The Tools I Use @ Work

The Tools I Use @ Work

As a professional graphic designer with a day job and ongoing side projects in my fluid design studio after hours, things can sometimes get a little out of hand. So it is important that I use and constantly improve on the software, hardware and manual tools that I use each day to Get Shit Done. In 2018, these are the main tools that I regurlarly use to wrangle my to-do list, make high quality design work and maintain my sanity!


1. Omnifocus & Airmail

omnifocus software to get stuff done

While there have been many to-do apps throughout my working career, as of 2018 the one I have satyed with is Omnifocus for Mac. I also installed the IOS version for it’s capability to sync from the desktop version, but find that I rarely use it on my phone due the lack of background syncing (the app syncs while open, so if you aren’t in the app regurlarly you may find that you get notifications on your phone for tasks that you had already set as completed on the computer earlier). The best thing about Omnifocus for mac is the ability to create tasks directly from my emails in Airmail, this saves heaps of time and each task then includes a link back to the original email which is great for going back to tasks that require a specific email attachment without getting ahead of myself and pre-organising the files before I get a chance to digest the work required. While Omnifocus has a great and deep set of tools with perspectives and project tiers,  because most of the things I’m working on are either recurring or small tasks with 1 or 2 parts, I generally stick to Forecast page, which shows a simple list of the things I have to do for today and lets me easily move things around to later in the week if other competing priorities vie for my time.


2. Adobe Suite

Adobe Suite PhotoshopStill the cornerstone of design industry software across the world despite it’s short comings, Adobe Suite is the collection of products I use day to day to get graphic design work done. There are other competitors in this space now that handle small niches of design work like Affinity Designer for more illustrative work and Sketch for online components and User Experience in applications, but as I tend to cover a wide breadth of disciplines within Graphic Design, Adobe still has it covered with Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, Adobe Acrobat and Premiere/After Effects.


3. Sony Nex

Product Photography DesignWhen I started looking at camera’s I needed something that would provide me with better quality than the web style camera’s at the time, was small enough to carry with me every day in my normal kit and did good video. This brought me to the Sony Nex which was new at the time and has served me while for a few years now without any major complaints or issues. This allows me to take good quality product photographs, small featurette videos for clients and comes with my almost everywhere without having to worry about a massive camera body.


4. Atom & CodeKit

atom text editorWhile I definitley would not call myself a developer there are always times that need a little tweaking, a little problem solving or even just a look into how those gears are turning. For times like this, especially when working with eccommerce systems like ShopifyAtom is absolutley my go-to. I also use Atom as a base text editor as well, booting it with a shortcode run by Alfred.


5. Dropbox, 1Password & Rightfont

1password managerKeeping data secure and backed up is an essential but sometimes easy to forget part of doing good business. I have known too many people who find themselves in a bind after having saved all of their passwords to the desktop in a text editor, so I use 1Password to keep all of the passwords I use personally as well as those generated for clients unique and securely encrypted. I sync this will all of my devices via dropbox, as well as using this clandestine tool to backup and supply design work for and to my valued clients. This means deliverables are available to my clients well after the project has finished should the files be misplaced or need to be passed on internally or with another cotractor. Most recently I also started backing up my fonts with dropbox and rightfont helps with this by syncing the fonts into the system, so you don’t need to have duplicates files on the computer (super handy!), it can also help in sorting and searching for fonts quickly through a menu bar app.


6. Text Expander & Hazel

Part of being productive is saving time on the things you do more than once, especially things that you need to do frequently like saving or copying files between locations and typing the same kinds of details for emails etc. For file management on my mac I use Hazel from Noodlesoft, this handy app works in the background to help with automatically doing things like automatically cleaning up screen shots on the desktop and moving files I would otherwise need to take time and concentration to file away. For text, there is a rudimentary built in utility on the mac in keyboard settings, but I have preferred using Text Expander (also available on IOS) for a little more power and accessibility. This app can be used to create handy snippets for things like standard greetings, dates (like entering ‘#nextthurs’ and getting the exact date in dd/mm/yyyy format) and many more complex things like those detailed here and some other pointers @ macsarky.


