Tools and services I couldn’t live without in 2010

Every Builder needs a hammer or something equivalent to make their everyday work and / or life easier and more enjoyable. In the past year, I’ve signed up for both free and paid tools and services that have made my life easier as an independent Graphic Designer, while also getting rid of a few from last year that weren’t quite doing it for me. I often get the weekly email of preferred apps / services / tools that would help make ‘x’ job easier, so after reading a friends, Whitney Hess, blog post on her Top 10 Tools of 2010, I thought many of you might enjoy the same. I’ve also stacked the in order from ‘I would cry if I woke up without it’ to ‘This is quite handy and use if weekly.’


I’m sure there is no surprise here, but honestly if you are not using Dropbox or haven’t upgraded yet to more storage you are surely missing out. This past year I’ve upgraded to the 100GB plan, which means I’ve moved all of my work files, personal documents, Little Snapper ‘inspiration’ library, iTunes library, and iPhoto library and is now accessible whether I’m on my laptop, iMac, or someone else’s computer. I’ve even found myself uploading a large file that takes a few minutes, leave the house, open the iPhone’s Dropbox app and email a file off to a client – can’t beat that! This is certainly the ‘I’d cry if I no longer had Dropbox in my life’ tool.


I’ve really come to love Cloupapp over the past year. With a simple keyboard shortcut you can quickly share links of a webpage you are viewing, upload files, or take screenshots of images that generates its own short URL that copies automatically to your clipboard.

I’ve come to create my own uses for it as well. For one, I love the Photoshop Raindrop integration. It allows me to keyboard shortcut the frontmost Photoshop canvas I am working on and uploads an image, which I typically will send over to clients for approval. The reason I love this Raindrop is due to the fact that I can tell when the client has viewed it (has URL click tracking) and it helps the client visualize what the website comp will most closely look like in the browser. Fast and simple – what’s not to love about it? Oh yes, there is also the Cloudette iPhone app that syncs with Cloudapp where you can generate short Cloudapp URLS, view hits and visit your past uploads.


I’ve been using Wufoo for around 3 years now and functions great for my online Project Worksheets. Simple to set up; customizable if need be; saves me plenty of time when clients get initially in contact and helps weed out the serious clients from the non. I am currently using the $14.95 per month “Ad Hoc” plan (since I need more fields)and its been well worth it.


I’ve just become a 1Password user this year and honestly can say I feel a bit guilty for jumping on the bandwagon so late. This tool not only saves me time, but frustration as well – not to mention great security with the long passwords it generates. For those unfamiliar, it stores all your passwords and allows you to access them with, you guessed it, one password.

What I most love is the keyboard shortcut for when you arrive to a site that requires your login, in my case, I hit Shift + Command + ‘down arrow’ and it automatically fills in the fields and logs me in. The iPhone / iPad app is also mighty handy for those on the go moments.

Little Snapper

I’ve mentioned Little Snapper a few times in past blog posts and it deserves yet another mention. Meant for capturing, archiving and organizing inspiration, I’ve used it t build a database of great UI elements, websites, color palettes, and more with notes of what I like or could use some improving.

Alfred app

For those familiar with Spotlight on the Mac, Alfred app is similar but on steroids – meaning its faster, prettier, smarter, and more useful. If you haven’t caught the trend that I love keyboard shortcuts from the above mentioned tools, yet again you assign a handy keyboard shortcut to bring up the slick Alfred search box, which can then control your iTunes, search files and folders, browse the web or your bookmarks and more.


Simplenote is a great solution to… well Simple note taking. While I mostly use it as an iPhone app, it also has a great web interface that automatically syncs up. I use it for everyday note taking to an ongoing “remember to pack for vacation” list.


This year has been wonderful with webfonts and I couldn’t imagine it without Typekit. Paying $49.99 a year for beautiful, high-quality fonts at your finger tips seems like a steal to me. I’ve used it for everything for client sites to my personal sites, including FF Dagny Web for this here blog.

What I particularly love about Typekit is the innovation and improvements that get pushed out almost weekly. The folks there really have their act together and are generally excited about pushing web fonts further and faster.


If you haven’t discovered the joys of Instapaper you are truly missing out. From the website to the iPhone and iPad apps, Instapaper is a must have for me, especially catching all the great links on Twitter and having no time to read them at the given moment. The reading experience is enjoyable, has nice features such as tilt to scroll on the iPhone and iPad and the ability to easily share what you’ve just read.

Reeder for Mac (and iPhone / iPad)

First let me start off by saying that I’ve been using Google Reader for years and every time the next “big desktop RSS reader” comes out, I give it a go for a day or two and then I’m right back to the web interface. However, since Reeder for Mac has been released (in Beta), I’ve been using it solid for about 2 weeks now and have no plans of turning back.

