With more time spent in the workplace than in classrooms, my career development over the years has been decidedly more experiential and rogue than traditional. Luckily, I’m incredibly fortunate to live in an age where in-depth insights are often a click away. A treasure chest of online resources have helped me makes sense of challenges as they’ve come, and that includes tricky design ones.
Each individual, brand, and organization that I've worked with over the years have had unique needs that require me to stretch beyond the comfort of my own creative inclinations. Photography concepts, font choices, color combinations: I’ve learned many as I went along, which is both stressful and exciting at times, but necessary for my unique path overall.
Listed below are seven of my favorite resources for creative work, including designing websites, photographing flat lays, and more. Each one is highly adaptable for a range of needs, both print and digital, and deserve to be bookmarked for repeat visits.
From websites to business cards, selecting the right color combination is a difficult process for many. What goes well with what? How can I ensure color accuracy across a range of platforms? How do I identify color palette options to share with a prospective client?
I’ve had to think of these questions time and time again, and have often used ColorHexa to answer them. Billing itself as a “color encyclopedia,” ColorHexa is an extremely detailed visual aid to help identify color schemes in a number of ways, including complementary, analogous, and triadic (here’s a great resource that explains what those terms mean).
To begin, I typically use Photoshop to first identify a hex code from a reference photo or graphic (this could be a predominant color in, say, a client’s logo), then use ColorHexa to identify specific color options to pair with it.
Don’t have a hex code? No problem. With ColorHexa, you can also type in general color descriptions, like “light blue” or “dark red,” and it will give you specific color options that match it, plus a corresponding hex code so you can be sure to use the exact in a graphic element or website.
Imagine you’re redesigning your website, and discover a great header font that you love. A new problem arises: What font for the body copy would pair well with your header choice? Typ.io can help you answer that. A comprehensive resource for all thing typography, find pairings for fonts on SquareSpace or simply browse their inspiring site examples, each with a complete list of fonts used for them.
What I also love about Typ.io is that they often give more than one combination option for each font. Plus, they showcase ways that others have applied it, and offer granular information, too, like specific pixel sizes that the fonts would look best in.
And, in the event that you discover a font choice you love on Typ.io but don’t own just yet, they provide information on where each font can be sourced.
It is a truly a well-rounded font resource that I refer to often.
Wunderlist is not just a creative design tool—it’s a "structure your life" tool. Unfortunately, the Wunderlist I know is changing, and that makes me sad. Still, I’ve added it here because it is one of my most important tools.
Maintaining lists for design projects minimizes the feeling of being overwhelmed, and adds clarity to the scope of the project for both you and the client. In fact, I highly recommend being as transparent as possible with each step you take to complete a project. Doing so removes opportunity for misunderstandings regarding expectations, and leaves space for your client to give feedback at each stage of development.
There are many list apps available, but I’ve used Wunderlist in particular every day, multiple times a day, for a few years now. It’s simple and, with easy collaboration capabilities, is adaptable to fit projects that have multiple stakeholders.
On Wunderlist, I build specific lists for each client, along with detailed tasks and corresponding deadlines. I can view tasks by folder, week, or day, and can set email alerts, if necessary. There are also spaces to add notes and files to an individual task. There aren’t too many bells and whistles on this app (it has both desktop and mobile functionality), but that’s a key reason why I like it. When productivity and completion is your focus, the less opportunity for unnecessary distraction and complexity, the better.
I believe the art of a good list lies in the specificity of action items on it. The goal of “build website,” for instance, should be broken down into the smallest bites possible. From simple to more involved, writing down each task gives you breathing room to focus on the doing, and less on the what-to-do.
4. Google Advanced Image Search
You are likely already well familiar with Google’s robust Images search platform. From fashion inspiration to the latest memes, it’s a staple of internet usage.
While scouring for inspiration and conversation starters is an obvious use for Google Images, there are other ways to take advantage of this robust tool in professional contexts.
I usually opt to produce photography with all-original elements for my clients, but for some projects like creative Photoshop compositing and photo collages, it is necessary to include image material available for commercial use within my original creative concepts.
By using Google Advanced Image Search, I can strategically narrow down my search results to find options that contain the exact image sizes and primary colors that I need. And, perhaps most importantly, I can filter images by usage rights. This allows me to only select images that are designated as free to use, share, or modify—even commercially.
