Earlier this year I reformatted my computer after deciding that I wouldn’t be upgrading my Mid 2012 Macbook Pro. I figured it would be a good time to evaluate the tools I use and invest in some new ones if needed. I enjoy reading about what tools people are using so I figured I’d share mine.
Here’s a short rundown of what I’m using most everyday when I’m at my desk working. I use a Macbook Pro which is connected to a wired keyboard, magic mouse, and an Apple display so anything tech is running through this setup. I’ll also list a few things that aren’t apps because I think they are also an important part of my work.
I present to you….the tools I use (at my desk):
Updated Oct. 12, 2018.
The day to day stuff like browsing the web, email, scheduling, reading, and writing.
I use Google Chrome for my default browser. It’s familiar and is my starting point for web dev because of the developer tools. The extensions I use are WhatFont, 1Password, Dropmark, and Pocket. (more on most these in a bit.)
Newton Love it or hate it everyone uses email so you might as well enjoy it as much as you can. I won’t go into the details on why I enjoy using Newton because I’ve covered those here, but this is the most beautiful email app out there.
Astro Apple Mail
This is currently my email app of choice. Read more here.
I’m not a big calendar user so the default Mac calendar suits me just fine. I mostly use it for work appointments (synced with Google) and to keep up with family happenings (synced with iCloud). Some people map out every hour of their day, but that’s just not me.
I don’t use it much, but anytime I need to make a simple PDF or need to open a .doc file from a client this is what I use. My favorite part is that it let’s me keep Microsoft Office off of my computer.
Maybe it’s their brand or maybe it’s Aaron James Draplin (watch anything from him, it’s sure to be awesome), but whatever it is I enjoy using these little notebooks. I like constraints while designing and these help me to only write down what’s needed. “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.”
I have the yellow .9mm P209 and the blue .7mm P207. I find myself grabbing ol’ blue the most because I like writing and sketching in small notebooks, but the yellow is a bit more sturdy for other uses.
Pilot G-2 07 Pen
Just for writing, if I can keep my wife from stealing it off my desk. Black ink, always.
Yeah I’m putting these on here because they are a new addition to my work. Apparently I’m getting old and stare at the screen too much so these help. I went with Warby Parker because their design and user experience (both online and in store) is top notch.
Design & Development
Photoshop This use to be my web design app of choice, but now I mostly use it because I work with designers who send PS mockups and I still need a photo editor. I finally updated to Creative Cloud since opening my business in 2012 (I was still using CS6).
Illustrator It’s rare that I spend much time in Illustrator (mostly because I’m not great at it), but I use it here and there. I get Ai files from clients for things like logos so I need it. I also use it for saving svg files.
XD + CS6 Photoshop
I recently canceled my Adobe CC membership because I just wasn’t using it. I’ve fully swapped to Sketch now so I no longer need it for my work. However I do have agencies that need to send me PSDs. XD, which is now free, can now open PSD files and I can probably get 90% of the way there, but as of now XD isn’t quite showing me as much as opening the same PSD in Photoshop. Because of this I’m going to load back up old CS6 version of PS for those rare times that I need it. Honestly I could probably just look off of a PDF and duplicate the design in code, but between these tools I should be fine. I just couldn’t justify paying $55 every month for something I rarely used.
This one was probably the biggest game changer for me in 2017. While it never felt like a web design tool Photoshop was my go-to app, but after purchasing Adobe CC I tried XD for a bit. XD felt awesome after using PS for so long but after extended use (1 day) it felt lacking. I don’t get caught up in the latest tools, but Sketch has continued to receive praise for as long as I could remember so I gave it a try. Sketch filled in all the missing gaps from XD and I fell in love. (XD is on the right path, just needs more.) I’ve designed one project in Sketch and I don’t see myself looking back. (Thanks to @mds for the tips as I got started.) I still have a long way to go but there’s so much to like with Sketch.
My frustration for Coda continued to grow after making this post so I fully swapped to Atom. There are still things I miss about Coda but not enough to use it right now. Panic just really doesn’t seem to have anything to say about an update other than “coming soon” for years now. For now Atom with a handful of packages gets the job done.
Swapping to Atom meant that I lost the built-in FTP so I rely on Transmit more. I upgraded to Transmit 5 which is fantastic. I’ve always enjoyed Transmit and that hasn’t changed with v5. (Maybe since this is released they can work on Coda now.)
Hammer for Mac
Hammer is a static site generator but without getting too technical. I mainly use it for the auto reload and html includes for faster dev. I’ll start development by creating static html layouts for client review before converting my files into WordPress.
