10 of the Best Productivity Tools to Improve Your Design Workflow

Daniel Baldwin
May 2, 2016 · 5 min read

Update (1/08/2016):

Since I wrote this post, a lot has happened in my design career. I’ve taken over both the marketing and product design at TINT. I have taken on more freelance projects than ever before. I have finally automated my freelance process (blog post to come!), and I have found my niche in the world of design, branding and web design.

I’ve updated my list to feature 4 new tools that I use in my current design workflow that help expedite each step of my design process. If you have any suggestions on tools that I should be using, shoot me a tweet at @danielbaldwinco!

For those of us working on small design teams, we know what it’s like to have projects with fast turnaround times. Optimizing your workflow is imperative to becoming a successful designer. Luckily, there are hundreds of tools available that will help you do just that. The following apps have helped me structure my daily routine, improve the quality of my work, and increase my productivity:

RescueTime: I’ve only been using this tool for a couple of weeks now, but it has already grown to become my favorite tool on this list. RescueTime tracks all of your computer activity (and Android activity if you’re one of those guys) and gives you accurate insights into your levels of productivity. It reminds me a lot of Mint’s spending insights. Since using this tool, I’ve subconsciously been avoiding distracting websites as I want to keep my score high (heh).

Inspectlet: Previously, I used CrazyEgg to analyze user actions and engagement on the web. Now, I use Inspectlet, as it allows me to watch recorded sessions and pinpoint exact moments where users bounce. You can filter user recordings by action, screen size, etc. to really drill down and understand the exact problems you’re trying to solve.

Asana: While using task management tools sometimes feels like a chore to update and follow, once you get in the groove, Asana will improve your management skills, guaranteed. I took two weeks off from freelancing and my job at TINT recently and was able to pick right back up where I left off since all of my tasks were logged in Asana. Another bonus is that I’ve noticed that my turnaround times on projects has decreased as I hold myself more accountable knowing that my teammates can see my due dates.

Trackduck: This tool was recommended to me by a developer that I work with daily and I give full credit to this tool for improving our communication and attention to detail. With Trackduck, you’re able to annotate live websites (or staging environments) and assign tasks to those involved. I’ve explored other tools similar to this but have yet to find something as easy, robust, and useful as this.

Hours: This app is almost always open in my web browser. For being such a simple time-tracking tool, it has changed my freelancing game completely:

  1. I’ve gained insight into my daily productivity patterns, which led me to plan my work schedule more effectively.
  2. I can visually see when I’ve put in too many hours on a project (as well as not enough), helping me discover a better work-life balance.
  3. I was able to adjust my rates based off of the average time it takes for me to finish a project.

Sketch: Nike vs. Adidas… Canon vs. Nikon… Photoshop vs. Sketch. I made the switch from Creative Cloud to Sketch a few months ago, and it has streamlined my design workflow significantly. Everything just seems easier with Sketch, from designing across multiple artboards to exporting assets in bulk.

Invision: Gone are the days where sending clients zip files full of “date_projectName_clientName_revision26.pdf” and “READ ME FIRST!” are acceptable. Invision allows you to:

  1. Turn your mockups into clickable, interactive prototypes
  2. Annotate and converse with clients and collaborators directly within your designs
  3. Launch meetings and walk your clients through your designs remotely

Zeplin: Handing off projects to developers can be a headache, but Zeplin helps speed up and alleviate the process. After designing in Sketch and collaborating in Invision, I’m ready to turn my designs into code. Zeplin automatically extracts styles from your files and creates a style guide, allows you to extract assets directly from the app, and generates measurements (padding, line height, width, etc.) that help you develop a pixel perfect design.

Grammarly: Everybody’s been there… you get button-crazy and push send before proofreading an email, only to find out that you accidentally sent it with several typos. Grammarly not only highlights spelling errors, but it also corrects your grammar as you type. This tool has saved me many times. Even though it isn’t exactly a design tool, it has become a staple amongst my bookmarks bar.

Paper: Dropbox Paper is one of my favorite all-in-one tools. I use it in the beginning stages of a project when interviewing a client to understand their needs. I also use it to collaborate on copy. And at the end of the day, I use it to log my progress. Their minimal interface allows you to focus on what it’s meant for — writing.

If you have any questions, ideas on how I can further improve my workflow or feedback, shoot me a tweet @danielbaldwinco or email me at danielbaldwinco@gmail.com.

Daniel Baldwin

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Co-Founder & Creative Director at www.goodhands.co