Essential software for designers

Designer using a touchpad drawing deviced

I recently put the question to the designer folk of Twitter: "Which software do you use on a daily basis, what's essential?" And what do you know? I got a response! Every designer has their secret arsenal of essential design apps, so I thought it would be useful to share some of them in a "best of" post. Feel free to add any I've missed in the comments.

So in no particular order; here's the "Essential software for designers" list, 2014.


sketch: essential software for designers

Sketch is a lightweight vector graphics app, perfect for web, mobile and user interface design. The beauty of Sketch lies in its focus on UI design, it doesn't try to be an all-in-one solution for the design industry (not mentioning any names). It’s completely changed the workflow of many a designer, and I'm sure will continue to do so as it grows. You can download a free trial at:


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Every now and again you need to create a quick screencast. Video is one of the quickest ways to explain a new process or function to a client. It's too easy to get lost in the back and forth of emails… Video takes away any ambiguity. Quickcast allows you to create 3 minute screencasts that you can later share with via a unique URL. There are a few alternatives in this space, but as we're designers I thought I'd share one of the decent ones :) Don't forget, it's free:


slicy app

Ever since Apple cursed blessed us with the retina display, our jobs have become more complex. When it comes to slicing for the web and mobile it can start to get a little tedious. Slicy makes the job a little easier. With a multitude of options Slicy will save you untold time when prepping and slicing your designs.


ember js framework

Ember is billed as a framework for creating ambitious web applications. It makes Handlebars templates even better, by ensuring your HTML stays up-to-date when the underlying model changes. You don't even need to write any JavaScript. Check it out:


mailchimp email

I really don't know where I'd be without Mailchimp. There are several email marketing solutions out there but few are so well respected and so affordable. Their free plan allows up to 2000 subscribers and paid plans start from $10 a month (if you want to use autoresponders, you'll need a basic paid plan). Oh, and their support is top notch too.


harvest invoicing and time tracking

If you want to last long as a freelancer then you'd better be doing two things, tracking your time and invoicing. Harvest is pretty much a standard for the creative industries. If you want to dip your toes in they have a very basic free plan. Try it and see if it fits:



Trello is rapidly becoming more than it was initally intended for. If you need to keep track of a simple todo list then Trello has it covered. If you need to create a calendar system for upcoming blog posts, product features or pretty much anything, Trello has it covered. You can even use it for simple Project Management. Trello is an organizer, and it does it very well. It's also free to use.

Scala Preview

skala preview

Skala Preview takes care of the nasty disconnect that exists between designing mobile apps on a macbook and the mobile device itself. Connect your iPhone or Android to Photoshop via remote settings and let the magic begin. You can preview any changes you make in real time.


Fastmail email app

Fastmail is a powerful email service that reinvents email communication with an intuitive interface and robust security measures. Prioritizing speed, simplicity, and user control, it offers an efficient, secure, and modern approach to managing emails.


stripe online payments

If you work with clients in other countries, or if you have your own online service, you need to get paid. Stripe has made it easy for everyone. With a slick interface, and an incredibly easy to use interface it trumps most any other payment solution out there. Stripe is rapidly expanding into new countries, if it's not with you yet it shouldn't be too long.

Adobe Creative Cloud

adobe creative cloud

Adobe has been the go-to company for the designer community for donkey's years. They've grown and adapted with the industry, and Creative Cloud is their most innovative move yet. Adobe CC has moved to a subscription based model, not loved by everyone but it has certainly opened the doors to a lot of new designers. You can now "rent" the entire Creative Suite for as little as $40 (ish) dollars a month.

Nusii online proposals

nusii online proposal software

Nusii is an online proposal software for creative professionals. Writing and sending proposals isn't the most exciting thing in the world and you can waste a lot of non billable hours, especially if they end up going nowhere. You need to produce and track proposals easily. After all, you'd rather be designing, right? Save time, and increase your proposal acceptance rates with Nusii. Incidentally, it integrates natively with many of the tools on this list such as Stripe and more.


skype voip calls

Skype has been around for years. It's equally loved and hated. Loved for what it can do and hated for what it can't, or to be more precise; it's limitations. I use Skype to keep in touch with clients and make presentations. However if you want to screenshare you'll need to upgrade to a Premium account. For me, the returns are more than worth it.

Transmit FTP

transmit ftp app

If you're old school, you still use FTP (for the new school check out the next entry). Transmit has always been a solid FTP client. It does the job well. In a highly saturated market, preference will always come into play and my preference is for Transmit (until I learn git :).



GitHub is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. You could say it's Dropbox for developers (kind of). With private and public plans available you can essentially upload, version and host entire projects without the need for an intermediary


dropbox online storage

I'm guessing that most of you don't need an introduction to Dropbox. Suffice to say it's used continually in the lives of designers all around the world. Project and data backups, sharing work with clients, even hosting websites and videos. If you're not using Dropbox (or similar) you need to have a quiet word with yourself.


alfred productivity app

The first thing I do on any new install is get Alfred up and running. It's become second nature to hit ALT + Space. This simple action opens a world. You can search for apps or documents on your Mac, search via Google, use the calculator, create workflows and much much more. I can't recommend it highly enough. It's also free.


hover domain management

Hover claims to be simple domain management, and when you've tried some of their competitors you have to give them credit where it's due. Domain management should be simple, it should be intuitive; and Hover doesn't appear to let you down. Responsive design and responsive customer support already puts them ahead of the game.


invision design collaboration

Invision have grown enormously over the last couple of years, and rightly so. In the"old days"I used to mockup my designs in html and email a link to my client. Invision have taken that concept and gone nuclear. You can share designs, get live feedback from clients, leave comments in the browser, create clickable prototypes for the web and mobile etc etc. They keep getting better, and the better they get, the faster I get.


cloudapp share images

CloudApp allows you to quickly share documents, files and screenshots with anyone via a URL. Just drag your file onto the CloudApp icon and you're done. No more messing around with attachments. Another free app.



A list of essential software for designers couldn't be complete without Twitter. While arguably not essential, it's certainly plays a large part in the lives of many designers (for better or worse). Keeping up on the latest cat gifs, catching up on gossip and of course finding great new posts from your favorite designers and writers are a few of the ways in which Twitter fills our lives. One caveat though, good luck finding a handle that is actually of use to you. I'd really rather not be @nathanpowell76 but the lack of options is staggering.

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