The folks behind Reeder really have a knack for simplicity, design, details (just look at how you can customize the unread count on the app box or display it as a normal badge), and forward-thinking. I also love the support of gestures while reading, browsing to the next article, etc., in addition to features like Readability integration for improved web reading experiences and ‘sharing’ services built in for a number of great sites. Don’t forget the beautiful iPhone and iPad versions of the app as well.


Well maybe I could live without this one, but LittleIpsum definitely is a handy menubar tool that I’ve used often this past year. I’m all about being in the right place at the right time and LittleIpsum hanging out in my menubar is a good fit.

Worth mentioning:

CopyPaste Character

I keep this bookmarked and accessible from my browser’s toolbar. I often can’t remember all the extra shortcuts so CopyPasteCharacter gets used around once a week at the least. Click and copied and ready to be pasted.


BackTweets allows you to subscribe to incoming Tweets that link to your site, blog or whatever you want. Running this blog and most of my work online it’s nice to see all the good and bad things being said. This way I am able to respond or react accordingly or just monitor what’s being said.

What are some tools, services or websites you couldn’t live without this past year?

Discussion and Comments

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  1. Jakub Foglar says:

    These are great. I personally can’t stress enough Instapaper. Best app ever.

  2. Manik says:

    Great list – Just pulled a few of those to test out myself.

    Definitely agree on cloudapp, dropbox, typekit, and alfred.

    The rest will soon be added to my list, I’m sure.

    - Manik

  3. Scott says:

    Any worthy Windows alternatives for those Mac apps?

  4. Thanks for the share Brian, was looking for the best Password manager and I’ll give 1Password a go. Got a kick out of Little Ipsum making it, I use that thing 100 times a day. And Back Tweets looks like a good grab as well. Pretty much every else I have and am using, feels good to part of the cool crowd ;)

  5. Jonathan Julian says:

    I LOVE ALFERD APP. it’s amazing, so fast.

    I was using google quick search but it is just as bad as spotlight. This is going to make life some much easier.

    Thank you so much.

  6. Dustin Day says:

    Great list of apps, def not feeling the few that are mac exclusive (blah!)Lol! but still thanks!

  7. Bart says:

    Dropbox and 1Password really changed the way I work and browse the internet. The irony is that I still pay for Apple’s MobileMe with the only purpose being seamless syncing of my bookmarks and contacts. That’s an expensive sync. I also have a premium Dropbox account, but I happily spend the money on this fantastic product. If you have more than one Mac this is an excellent tool and the way to go!

  8. Great list. Thx.

    I’m see more and more mentions of Alfred. You have any experience with LaunchBar to compare it to?

  9. Harry Ford says:

    I use every one of these, my two favourites being Dropbox & Cloudapp perfect for providing & presenting work to clients.

    Your two WORTH MENTIONING I have never used however, backtweets I will check out right away & copypastecharacter looks rather handy. Thanks

  10. Guyreg says:

    Hi Brian, The recommendations are great. I do use a few though. My query is about the font you use for your ‘Cubicule Design’ header font. I really like and and so far my search came out empty. I thought I was ask the source, you. Can you share the name of the font you have used. Greatly appreciated.


  11. Justin says:

    I must be a complete idiot but when I downloaded Reeder it doesn’t give me an option to register. Is it not open to the public yet?

    Thanks for the list. Very useful!

  12. Brian says:

    Reeder works with Google Reader so all you need to do is insert your Google credentials and it imports the rest.

  13. Brian says:

    The font used is Tungsten by H&FJ – it’s a beauty for sure.

  14. Michael Cousins says:

    Great list, the first thing I see I really need to use is dropbox.

  15. Jim says:

    I defiantly agree with dropbox. I use it everyday now

  16. Phil says:

    I use Dropbox, Wufoo and TypeKit; they’re all great, but Dropbox is definitely the most useful day-to-day app.

    I’m surprised I didn’t see any affiliate links in this post, it would have been a good one!

  17. Guylaine says:

    Brian, you’re a pearl. I appreciated that you shared. I wish to you and your family a great Holiday. A break is good for us designers.


  18. Hi Brian, do you know Loremify?

    When you learn how to use, it seems like easier to use than LittleIpsum.


  19. Jenny Drago says:

    Thanks for sharing, Brian!
    I use a few of these, but will definitely try out a few more.

    Evernote would have to be my #1 ‘would cry if I woke up without it’ app. I use it in the ways it sounds like you use Simplenote and Little Snapper. I love how easy it is to ‘clip’ images/texts/links right from the browser and the option to use the web interface, desktop, and iPhone apps. It was definitely a huge help when I was going between three computers (at two different jobs and my Macbook) daily.

    I’m interested to hear anyone’s comparisons of Alfred to Quicksilver. I hadn’t heard of Alfred before, but it’s looking more powerful.

