE IT: Quickly create short URLs when referencing websites in email. Quickly share a photo, file or folder via a web link.

HOW OFTEN USED: Numerous times week.

WHY I LIKE IT: Quick, fast and functional. Lives on the Mac toolbar for quick dragging and dropping to it.

Xmarks

PURPOSE: Cross-browser and computer bookmark syncing.

HOW I USE IT: To keep my obsessively well-organized bookmark collection in sync and accessible no matter where I am or what computer I’m on.

HOW OFTEN USED: It just does its thing 24/7

WHY I LIKE IT: Works across all major browsers. Keeps myself and my bookmarks happy. Much like LittleSnapper keeps my inspiration handy, Xmarks keeps my resources accessible at all times. Remember, a construction workers is much more effective and efficient with his tool belt.

Remember the milk

PURPOSE: Manage your tasks, notes and life.

HOW I USE IT: In addition to the normal task and note organizing, I use it to keep track of my clients. Read more on that here.

HOW OFTEN USED: Every morning, every conclusion of every day, and a few times in between my day.

WHY I LIKE IT: Intuitive interface. Smart, simple task line (easily set dates with ‘next Friday’ or “2 weeks” etc.). Receive reminders via email, text messages, instant messenger, Twitter and more. Create categories to better manage your tasks. Share and publish tasks with others. Add tasks from anywhere (even your iPhone).

Mint

PURPOSE: Website analytic program.

HOW I USE IT: To monitor and track The Design Cubicles website statistics and progress.

HOW OFTEN USED: Every morning. Possibly sometimes throughout the day. At night before bed.

WHY I LIKE IT: Intuitive and simple. Beautifully layout for glancing at various areas of statistics. Real-time.

What’s your favorite Mac or web apps that are “must haves” in your collection?

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Discussion and Comments

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  1. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by behoff: Mac and Web Apps for maintaining a graphic designer lifestyle http://goo.gl/fb/TfGI...

  2. Matt says:

    My “must-have” apps would definitely have to be Notational Velocity and Things. Notational Velocity is the best note-taking app I have come across entirely because of its simplicity, and Things makes it easy to keep track of little things I have to do.

    Do you find Mint to be a lot better than Google Analytics? I like the look of it but don’t know if I can justify the price. Even though it’s very inexpensive, Google Analytics is free. So… you know.

  3. David Silva says:

    I’ve tried some project management apps, but I didn’t really like using them. However, others like Coda, Dropbox and tweetdeck are some that I also use daily. I’m going to check out Woopra now, thanks. Real time analytics is one thing I wish Google could do.

  4. Evan Stremke says:

    Excellent list, Brian. I’ve found all of these applications invaluable to my design process. Keep up the great work, man.

    All the best,
    Evan

  5. There are much better Twitter apps that Tweetdeck. Adobe AIR apps are memory hogs and this one is too busy for me. I prefer EchoFon or Tweetie.

  6. This article is great. These apps look really amazing. I’ll have to check out each one in-depth. Well done!

  7. Brentley B says:

    I have found that Evernote is a great online “notebook” for keein track of project details, design inspiration and other important information. Plus I can access it from any computer as well as on my iPod via the Evernote app.

    Also, my fiancé and I share an account that has our wedding planing information like guest lists, links to websites, and inspiration. We can both access it which makes it easy to edit, manage and view our plans.

    It also has the ability to add pictures, voice notes and add folders to stay organized. Automatic syncing is great for the iPod and for sharing an account. But the best part- It’s free!.

  8. THEdan!marino says:

    I’ve needed something like Xmarks for the past like 6 months and was searching hard for it. YESSS!

  9. Chris says:

    I can’t get enough of Dropbox. Most of the others I’ve heard of before, but Woopra is new to me and looks interesting. I’m going to check it out now.

  10. Patrick Heck says:

    Great Article!
    One of the really useful tools I use is ProofHQ. It makes it very convenient to send a proof to the client and they can leave comments by directly drawing on the document.

  11. Super helpful. I love seeing what other designers use on a daily basis. Already downloaded a couple after reading your article. Thanks!

  12. The Design Cubicle

    PURPOSE: Keep me in touch with design news and mac tools
    HOW I USE IT: I drill my eyes into the screen and proceed to consume the written delicacies
    HOW OFTEN USED: When there’s a new RSS article
    WHY I LIKE IT: Intuitive and simple.

    Great article, I usually dislike app roundups, but it’s nice to see one coming from a graphic designer perspective. I used Mint and still have it installed on my site, but with exception to the real-time aspect, it doesn’t live up to the functionality of Google Analytics, so I’ll try out Woopra.

    I’d like to check out Subernova too, I’m currently using Behance’s Action Method but I’d like something with time management.

