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.

Designing an Environment for Creativity: A Behind-the-Scenes Tour of My Studio

Home Studio Tour

“One of the greatest necessities… is to discover creative solitude.” – Carl Sandburg

When it comes to creativity, or really anything productive, environment is everything. The sounds, smells, and space you surround yourself with are incredibly important to fostering the mindset needed to accomplish.

As a business owner, I’ve also found that the environment you create is a direct reflection of your brand.

That’s why, when I moved from an external design studio to one within my own home, I took special care to make it exactly what I needed to reflect Harris Studios and to perform at my best.

Today, I’d like to take you on a tour of what that looks like:

2015_03_12 Tour 01

1. A clean, tidy desk

I work on design projects for a variety of clients, meaning I need space both mentally and physically to dream up different concepts and visions for each project. My desk serves as the place where the design happens, and keeping my desk clean save a few necessary, deliberate items – my Wacom tablet, fresh fruit, and beautiful flowers – gives me that space. If creativity thrived on clutter, life might be easier — but then, it wouldn’t be as fun, right?

2. Ambiance

2015_03_12 Tour 02

I am so incredibly fortunate to work out of my 1800’s post and beam-style home, where accents like this fireplace adorn several rooms. There’s nothing like the crackle of a wood fire during the cold winter months, or the sound of the breeze coming through the front door during the warm summer. Setting the tone in the room is so important to my mood, and being comfortable allows me to create freely. My office mascot, Banks — also my walking buddy — is a frequent visitor, and enjoys the ambiance, as well.

3. Space for what you love

2015_03_12 Tour 03

All work and no play makes for a tough day. For me, painting is my passion. It fuels my inner artist and largely influences my design work. That’s why it was absolutely imperative that I create a space for painting within my home office. For you, this space may look like a reading nook; a set of workout equipment; a ping-pong table. Making space for what you love will inspire your work in ways you can’t even imagine — I promise you that.

4. The little details

I firmly believe in making your space your own, as you can tell. This goes down even to the small details. Whether you’re in a tiny office cubicle or sprawled out on a spacious deck overlooking the ocean, it’s the little details — the photos you hang up, the quotes you write down, the special tokens that remind you of places and people you choose to display — that make the space yours. For me, I also include many fun art supplies, books, and interesting pieces I have picked up on my journey that may serve as inspiration or subject matter at some point. They remind me that an integration of creativity, focus, work and play are imperative to a successful business and balanced life.

2015_03_12 Tour 04

“Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Just as Virginia Woolf believed all women should have a room of one’s own to create and succeed, I truly believe that each and every entrepreneur and individual should put careful thought into designing the space they occupy to make it a place that fosters creativity, inspiration, and comfort.

Our best work comes when we’re in a space that allows for it. What does that space look like for you?