7. Microsoft Office & Skype

Whilst Google Sheets has come far and I do use some of it’s features for saving and backing up spreadsheets that need constant updates, for processing, updating and general day to day spreadsheeting I still use ol’ Microsoft Excel and sometimes Powerpoint, not because Apple’s built in competitors cannot do what I need to, but more for quick and easy compatibility with client software. With this of course comes Skype as well, which is still my app of choice for quickly getting into contact with overseas clients and coworkers offsite.


8. PocketCast & Spotify

Nothing eases the stress of a long day like some good music and information, for this I use PocketCast to sync my podcasts and the streaming service Spotify for some soothing tunes (my current jam is a long playlist of classic music inspired by and that play during the console game Fallout).


Other Worthy Online Mentions:
Transmit, iBarcode Generator, Local by Flywheel, Better Rename 9, Image Optim, Alfred 3iStat Menus

 Other Worthy Offline Mentions:
Carry Bag by Navali, Pencil Holder, Frixion (erasable) Pens, 24 Bottles Thermos, Macbook Pro 13in,  Ipad Pro + Apple Pencil + Procreate




Just a Little White Space

Just a Little White Space

It’s about value, every square centimetre costs you money so you want to fill up every last bit of that space. It makes sense, it feels right and when you look at it, you see all of the value you have to provide your customers. But do they, confronted by all of this information, know exactly what you want them to do?

While an economical and efficient use of space certainly has its place in certain graphic design projects, it can restrict your ability to introduce a directive for your customer. Humans on the whole, are indecisive creatures prone to react rather than act alone. So no matter how informative or entertaining your design, if it doesn’t implicitly or explicitly ask the person viewing it to do something.. chances are, they will do nothing, even if you have done a fantastic job of imparting your value proposition.


graphic deisgn white space



White space isn’t just empty space, it is intentionally empty space. Think about a large blocked out square, it is full of information but has not direction. Introducing some intentional white space to make it into an arrow gives you something to follow, you might even call it a purpose. A graphic designer introduces white space in order to accomplish the same thing on a deeper level. When combined with hierarchy and other visual design techniques, white space creates the same kind of arrow only instead of pointing someone to the bathroom, it points them towards the action you would like them to make.


Breathing Graphic Design



The other important thing that white space introduces is breathing room. Much like the full stop or comma in a sentence, if you draw things out too long without a breath (or an intentional reason to do so), your customer may become fatigued by the experience. They might even misunderstand your intentions, or be confused about what you want them to do either because they stopped reading, or because too many ideas were packed too closely together. This entanglement can undo any of the actual information you are trying to impart, muting your message and a message that can’t be heard, is doing nothing for your business.

It may initially feel right to fill up all that space, cram in as much as you can, tell your customers everything in one breathe with all of the passion that you can muster… but in the long run it hurts what you want to achieve. Such that giving your customers what they want or need, improving their lives and helping them to be happier and healthier starts getting further away rather than closer.

Sometimes more, actually means less. So the next time you get that project designed, take a moment to consider the amount of content you have, what is most important and what you want to say so that you can craft a lengthy experience rather than a jump scare. Craft something that your customer will love, rather than feel costed by. Craft something that will help your business sustain and make even more money, rather than simply being a suck on your time and energy.







What are Pantone Colours?

What are Pantone Colours?

The Pantone Colours in the Pantone Matching System (PMS) are a selection of standardised colours chosen by the Pantone company with specific values that allow for almost perfect reproduction across the world by printers and manufacturers.

The PANTONE® name is known worldwide as the standard language for color communication from designer to manufacturer to retailer to customer  – via Pantone website

This is because not only does each colour have specific values, numbers (PMS 3115 for example) and instructions for their creation, but the book that you have purchased from Pantone (at great cost!) should be exactly the same as the book being referenced anywhere else in the world. This also includes books that will show you how your colours will look on different surfaces and in different media, from coated and uncoated papers to fabrics and other mixed media.

All of this just means that it is possible for you to pick a colour for your printing or branding and know that this colour will be reproduced all but perfectly wherever it is printed or recreated with only minuscule differences in the look (colour shift).


pantone color matching


This is SUPER important, because if your business logo is a specific shade of cherry red for instance, you want that same cherry red to be represented wherever it may be seen by your audience so that they can build up an association with that colour as well as the other properties of your branding and grow the feelings that your brand exudes, allowing you to build trust with your customers.

