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November 02, 2012

Tools of the Trade

November 02, 2012

Have you ever heard the saying "you are only as good as your tools?" I must say I that I have a hard time fully buying into that sentiment. It is my opinion that skill and sensibility will always trump the caliber of your tools. That being said however, the right tools can contribute greatly to not only making the quality of work and the level of your skills shine through, but also to simply making your job more enjoyable.

Lucky for us in the design community, there are many tools available that are not only useful to us, but are also fun to use! I wanted to take this opportunity to share a few tools in my proverbial kit that I enjoy and rely on every day.

There are the usual suspects from the Adobe folks – Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign. Also, depending on the given task, there are some other heavy-hitting standards. Note taking - Evernote. Storage - Dropbox (though Google Drive is certainly making a push). Wireframing - OmniGraffle. Most people that are in this industry are well-versed with those players - no big surprises there. However, here are three lesser known gems that I have fallen totally head over heels for:

1. Whatfont

My love for typography knows no bounds. But let's face it - with the astounding amount of typefaces available for use on the web, and that number growing every day, it's hard to always know what you're looking at every time you encounter a beautiful typeface. Whatfont to the rescue! Whatfont is a handy little Google Chrome extension that when engaged, allows you to click on any font at use on a website and quickly see the name of the typeface and it's weight as well as some CSS info about the font size, the line-height, and the color hex-code. If you find some truly inspiring type, you can even tweet your discovery to your followers. This little guy has helped me to discover some great typefaces - and best of all, it's a freebie!

2. Typekit / Fonts.com / Google Web Fonts

Okay so maybe these services aren't exactly "lesser known" but as the realm of what is stylistically possible for designers/developers expands ever-wider, I find these services increasingly more important. So the classic problem has always been this: I have a lot of beautiful fonts on my computer that the average user doesn't (perks of the job). I want everybody to see the same gorgeous font I'm looking at in my design. What ever shall I do? Change the design to use a font that might be of lesser quality, but is more common? Make everything images? Use the font I want to, and hope that the backup font in my CSS doesn't look horrible?

Enter Typekit, Fonts.com, and Google Web Fonts. These services allow you to embed wonderful typefaces into websites in order to provide a consistent and beautiful typography experience for all users. They even carry fonts from some of the biggest names in the type world such as Adobe and Monotype. This service is a huge win for designers and developers alike! They generally are a paid service - though usually only a few dollars a month (with the exception of Google Web Fonts, which is free, but significantly more limited in it's typeface offerings).

(Added bonus for the previously mentioned Whatfont: If the font are you investigating is using one of these font embedding services, it will generally let you know which one and point you the right direction)

3. CSS3 Generator

As I previously mentioned, the possibilities for what can be done stylistically on websites is expanding every day. CSS3 is helping to make the web more beautiful - but hand-coding those elegant drop shadows and gradients, among other things, is a real pain. I've found CSS3 generator to be supremely helpful. It's a rare occasion these days that I ever develop a website without making a few visits to CSS3 generator. Need an inner shadow on something? No problem! Customize exactly what you are wanting to see using the CSS3 Generator form, and boom, you've got a nifty code snippet to send you on your way. I love to design - and the more time I can spend actually designing instead of writing arduous code, the better!

These three tools are just a few of my favorites. Hopefully I've been able to shed some light on some new tools that you can find useful, and fun to use. What about you? What tools can you just not live without when you're designing? Let us know - we'd love to hear about them!

Honorable mentions: Lost Type Co-Op and GimmeBar

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