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10 Tools That Empower + Enhance My Design Business

graphic design tools

Life is very much about surrounding yourself with people that push, inspire, and support you. That is why I surround myself with positive people that make me a better person.

I also happen to think that the tools in your toolbox play an incredibly important role in supporting you. After all, a roofer can’t get by without a ladder, and a doctor needs her stethoscope, right?

And while I might only rely on natural light, a blank canvas, and a few supplies when I’m out en plein air painting, my graphic design studio looks a little different when it comes to the tools I rely on and look forward to using each and every day.

Software, books, and music…oh my!

Moving my graphic design studio from an office and into my home was one of the best things I’ve ever done for my business, but whether I’m in rented space or my home studio, there are a few tools that I simply couldn’t live without.

Let’s start with the hardware and software:

1. My Mac: This seems pretty basic, but the truth is that I couldn’t run this business without it, so it’d be silly for me not to mention it. I am grateful for the power behind my Mac and its ability to simultaneously run several of the other tools on this list. (I might also be hoping that by listing this first, I earn some good karma that will help me continue to learn and grow easily.)

2. WACOM tablet: There’s only so much you can do with a trackpad or a mouse. For those times when I wish I could just pick up a pencil and sketch right on my monitor (not a good idea!), my drawing tablet saves the day.

3. The Adobe suite: A designer’s delight. InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator have become second nature to me, providing the tools I need within them to bring my ideas to life for my clients.

4. Social media: I attempt to spend quite a bit of time unplugged when I’m not on my computer working. That being said, I can’t help but appreciate social media as a tool for my business — not only in being able to promote the behind-the-scenes of my business via this blog, on Instagram, and on Facebook, but also for my ability to follow what my clients and other businesses are doing.

5. My printer: While I love employing talented printers to make use of the more complicated papers and sizes, my handy-dandy studio printer is fantastic for letting me get a feel for what projects are going to look like. Hearing it churn out samples is often music to my ears.

Now, let’s unplug and look at the non-technical side of things:

6. Notebooks: There really are the times I just need a pencil and paper. That’s where my sketchpads and notebooks come in. I especially rely on these in client meetings, where I appreciate the arrows and lines that let me capture my thoughts exactly as they’re happening. (And where my notes often look crazed.)

7. Calendars: I never really got into the digital calendar world. But paper calendars? Oh, yes. Not only do I have my paper planner, but large, printed calendars adorn my studio wall and keep me clear on everything from my appointments to deadlines for client projects. To the naked eye, it might look a bit disorganized, but these calendars are the key to my organization.

8. Books, books, and more books: From PMS (Pantone Matching System) color books to design manuals, and business books to personal development reads, I consider books to be one of the greatest tools for growth in my business, and am so grateful for the knowledge that other people take the time to record.

9. Paper samples: While I work on a good amount of design for web projects, I still work very largely on print projects — from visitors guides to product labels and marketing brochures to large trade show displays — which makes paper samples a crucial tool in my business. The type of paper can make all the difference for a project, and different textures, weights, and materials can be a big inspiration.

And, finally, the sounds:

10. Music: Much like a color or smell can inspire a memory or ignite inspiration, music is a must-have office companion for my design work. Sometimes it means meditation playlists on Spotify; other times it means throwing the windows open and letting the birds sing. (And don’t get me wrong — sometimes, the best music is silence.)

Choose the tools that amplify your days

Much like the people you surround yourself with, the tools you choose to use can both empower and enhance your business. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny objects — that new project management tool, or the new music player. Instead, focus on finding a handful of tried-and-true tools that work for what you need.

What tools do you turn to in your business? Share with me in the comments, below.