It also allows you avoid issues when trying to replicate a colour that you have seen, for instance on a flower, because you can match that colour to a book that you have with you in the same frame of reference. Lighting and situation can affect how your brain perceives colour so greatly that it is easy for a photo or description of a colour to be misconstrued. The Pantone Colour Matching System removes these uncertainties and allows for transparency. It also means that if something goes wrong and your product or printing doesn’t match, you can go back to the printer or manufacturer with your specific pantone colour choices and dispute them with confidence.

So if you haven’t already, consider choosing pantone colours for your logo and branding today. If you don’t have a book on hand (and if you aren’t a designer or printer this is likely), try contacting your local printer or designer, chances are they will be open to sitting with you and giving you some free help with matching your colours to get your business on the right footing for the future.

20 Things Pokemon can Teach us About Design

20 Things Pokemon can Teach us About Design

By now everyone is aware of the craze that is Pokemon GO and savvy business owners have taken advantage in many weird and wonderful ways, but what can it teach us about design? Here are 20 quick take-aways from the latest augmented reality phenomenon:


Start Simple
No matter how complex the copy and content you have to work with, always start from the largest and easiest to understand building blocks.


Your design should build on the story of your brand, with related content, tone, colour and imagery that reminds the user about what they are consuming.


Think about How
Always take the time to think about where your design is ending up and how it will consumed.


A long standing tennant in design is repetition, the user will often need to see/ hear/ touch/ taste/ smell something up to 7 times before they truly ‘get’ it.


Relate to the User
Use points of interest in your design that relate to the user, either making them feel at home or completely at odds with it.


Call to Action
Always end any story that you tell through your design with a direct and clear message, don’t beat around the Tall Grass, be honest, be direct, be you.


The brain loves puzzles and patterns, use this to your advantage by leading to eye across your design in a way that surprises and delights the user, even if it only takes a couple seconds.


You don’t necessarily need to fill every millimetre of your design with densely populated information, don’t be afraid to give your content space to breathe.


Building Systems
While you want the initial glance to immediately grab your subjects attention, it is important to build in deeper mechanics that can help the user engage with your brand.


Buried Treasure
You don’t always have to put everything out in the open, leaving something buried in your design to surprise the devoted explorer can be a great way to make them feel special and earn a deeper engagement.


Content Sizing
No matter how much you spend on your logo, it should never be the entirety of your content (unless it is part of some larger marketing gimmick), let the most important information that you want to communicate take precedence.


In a social world, word of mouth is more important than ever so making your design in a way that allows it to be shared openly will only help your brand expand and build trust for new leads.


Send it to Print/ Go Live
You don’t need to have a massive budget, meticulously planned rollout or a team of marketers at your back to ‘go viral’ sometimes all you need is a good idea that works (it doesn’t even need to be ‘feature complete’ the important thing is to get it out there!)


Creating your design in a way that allows the user to interact with it (reuse/recycle?), even in subtle ways can expand the effectiveness of your work 10 times and forge a deeper relationship with the product and your brand.


It is said that nothing is new, but that doesn’t mean you cannot start with something that has been done before (even something you have done before that worked well) and put a little extra into it to help it evolve into something new – you don’t always have to start with a blank canvas.


People like to collect things, so why not create your design in a way that inspires your users to collect (and keep it) – you could even connect it with a marketing program and reward them further down the line for keeping your brand in (heart and) mind.


Visual Cues
Sometimes what you think is obvious may not be THAT obvious, so think about adding visual cues to designate the most important information you want to impart and what you want your user to do once they have absorbed it ie. the ominous BIG RED BUTTON, or an arrow that points right at the info, it actually works.


In The Background
Always make sure that your main design contains colours that don’t conflict with your information (unless you are using it as a visual device), the background should be in the background.. act accordingly.


Every design project needs boundaries, if you don’t have any, make them yourself, it allows you to think out of the box more and expand on what is possible without constantly expanding the scope (you definitely want to avoid scope creep hell!).


Know who your design is for, it should be understood by everyone, but your creation should be able to resonate absolutely with a very specific person with very specific needs.