  13. I use 7 of the above apps… thanks for tips on the others… gotta try mint a droplr. I hope that Subernova works for me… i need an app where i can manage my clients and take notes about them in the same app – so that my co-workers can see what i have talked to them about… Any ideas?

  14. Those are some gr8 apps you use. For me, the “must-haves” are Coda, DropBox, Numbers and Process.

  15. Ronny says:

    The best thing about Mint is that it tracks visitors live, unlike Google Analytics which only gets updated once a day.

  16. Brian

    Thanks for an awesome article. I’ve never heard of Woopra or Subanova before – they both look really nice.

    Some of my favourite apps that are not mentioned here are:

    1. The Hit List. More advanced than Things, less complex than OmniFocus, I now literally couldn’t live without The Hit List. It’s deeply embedded into my muscle memory and just disappears letting me get on with managing my tasks.

    2. Harvest. An amazing web app for tracking time and invoicing people. It does one thing really, really well. I love the UI.

    3. Textmate. Of course, loads of devs loves this app, but I’ve got to include it. It’s so flexible and extendable and it’s fast and looks nice too.

    Lastly, I’m building a time tracker without timers called Lapsus that I hope one day will be in someone’s list like yours. :)

    Thanks again for a great article.

  17. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for the post, most of all loving the titles images you created!

    Cool list of apps

  18. Nice list. I’m definitely gonna try two or three of them out. I wrote a post about the Top 12 Mac Widgets for Designers & Developers you might find of interest: http://www.anythinggraphic.net/blog/02/2010/top-12-mac-widgets-for-designers-and-developers/

  19. andy says:

    definitely bookmarking this post, thanks!

  20. Bryan Watson says:

    Hi Brian,

    Just wondering what other project management apps / tools you have used?

    I’m currently in the market for a project management tool, but haven’t yet seen a ‘perfect’ solution yet. I’m on the fence between SUPERNOVA, Basecamp, and Freelance Suite. Do you have any experience with the other two?

    I’m leaning towards Freelance Suite over SUPERNOVA for a number of reasons. For starters, it’s a one-time fee (not a monthly subscription), and you have complete control over the source code, which allow for unlimited installations, clients, and projects. While you do have to host it on your on server, it provides a lot more flexibility, and even has client login for project approval and proofing.

    http://www.freelancesuite.com/

    Just wondering if you have any experience with either of these solutions, or have used something similar.

    Thanks,
    Bryan

  21. Andy Brown says:

    Nice list! Just took a look into Subernova, looks pretty nice. A free alternative that I currently use is Paymo http://www.paymo.biz/ It allows time tracking, project and task management and invoicing, it just limits you to sending out 3 invoices per month on the free subscription.

    Thanks! Andy

  22. Joey says:

    Really nice list!
    Props on throwing tweetdeck in there (i love that app).
    I’m just checking out a few of these… super helpful
    thanks for posting this!

  23. gaRIPHIC says:

    Awesome list of resources Brian. Dropbox, Evernote and TweetDeck, invaluable apps that I use daily.

    One app that I find invaluable and may be of interest to others is Skitch. http://www.skitch.com (Skitch = fast and fun screen capture and image sharing.)

  24. Ingrid says:

    Great list, I use coda and dropbox all the time.

    I have a question which is why do you use Mint as well as Woopra, I thought they did the same thing more or less. Is it just because you have a few sites to manage? If so, which do you prefer?

  25. [...] Killer Mac and Web apps for maintaining a graphic designer lifestyle [...]

  26. [...] Killer Mac and Web apps for maintaining a graphic designer lifestyle [...]

  27. Stu Greenham says:

    Cheers for the post Brian!

    For anyone looking at alternative Project Management web apps check out Project Bubble! Great interface and pdf generator and all free no restrictions. They have just released info about a forthcoming Invoice Bubble too which looks cool!

    Apart from that I use Wallet to keep my Website Info / Passwords updated and Log me in to access my machine back home remotely.

    Another great one to to look at is Fever for keeping your Feeds in tact! Shaun did an amazing job and well worth the price!

  28. Nice list. I am definitely going to check out Droplr and Little Snapper.
    Thanks Brian

  29. Kyle Phelps says:

    Great List… Drop Box has been a time and money saver for me.

  30. Mark Bell says:

    I second LittleSnapper, excellent app. And for desktop social media stuff I’ve just started using Socialite, from the same company (RealMac Software):

    http://www.realmacsoftware.com/socialite/

  31. Great post!

    I’m really enjoying TweetDeck too, but I’d have to add:

    - iPod Touch (in general)
    - iPod Touch – Kindle App
    - Kindle for PC

    I’m on a Mac, but also have quite a few PCs I work on, and Kindle for PC is great. I don’t own a kindle (don’t really want one) but being able to have a design or coding book available on up to 5 machines (including the iPod Touch) is great. For instance, the 750 coding book I’m working through with my wife is on all of our main workstations. Why flip when you can scroll!