Paid options like Creative Market and TONL are available for more tailored stock photo options, but for photographic elements that you intend to modify in some way (like including someone’s hands in a larger collage), Google Advanced Image Search is my first go-to.
Wikimedia and PixaBay are related resources to bookmark. Their public domain results pop up often in my filtered Google Images results, as their databases are filled with thousands upon thousands of royalty-free visual options.
Though well known for its endless supply of recipes and craft projects, Pinterest, the web’s premier visual bookmark, is another frequently used tool for a wide range of my client and business needs.
Pinterest is perfect for grouping and cataloguing content. In addition to sourcing inspiration, I use it as a comparison shopping tool for photography props and office supplies. For someone (like myself) who feels compelled to extensively research each item before purchasing, having options side by side on a visual platform is key. Plus, I can add notes and product details to each pin, which helps me make informed shopping decisions.
Pinterest also allows users to build secret, collaborative pin boards, which I use frequently for client projects. Sometimes, a client may have difficulty describing what they want, but will have an easier time showing you through visual examples. Even if they can comfortably describe their ideal end goals, having visual cues is still extremely helpful for most projects. With Pinterest they can share visual inspiration as they find it, and I can contribute inspiration, as well, strengthening our collaborative process.
Be sure to download Pinterest’s browser button, too—it makes adding content from the web to your pinboards a breeze.
There are a few online education portals out there, each in their own way helping to make skill building more accessible and adaptable to tricky life schedules and other human complexities. I chose to highlight Lynda.com in particular because I just finished a Beginner’s Guide to CSS course through them, and enjoyed it. The instructor was clear in his delivery, and I appreciated the written transcript that accompanied each video. I did notice that the mobile and desktop experiences are slightly different, though: Lynda’s mobile app includes quizzes with each course section, while I don’t see the same in the desktop version. This could be improved, but I do like that there is a robust mobile option with added value to use it.
The biggest pull for me in selecting Lynda, however, was that it is free to access with a New York Public Library (NYPL) card. Considering that they have over 5,000 courses covering a huge range of topics, this is an incredible deal for New Yorkers.
To take advantage of this perk, you’ll need an active library card, and you can only access Lynda through a special Library-specific portal. But once you’re in, a big world of structured learning is at your fingertips.
Unfortunately, I do not know if this perk is available to library card holders in other cities and states. I hope so—if you’re not in New York City, give your local library a call to see if they offer this or comparable incentives.
Even if you only have just 10 minutes to spare in a day, fit learning in. Maintaining a regular practice of perfecting design skills and exploring new ones is priceless for creative entrepreneurs. It helps you keep a competitive edge, increases your attractiveness to prospective clients, and can help ensure that your brand is at the forefront of new trends as they emerge. And who knows: You may discover an entirely new revenue stream in the process.
The website that started it all. Since its launch in the early 2000s, YouTube has been the central destination for video viewing of endless varieties. Classic cat videos, prank videos, music videos, videos of people watching other videos (!), vlogs: It’s all on YouTube.
By the sheer amount of channels contained on the platform, chances are you’ve already learned something new on YouTube in your lifetime. Fortunately, many major brands who build graphic design and photography equipment have long seen the value of cultivating educational YouTube presences. The reason is simple: The more you know about their products and the creative principles that help them work effectively, the more likely you are to spend money. Consequently, companies like Adobe, Canon, Westcott, and Adorama have many great, in-depth instructional videos that can help you expand your skillset and gain new ways of approaching a project.
Still, looking beyond branded content, YouTube is first and foremost an everyman’s platform, helping to democratize the video industry one YouTube influencer at a time. There are thousands of brilliant minds eager to show their knowhow on camera, and some have transformed their success into viable moneymaking operations of their own. Enjoy excellent Photoshop instructions from Phlearn and tutvid, or view an entire course in digital photography from Stanford professor Marc Levoy. These are just a few of what the channel has to offer for free.
When used wisely, YouTube is so much more than a path to endless distraction. It can truly transform your life.
The resources listed above have helped me meet client needs and grow in my professional skills. They not only have many free components, but are constantly evolving in new ways. Include them in your daily growth practices for fulfilling success.