Introducing the tools I use in my design work

Vish Nambiar
Dec 21, 2020 · 5 min read

Hi there, I’m Vish, a UI/UX designer at Zeals. Every designer has their own favorite tools and setups that let them get things done more efficiently or let them focus on specific aspects of their work, and so in this article, I thought I’d share some of the tools that exist in my current workflow.

Ideation

Pen and Paper

I really prefer these dotted pages

Obviously, I’m not alone in still using physical stationery for scribbling down quick notes and ideating through iterations of designs. There’s something about roughly sketching out a wireframe in a notebook that feels so much more open-ended than going through the same process using design software.

Personally, if I use design software for this phase of the process, I end up committing to certain ideas and rushing through designs that show potential and overcooking them — all because it’s just so easy.

But with a notebook, there’s only so much I can refine an idea before I need to move over to a new space and try something new. Admittedly, the pens I’ve enjoyed using recently are the ones that you can erase so I do actually have the option to refine sketches more than usual, but still…

The pens and notebooks I like using:

Organization and Planning

Notion

The Zeals tech team shifted most of its documentation to Notion earlier this year, and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. I’ve stayed away from the more intricate things Notion can do, but even so, it’s worked really for me so far with the documents I need to create. I tend to stick to using simple tables and boards, collapsable sections, and galleries.

A sample document on Notion

For my design work, I try to use Notion for noting down requirements, meeting notes, timelines, etc., but to be very honest I’ve been a bit lax with my documentation recently and need to get more organized. A resolution for 2021, I think.

Reminders (Apple)

I manage my to-do lists using the Apple Reminders app. It’s super simple to use, it syncs between my MacBook and my iPhone, I can nest tasks within other tasks. It’s great.

My task list for writing this article!

I’ve just been facing this weird issue recently: I usually have one full-screen window open all the time, which is a split-screen shared by the Calendar and Reminders apps, and sometimes when I’m swiping through full-screen apps, I’ll be suddenly redirected to the Calendar/Reminders view… does anyone else have this issue? Let me know in the comments.

Some of the tools I’ve used in the past but moved on from for various reasons:

  • Google Sheets
  • DocBase
  • Milanote
  • Trello
  • Miro

Design Software

Figma

When I first joined the tech team at Zeals as a designer, I was still set firmly in the Adobe ecosystem and used to use XD for all my UI/UX designing. However, I quickly learned that for whatever reason, Adobe XD just did not lend itself to proper collaboration within our team (I still think that as a tool for an individual it’s great!). We entertained the idea of moving to Sketch briefly, but before committing to the free trial that leads to a high monthly cost, we gave Figma a shot.

A glimpse at the Zeals Design System on Figma

Very quickly we realized what an impressive tool it was, and we’ve stuck with it till today. The simple yet wide range of creation that’s possible, plus the more team-oriented features such as commenting and version control are all things that have been a huge advantage in this part of the design workflow.

There’s still a lot that I need to learn how to do properly, like using components and making prototypes, which I feel would really take my output to another level.

Adobe Photoshop & Illustrator

Despite moving on from Adobe XD, I still use its sister apps for other design tasks. For example, photo editing and putting together device mockups gets handled on Photoshop, while Illustrator gets used for creating vectors, logos, icons, etc. I’d like to get much better at creating vectors on Illustrator because that would really help open up the kinds of images I can create digitally.

Supporting Tools and Resources

Any other designer I’ve spoken to has their own third-party tools, plugins, and resources that they use to help them in their work. Here’s a simple list of the ones that I tend to use more often:

Colors & Gradients

These websites help me visualize and get inspiration for color gradients and palettes.

Free Stock Photography

There’s a lot of times I need to use nice images to help sell an idea or proposal, and a lot of the images come from free stock websites such as these:

Free Device Mockups

For those times you need a sweet graphic of your app design on the new iPhone hanging in a black void:

Icons

Not only is this a resource for actual icons, but it also provides great inspiration for how to visualize your own custom icons:

  • FLATICON (I recommend the non-free premium membership)

Converting Videos to GIFs

I use this quite a lot actually, usually for helping visualize animations for developers (I even used it for the Notion GIF earlier in this article):

Conclusion

Well, there’s no real conclusion here, to be honest, but I do want to say that I’d love to hear about the tools and resources other designers out there use, so feel free to leave a comment or get in touch with your thoughts!

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