    - Stickies (native Mac app)
    - Font Xplorer (old, free version – it just works)

    And surely you forgot Google Reader! That’s the main inspiration tool…

  32. Woops…was going to mention Freemind, the ugly, but simple, cross-platform free mind mapping tool. I’ve used the other big name mind mapping tools, but there is too much interference with feature creep and usability. Freemind does one thing very well, even if it’s butt-ugly. It just works.

  33. Ana says:

    This is a great list of apps for Mac users! I just have to add Evernote, which I find to be much better than Remember the Milk. I didn’t know about Woopra… trying out now! Thanks for this great post! :)

  34. Kyle says:

    Great article Brian. Already using the free version of Dropbox. How did you get 50GB for only $3.99? Their site says $9.99.

  35. Great list in a great format!

    For to-dos I use Things, for screenshot sharing http://tinygrab.com/, for project managment http://www.pivotaltracker.com/, for time-tracking http://coopapp.com/ which is linked to my Harvest account, for Twitter twhirl and for daily notes my home-grown solution http://spreadnotes.me after I tried all notes apps mentioned above of which I didn’t like neither.

    I better won’t try woopra, since I fear to watch stats all day long. ;)

  36. Bill says:

    Love the format of your list: purpose, how I use it, etc.

    I use FontExplorerX instead of Suitcase, but none of them still hit the mark for me. Here’s some others on my list:

    Dreamweaver (Couldn’t get used to the feel of Coda)
    Transmit (Super simple FTP transfers)
    Feedly (RSS)
    Drop.io (Send large files)
    Posterous / Post.ly (Mini blog posts by email)
    Skype (probably a given for most)
    MAMP (Local Server)
    Sequel Pro
    Parallels Desktop… and the list goes on.

  37. Brian says:

    Hi Kyle,
    You are right about the 50GB for $9.99 per month (which is what I pay), however, I was referring to after you sign up for a “paid” plan, Dropbox offers an additional service called “pack rat” that allows you to have unlimited file history. In Dropbox’s own words:

    “Pack-Rat is a Dropbox Pro add-on feature that saves your file history forever.
    Dropbox saves a history of all deleted and previous versions of files for 30 days for all Dropbox accounts by default. If you have the Pack-Rat add-on, Dropbox saves those files for as long as you have the Pack-Rat add-on. With Pack-Rat, you never have to worry about losing an old version of a file.”

  38. [...] Killer Mac & Web Apps for Maintaining a Graphic Designer Lifestyle [...]

  39. Justin says:

    Evernote for sure… quicksilver, tweetie, pastebot, cyberduck in conjunction with Smultron, 1Password, Notebook, OpenOffice, Picasa, ScreenSharingMenulet, Just a few of my favorites.

  40. Xpirt Design says:

    I’m gonna give Woopra a try. Looks real useful. Thanks for Sharing!

  41. Jim Cierra says:

    Suitcase Fusion 2 is great for a fonts freak like me!

  42. Paul Meyers says:

    Dropbox – What an AWESOME utility. I have 7 different computers and they all have Dropbox on them and they all sync perfectly. It doesn’t matter which computer I am on, so when building my sites it doesn’t matter where I am as all my CSS files and HTML files are on Dropbox which makes it so simple.

    Thanks,
    PAUL

    p.s. Starting to use Droplr and loving it so far.

  43. Really great post, I’m definitely going to sample some of the apps i haven’t yet tried. They look super helpful.
    Thanks.

  44. I use actionmethod.com’s online project management tools as well. I wish all my clients had an account! The demo video really shows what you can do with it.

  45. Eric Miller says:

    Great list Brian! I’ll have to check out some of these that I haven’t tried before. Here’s my list from a blog post last month:

    http://ericmillerdesign.com/blog/post/software_and_services_for_a_design_business

  46. Justin says:

    The first thing I install on every new mac I buy is Quicksilver and a few extensions. Incredible app launcher that can do so much more.

  47. 1PASSWORD

    PURPOSE: store and organize passwords from multiple browsers
    HOW I USE IT: whenever I want to save a password or want to login on a website. Sharing passwords with another Mac using DropBox. Passwords are stored with Mac keychain.
    HOW OFTEN USED: Everytime I want to login… i.e. many times a day
    WHY I LIKE IT: now I can use different passwords without remembering a single one… just one… the password of 1Password.

  48. Tony says:

    Are you using 3 analytics software to track your site? JEsus!

  49. [...] were a few new ones written after the middle of March. Here are the ones you might have missed: Mac and Web Apps for Maintaining a Graphic Designer Lifestyle, 16 Common Freelancing Mistakes and Misconceptions, and Sweet Tweets #37. This might have caused [...]

  50. Chris Baker says:

    wow! what a great list of apps. this can greatly help me in my work. thanks a lot man.

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:


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