    Interesting that you didn’t mention a Twitter desktop app, Brian. What do you use?

  20. Brian says:

    Alfred is much smarter and faster than Quicksilver – not to mention some other really great features that it handles. As for a Twitter client, honestly, I’ve switched from Tweetdeck to since the #newTwitter was released. Really enjoy the shortcuts and the new UI.

  21. 1Password seems like a dream come true for me, but I am settled into Chrome now and 1P doesn’t fully support it yet. Hoping for next year.

  22. Ethan says:

    Any comment on which is better, Dropbox or SugarSync? I use Dropbox, mostly for collaborating on projects, but am thinking of switching to SugarSync.

  23. Not only for web designer these tools are also very helpful for all kind of web uses.

  24. Colby says:

    These are great, thanks a lot for sharing. I’ll be using Cloud App a lot. I’m still on the fence with 1Password though. What do you do when you’re not on your computer?

  25. Chad Engle says:

    Hey Bryan,
    I can’t stress enough how awesome Dropbox is! I also couldn’t function/live without cloudapp, littlesnapper, instapaper, reeder & 1password. I get amazed how easily great apps get integrated into our lives and then it’s almost impossible to ‘get away’ from them. Thanks for the list. There are a few in there I haven’t heard of and will check out!

  26. Megan says:

    Great list! I use a few of these but will definitely have to look into the others as they sound quite useful!

  27. Brian, I couldn’t agree with you more. If I were to compile my own list, it would be exactly the same as yours (with the exception of Alfred and 1Password — I’ve been meaning to try both for ages).

    I especially agree with your thoughts on Dropbox, and I commend you for being able to fit so much in it — my iTunes library or photo collections alone would fill the 100GB limit, so sadly I have to limit the contents of mine to work and essential files. That’s the one downside to Dropbox, in my opinion: the inability to pay for more storage space and / or have multiple Dropboxes on one computer. Let’s hope we’ll see those things in 2011!

    Happy new year, mate! :)

  28. Brian says:

    Being an iPhone and iPad owner, I have the iPhone app that syncs with 1Password that allows access to my passwords when I’m not at my computer – same with my iPad (yep, there’s an app for that).

  29. Brian-Thanks for the list. How much would you say you spend on these services each month? (I know some have free versions).

  30. Brian says:

    Around $60–$100, but remember its a tax write-off.

  31. Tony says:

    I end up downloaded all of them and I love all of them! I
    need more space on my dock – launch pad from lion will be

  32. marsha says:

    This is a treasure chest! Brian, thank you for

  33. Fantastic! Thank you for this list — I’ve been using a couple (Dropbox FTW!) and am downloading several I didn’t know about already!

  34. allan jose says:

    nice tools on offer!!the drop box and type kit are my favorites…a good informative article on the various web tools to make our web pages more attractive than ever before.

  35. I love this list and will be exploring it. I would love to use typekit on my graphic design blog too. I’m not a technie though, is it easy to use?

    My favourite tools personally are a good bic biro and my notepad. sweet as.

  36. Jason says:

    Any suggestions on accounting software. I was looking at Freshbooks for invoicing, any ideas?

  37. dzwebs says:

    Thanks I discovered new great tools of which I haven’t heard of before.

  38. James Scott says:

    Really nice blog post here. I love the keyboard shortcut tools, many of which I imagine I will begin to use excessively in the near future! I just wish there were more blog posts with content such as this… inspired me to write a post on the tools I like using!

  39. Steven Mansfield says:

    Great list of tools. I use about 60% of the ones you mention. I would add Textmate for HTML/JS/PHP coding and Cornerstone for version control. I really think version control is under-utilized in small dev houses and a tool like Cornerstone makes it so intuitive it’s a real joy.

  40. Dom Lugo says:

    I really need a Mac to enjoy some of these but I use drobox & typekit and I love them. I’ll need to look into the others for sure.

  41. Martin says:

    Completely agreeing with your choices and thanks for a few new discoveries. I’ve thrown out Loremify (cause it’s too slow) and now loving LittleIpsum.

    Reeder looks amazing and I’ve replaced NetNewsWire with it.

    I’m still looking for the perfect ‘todo’ app… will look into SimpleNote.

    I’m also using LittleSnapper library with Dropbox and can very much recommend it.

    Thanks, great post!

  42. Great list. I checked quite a few of these out thanks to your list and will be using some of them. Thanks for posting this!

  43. v says:

    Great list! I’ve adopted Little Snapper and Alfred since. You should also try out Echofon, hands down the best twitter client ever.

  44. Popartgal says:

    Great list you go here!! :) i need to keep updated with the latest apps myself! thanks! :D

  45. Heather says:

    Really great list, I am just beginning to learn about all these crazy cool gadgets. I like how you simply explain the benefits and features.
    Thanks so Much!

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: