21 Must Have Apps For Designers

It’s 2017 and I use more apps than most people know exist. As designers and business owners we get it though. We live in the world of apps, and finding new and better ways to be productive is always on our minds. Here’s a list of my 21 must have apps for freelance designers that I use every day to accomplish my business goals. I am not affiliated with these companies, but it’d be awesome if I was.

Design & Development

  • Adobe Creative Cloud — for the price of the Creative Cloud service (I think I pay around $350/year) I use 7 or so of the programs on a consistent basis. These include Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, After Effects, InDesign and Bridge. Granted not every designer will need to use all of these programs as it depends on your skill set and types of projects. Since I do video and animation in addition to print and web design I find that I can easily justify the price of the Creative Cloud every year when compared to some one-time fee alternatives. Which brings me to my next app…
  • Sketch $99 — Sketch is a relatively new app that came on the scene a few years ago. Think of it as a Photoshop and Illustrator hybrid. According to Avocode, Sketch is closing in on Photoshop fast in terms of number of users. The main advantage over Photoshop I see is the use of multiple artboards, and with the use of plugins, cross document updates to styles which is a huge time saver.
  • Affinity Designer $50 — This app was huge for me. Even though I am very versed in Photoshop, this program made it so much easier to do the same actions. Affinity Designer combines vector and pixel artwork to create an environment that, again, Photoshop was lacking. Definitely worth checking out the free trial.
  • RightFont $40 — A floating menu library with all of your fonts so you can activate / deactivate and my favorite — drag symbols from icon libraries such as Font Awesome straight into your designs. You can also creative “live lists” which syncs with a Google Drive or Dropbox folder of your fonts so you can have all your fonts on all your devices. Sweet!
  • Coda 2 $99 — My go-to code development app. Built in FTP, compass watch for SASS, tons of plugins, color formatting, preview, terminal, SSH etc.


  • Sunrise Calendar free — My favorite calendar app for Mac. Syncs with Google Calendar, iCal and you can easily toggle these on / off as well as integrations from Asana, Trello and Slack.
  • Freeagent $20/mo — Freelance bookkeeping software. Estimates, invoicing, expenses, time tracking, banking, accounting, tax, multiple users permissions. Web based, mobile, secure.
  • Webflow free to $78/mo — I just recently discovered Webflow this year although it’s been around for about 2 years. It’s an all-in-one design platform for launching dynamic, responsive websites without writing code. The appeal of this visual CMS website creator over others is that if you wanted, you could include your own custom code. What’s also really nice is you just click on things to change the content — a dream come true for clients and content contributors.
  • Slack free — Famously the app that put a robot on Mars. That makes it sound pretty awesome and it is. Slack is “Team communication for the 21st century”. You can have multiple channels for various topics, upload files, and then search those chats and files quickly and easily. I use Slack for the foundation of my teams communication as my other apps integrate directly into Slack keeping everyone on the same page. Or app, whatever.
  • Evernote free — A robust collaborative note taking and writing app with cross note search, symlinks and image embeds. Syncs across all devices.
  • Asana free — Project and team management web and app based software. “Asana is the easiest way for teams to track their work — and get results.”
  • Trello free — Another way to organize a team. Much more simplified, Trello uses columns I like to call “swim lanes” that you can move cards in and out of such as to-do, in progress and done.
  • Basecamp 3 free to $80/mo — A brand new design from Basecamp this year with Basecamp 3, an easy way to work with other people including your clients. This was the killer feature for me. It’s called “client side” and you can easily push discussion, content and even approvals to your clients who can approve or deny right in their email without the need to sign into an app. This could be a game changer in client relations.
  • Skype free — Everyone knows Skype. The best part about it for me is instant screen sharing with clients.
  • Zapier free — Make the internet work for you. Zapier uses company API’s to perform tasks. For example I have a Zap set up for when I add a new client to Freeagent, the contact is automatically added to my Google Contacts and a Mailchimp list. You can even have multiple step Zaps. It’s a huge time saver and just works.
  • Raindrop.io free — A browser extension that allows you to bookmark websites into tags and folders. I have folders set up for design, business reading, travel etc. so if I stumble across something I want to save or read later I just throw it in a Raindrop.

Website Integrations

  • Mailchimp free — Send better email through Mailchimp. Email templates and list generation makes it easy to engage your audience and clients in a beautiful and easy way.
  • Google Analytics free — Pretty imperative for any website. Google Analytics not only shows you how many people are visiting your website but from where, on what device, which pages, time spent and exit pages. Diving into analytics allows you to track sales funnels and optimize your page designs.
  • Jetpack for WordPress free — Most of my websites are on the WordPress platform so this one is a no brainer. It places all of my sites in one place to track traffic, update, increase performance and also protects them against attacks.

File Sharing & Collaboration

  • Bit Torrent Sync Pro $30 — I was so excited when I found this app. It’s a file transfer app that uses the bittorrent technology to transfer files between devices without the use of the cloud. It’s all peer-to-peer networking and finds the shortest, fastest route between devices. Check out this speed test. I use this for literally all of my client and personal design files in so I can have them on my Macbook, iMac, iPhone and custom built PC while also backing them up to each of those devices as well. If you “delete” a file it replaces it with a placeholder file you can easily sync it back.
  • Google Drive $2/100gb/mo — Since I use BT Sync so much for device to device syncing of files, I found I didn’t need that much space for cloud storage and client deliverables. That being said I made the switch from Dropbox to Google Drive this year. I was paying over $100 for 1TB when I was only using 1/10 of that space. $2/mo seemed much more reasonable, Google Drive allows you to be more collaborative with co-workers and clients (anyone with a gmail has Google Drive) and it’s more visual which is what designers need.

Which apps do you use as a freelancer and/or designer? Subscribe for more articles like this.

Originally posted on Stambaugh Designs