Software I use while Working Outdoors
For the digital worker, Nomadic Working usually requires the use of a heavily-curated set of web-based services. As a designer, here’s what I use.
In order of average frequency-of-usage, here’s my lineup:
- Basecamp is my digital headquarters. It’s where I collaborate with clients for planning, design reviews and copywriting. I’m in Basecamp every single day either working with a client or on one of my own projects. My wife and I use it to manage our home improvement plans and family holidays.
- If you’ve never heard of Basecamp, it’s a web-based service for project management. But not really — the term project management is misleading, perhaps causing you to conjure images of Microsoft Outlook and Sharepoint. Basecamp is the lightweight, agile version of project management. Content is broken up into Messages, Documents and To-do’s. That’s it. You create a bit of content, then you and your team can discuss and refine it. Job done.
- I’ve used Basecamp’s competitors (like Trello and even Zoho) before while trying to save a buck, and I always come back. Basecamp is simply the best way to collaborate on complex projects, and some simple ones. As a bonus, they’ve recently released iPhone, iPad and Android versions of the app, so you can stay up-to-date while you’re out Nomadic Working.
- Since I’m away from an office all day, I need to stay organized. I don’t carry a steel filing cabinet around with me, and I don’t maintain a P.O. Box to receive artwork and copy. I need these things to be organized and waiting for me when I’m ready for them. Basecamp handles these needs and the communication that surrounds them very elegantly.
- Google Sync
- While I rarely ‘see’ it, Google Sync makes sure all my email, contacts and calendars are in-sync across my devices, without me having to think about it. (You can also sync To-do’s, but I use iCloud for that, as well as for Notes.) While any IMAP server will let you sync email, and any USB cable will sync your phone contacts to your laptop, there is no easier way to do them all at once than using Google Sync.
- Chances are you may have never heard of Google Sync, and that wouldn’t be much of a surprise because it’s essentially baked-in to many of Google’s products already. They don’t make a big fuss about it because it’s not a big deal anymore. Sync is essentially a bit of code that makes sure your email, messages, contacts, calendars etc are always up-to-date — regardless of which device or app you’re using. Sounds silly, but ten years ago this was a large and difficult problem. I’m grateful to not have to deal with it anymore!
- Github is where a LOT of people who code host, collaborate and share what they’re working on. While it’s a very developer-y thing, it’s really useful even if you’re just sharing a piece of code to embed a video, or an HTML email. It’s pretty easy to use, and it works with all the nerdy things like Terminal, Sublime etc. Github is what enables me to collaborate on web designs with teams on the other side of the planet. Think of it like Sharepoint for developers.
- It’s hard to get in today’s world without having your own website. When I was starting out in web design in the early 2000’s, I did a bunch of research and testing to figure out which open-source CMS I was going to commit to, and WordPress won (against Movable Type, TextPattern and Drupal). I’m glad I did, because now WordPress is the world’s most popular blogging platform.
- But WordPress isn’t just for blogs. Even large companies like The New Yorker, TechCrunch, Variety Magazine, Sony Music and BBC America use it to power their primary websites. WordPress also powers this website. I’ve stuck with WordPress because it’s easy to use and learn, and the support community is outstanding. As a web designer, it gives me the flexibility to do exactly what I want it to, which I can’t get from something like SquareSpace. I’ve been a WordPress evangelist coming up on ten years, and I have no intention of looking back.
- Facebook, Instagram, Twitter & Pinterest
- These four social networks let me stay up-to-date with how others are Nomadic Working, and enable me to share to a much wider audience than I could have before. For me, this means I’m helping more people, which is an easy-win, no sales-pitch necessary.
- Google Apps consists of Docs, Spreadsheets, Drive, Hangouts, Calendar… you get the idea. I’ve edited 6 books using Google Docs. It’s simply the best way (yet) to collaboratively edit rich copy. I use Hangouts occasionally to communicate about work projects, and sometimes I use Spreadsheets, but as a designer I prefer the design-control that Apple “Numbers” gives me.
- Nonetheless, the Google Apps suite of products answers so many business needs in one fell swoop. You can’t really go wrong here.
This is the desktop software I use. Notice this list is a lot shorter than above? That’s because by-nature, desktop software is not centralized — the files it generates tend to live on my computer, never to be shared. While things like Adobe Creative Cloud are addressing that, web-based software boasts a huge inherent advantage over desktop wares because they’re centralized (online) by-nature.
- Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator — in my line of work — are kind of a dying breed. Digital designers are starting to get smarter about how they work, preferring faster, more web-oriented software like Sketch, Axure and Balsamiq. I spend a lot of time writing code, and the code that’s geared toward design (like CSS) lets me bypass a lot of time I would have otherwise spent in Photoshop. But it can’t replace everything — for example, the Nomadic Working logo is an SVG that was prepared using Illustrator…no-one hand-codes SVGs. Any raster files that need editing still need to visit Photoshop (or Pixelmator) once in a while.
- When you write as much code as I do, you need a good piece of software to do it in. Sublime is a good editor with plenty of features, but like most code editors, is geared towards the full-on nerd developers who are hand-coding complex applications. For a designer like me, the learning curve is a little steep. Github recently released Atom — their version of a web-based editor, and it looks promising.