I don’t use any build tools so I just drop files in here before uploading to the web for image optimization. I used ImageOptim but gave this one a try after @csswizardry’s tweet. Here’s a comparison as well.
I bought this app for three reasons. One it helps me when I design in Sketch for accessibility. Two it’s designed well and is easy to use. Three I like supporting good people. This one is from @mds and @soffes and while I’m sure they didn’t even make back the time they put in it’s a small way to show appreciation. (By the way, if an app asks for money give it to them. It ensures your app stays up to date and working. I’m to the point now where I’m leery of free apps.)
I’m listing both of these here because while I’ve used DesktopServer for about two years now I believe I’ll be using Local by Flywheel on my next project. DesktopServer has gave me some issues in the past and seems to be falling behind at this point. Plus Local now gives the option to push to their hosting to launch sites.
Update: I’m now using Local and loving it. Their ability to push local sites to their hosting works flawlessly and made a recent site launch a breeze.
Speaking of, I swapped to a managed WordPress hosting recently after years of thinking it was mostly a gimmick. I highly recommend using Flywheel. I use it for all of my sites plus some client sites. (This is the only affiliate link on this page.)
I suppose most of the items in this post are for business as that’s the main reason I use my computer but here are a few apps directly related to helping me run Tin Cans & String.
I went back and forth about using a project management app. I’ve tried getting clients into these types of apps before and it never really works out for one reason or another. Instead I use this app for myself. I have recurring monthly tasks like updating plugins that I keep track of here plus the one-off reminders and to do list items. I also use it to keep track of the process of onboarding clients, but oddly enough don’t really use it much during projects. I downloaded a package to keep it on my dock because I love the feel of having a native app.
One major thing I wanted to change when I reformatted my computer was how I backup and share files. My only backup was the USB hard drive setting on my desk that backed up via Time Machine. I now use Dropbox to not only backup most all of my files but also use it for sharing my files with clients (no more looking for attachments in email). I got the idea for my project folder structure and client reviews from this youtube video from, once again, @mds.
I can’t remember which came first, me fully swapping to Dropbox or using Paper. Paper is a beautiful, simplistic, and extremely useful app. I use this along with Dropbox file sharing to share thoughts and project progress with clients. A similar concept from Brad Frost’s article on 24 ways. I also learned some tips from seeing how Noah Stokes worked with UI projects as well as how Jess Eddy uses Paper for Project Management. I think I used this little electron app to help put it on my dock.
I run a business so while this one isn’t glamorous it’s extremely helpful. I don’t really track time anymore but I use Harvest for all my invoicing needs. I used Billings for Mac since I started my business in 2012 and I’m sure it’s still a fine product but I tried various invoicing apps about 6 months back and Harvest was the clear winner for me.
Much like the items above these all make life a bit easier and more enjoyable.
I’ve always used some sort of text editor for notes, drafting up email replies, writing posts, or just copy/paste dump. I’ve used iA Writer for quite some time and while I’m not a power user I probably use this more than any other on this list.
When I first reformatted my machine this is one of the first apps I installed. I consider it an essential. I can’t remember when I started using 1Password but I can’t imagine not having it.
I’ve used Pocket for years now. It helps me stay current in the design world. I’ll throw articles in Pocket and read it later when I have the time. I’m now pretty selective about what I save to make sure I’m able to read it all. Reading through Pocket is a part of my morning routine over coffee.
Dropmark is basically a better Pinterest, but I hate to insult it like that because it really is a joy to use. I save items in collections whether it’s code snippets, inspiration, client assets, resources, or anything else that I want to bookmark.
There’s nothing wrong with the default Mac calculator but I like the simplistic design and the fact that it’s always in my menu bar. It performs some really smart calculations and has a nice history.
Most people use this for work but I mostly use it to keep in touch with a few friends. Working as a lone wolf it’s nice to communicate throughout the day about music, design, or really anything (including gifs).
When Rdio shutdown Spotify was about the only logical choice. It plays music and gets the job done. I’m @iamdereklong there as well.
Sony MDR-7506 Headphones
I wanted some decent headphones for quite a while and finally purchased these after reading this article. They get the job done and don’t break the bank.
Kap is another little helpful app. I don’t use it much but enough to make the list. It’s a screen capture app when an image won’t quite do.
Well, that’s it I suppose. Many thanks for all the hard work that went into the apps and products that make my life a bit easier. Any apps you are keen on? Let me know!
(If you enjoy reading these sorts of things An Event Apart has a list as well. )