My favourite tools for getting the job done

Roughly a 7 minute read from Alex

25 Jan 2013

I’m always looking for the best way to get things done. Being a relatively small agency, it’s paramount that our processes are running like clockwork so we spend less time on the mundane and more time creating awesome stuff for the web!

With this in mind, I thought it may interest some of you to know what my current favourite programs and systems are for getting things done (plus a few others I also thought worthy of a mention). Feel free to have your say in the comments below if you think I’m missing out on something awesome!

Wireframing

Axure

Wireframing is an important stage in many of our projects and is an invaluable process to really get the heart of the user experience without the distraction of design getting in the way. At $289 for a single license, Axure isn’t the cheapest option around, but it’s definitely the most fully featured I’ve come across, features which are essential when doing large-scale wireframing. There are some more basic (and cheaper!) options around which are no doubt quicker to get to grips with, but they don't quite have the scalability required for larger projects (yet at least).

Link - Axure

I’m also a fan of:

Design

Adobe Creative Suite

This doesn`t really need much of an introduction, as I'm sure everyone who's ever had any kind of involvement in design is familiar with the Creative Suite family of products. I use Photoshop and Illustrator on a daily basis and although I'm aware there are some reading this who are firmly rooted in the Fireworks camp, I think it just comes down to personal preference and experience as to which program you prefer (though Photoshop is of course superior ;) )

Link - Adobe Creative Suite

A few other helpful design tools:

  • Brand colors - Lists HEX colour values for a whole load of popular brands - useful when you forget the reference for 'Facebook Blue' for the thousandth time! (It's #3b5998 in case you were wondering)!
  • 0to255 - Another colour tool, 0to255 is great for finding all the variations of a certain colour (though SCSS has gone some way to helping with this).
  • PlaceIt - Allows you to quickly place design mock-ups in all manner of devices making it great for demo-ing stuff to clients.

Coding

Sublime Text 2

I’ve tried various HTML editors over the years, but after being recommended to give Sublime a try back in 2011 I think I've found my perfect match. It’s intuitive, lean and with a whole multitude of extensions available via the in-built package management, is customisable enough to suit even the most demanding front end coders’ needs. Even now, I still feel like I’ve only just only scratched the surface of its capabilities and seem to come across more time saving shortcuts on a daily basis. It’s certainly going to take something pretty special to prize Sublime from my grasp for the foreseeable.

Link - Sublime Text 2

I’m also a fan of:

  • Coda 2 (Mac only though I’m afraid)

Version control

Tortoise SVN

As I’m largely Windows based (cue gasps!) Tortoise is the best Subversion client I've come across so far. It's intuitive and easy to use, since it doesn't require the Subversion command line client to run either. I also use cornerstone on the Mac, but still think Tortoise's shell integration and overall simplicity make it my preferred go-to client.

I’m also a fan of:

Beanstalk

As stated on their website, 'Beanstalk allows designers and developers to store source code, track changes, and collaborate with their team through Git, Subversion and Mercurial version control systems'. We use Beanstalk to track and deploy all of our projects. It's got some great features, integrates with a whole load of other projects such as Basecamp, and generally adds a bit of peace of mind to the whole development process - plus when things do break from time to time, you can find out who did it and pelt them with rotten fruit and vegetables!

Link - Beanstalk

I’m also a fan of:

  • Codebase - Not quite as intuitive, but cheaper

Project management and scheduling

The Bible

Unfortunately The Bible isn`t publicly available as it’s a product we've developed in house from the ground up to take care of all our our scheduling needs. It’s got some pretty cool stuff built such as a Wiki, e-mail and desktop notifications, staff utililsation levels and more. We'll probably write a more thorough blog post on The Bible at some point to give you a better idea of how it looks and works, but until then you'll just have to use your imaginations a little bit!

I’m also a fan of:

Accounting

Freeagent

As much as I’d love to design and code all day long (with the odd break for Tweeting) running a business means that I also need to keep a close eye on the cash flow and make sure everything’s running smoothly so we don’t have a mutiny on our hands come pay day! Luckily Freeagent takes a lot of hassle out of the day-to-day accounting, and also comes packed with a whole load of other features that we use on a daily basis such as time tracking, estimate and proposal generation, invoicing and to top it off it’ll even sort all your personal tax out!

The interface is well thought out, well designed and easy to use. The team behind the product are also on the ball, and regularly roll out new features, which they somehow manage to make sound exciting - something with I’d never thought I’d say of accounting software!

Link - www.freeagent.com

Others worth a mention

Dropbox

Those who already use it will already be fully aware of the menu virtues of this great little app, and those who aren't - well what are you waiting for - get signed up! We use Dropbox a lot on projects requiring various people to collaborate from different locations as it means that you always have access to the latest files - whether you’re in the office, at home, or being a hipster in the the local Starbucks. With an iPhone and iPad app also available, you can truly sync your whole digital life - bliss!

Link - Dropbox

Filezilla

Whilst most other programs come and go over the years, being replaced by something fancier and shinier, Filezilla has been my FTP rock for as long as I can remember. It just does a great job of FTP'ing, simple as that, so why not take it for a spin?

Link - Filezilla

Teuxdeux

Teuxdeux is a simple, no frills task management / to-do app. You can use the free browser-based version at work/home and then take your to-dos on the road with the iPhone app meaning you've really no excuse to forget anything ever again!

Link - Teuxdeux

..and that's all for now. Hopefully there'll be something in there which helps you improve your own processes, or maybe you've got a suggestion to further help improve ours. Either way, why not share you experiences in the comments below.

Alex

Alex is co-founder of Engage. With an awarded background in design and development he now concentrates the majority of his time on moulding the future picture of Engage's development, paying particular attention to the intricate balance of culture, growth and doughnut consumption.

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