Every creative professional (especially designer like myself) worth their salt knows how important it is to stay on top of industry trends, have confidence in their own vision and ability to execute, and the value of staying positive and inspired. When I was in design school, I used to rely on inexpensive resources to stay informed and “in the know” when it came to all things design, typefaces, package design, editorial layouts, color theory etc. During those moments in the computer labs when I would shuffle through stacks of magazines from a few years back, and stuff hand-me-down textbooks in my backpack, I thought that all this would change once I graduated. I would surely be able to afford myself pricey design community memberships, attend industry talks and conventions, purchase proper subscriptions to glossy art magazines, design annuals, creative work reviews, etc. Man, was I truly in for a rude awakening.
I learned that as I got older, those things were still hella painful to pay for and out of my budget. The only designers I knew who had access to those extras were ones that were lucky enough to snag jobs at hugely successful agencies who had enough money to throw around without caring. I pride myself on learning skills with online classes and staying inspired by the limitless resources available on the internet, which I can review for free! Below, I’ve rounded up ten resources that not only keep me feeling inspired but productive too!
Read in further detail about each resource below!
Canva offers up a free online collage making platform for both professional and casual designers alike. I could get lost in Canva for hours making silly collages of coffee and fashion, and it’s a good thing this platform didn’t exist when I was in high school or else I would have failed out of the most arduous courses in favor of playing around on it. You can use it to create art for social media platforms, or use it to build cards, save the dates, thank-you cards, etc. It exports a high quality print-ready PNG file. Check it out!
2. The AWWWards
Being a designer means keeping up-to-date on the latest trends throughout the design world, while putting your own personal stamp on work to keep it from feeling tired, stale, and lifeless. The AWWards are awards given out for design, creativity, innovation on the Internet. What I love about this site is that it doesn’t rank work solely on design alone — it also takes into consideration the functionality and user experience of the platform. I used to spend hours on The Lovely Package looking at the most insanely beautiful packaging work, but as I’ve gotten older, user experience and functionality has become even more important to me. This is a great way to stay on top of the industry standards without purchasing an expensive subscription to design award magazines!
3. Style Tiles
A friend of mine recently turned me on to Style Tiles, and they are a godsend for art directors working on websites/mobile apps, and web designers alike. The site describes style tiles saying, “they help tell a story through fonts, color and style collections, and when viewed in combination with wireframes, site-maps and other UI elements, they define that story in an accessible, client-friendly manner.” Style Tiles essentially eliminate the need to design every minute detail of your website before you get it up in front of a client. It’s a way to show just the right amount of detail without a client seeing anything too specific that he/she might get married to. Style tiles, “help form a common visual language between the designers and the stakeholders and provide a catalyst for discussions around the preferences and goals of the client.” Pretty awesome stuff!
Similar to Canva, FotoJet is a free software platform that allows you to build your own print materials, collages, or sharable images for the web. It’s extremely simple to navigate and offers up neat templates from glossy magazine covers that you can edit at will, to holiday, birthday, and thank-you cards. It’s also got a neat feature that has Facebook cover photos and post dimensions pre-set, so all you have to do it build the graphic you want, export it, and it will fit perfectly into your profile when uploaded.
5. Responsive Web Design Resources
If you’re a designer who is just starting out and are in need of a crash course in responsive web design, this site will help immensely. You’ll save money on a class, and learn arguably just as much! It’s a space where you can go to read through and explore different resources that will help you gain an intimate knowledge of designing for responsive web design. The Case Studies section is particularly helpful since it takes you through real-life projects, analyzing how the metrics were boosted as a result of the design, and shows you how they solved existing problems using creativity and responsive web design.
6. HOW.com — Pricing Freelance Work
One of the most challenging things in transitioning into being a full-time freelance designer is, hand down, figuring out/knowing/understanding how much you should charge for your work. If you want to make a real living and afford yourself the ability to pay you bills and potentially ~save a little money too~ you HAVE to take a hard look at the unpleasant financial realities of being a working artist. The site above offers fantastic up-to-date articles that help you understand how to navigate this difficult process. Jessica Hische wrote a fantastic article here (which I’ve read through more times than I can count).
7. Book Cover Archive
If heading over to your nearest book store to pick up stacks of velvety, soft-touch, five-color, 300 page design inspiration books isn’t in the cards for you, than the Book Cover Archive will be your new best friend. I often use it to gain inspiration and stay inspired during times in which I feel creatively spent. It’s an easy way to see a lot of beautiful design work aggregated into one place, and there are pages and pages of content to sift through. But the inspiration doesn’t stop there, near the bottom of the page there are stacks of enormously helpful links out to other places on the web where you can find articles written on book cover design, and links to portfolios that are worth taking a look at.
8. Browser Stack
Any good web designer knows how essential it is to test your design across every possible viewport before rolling it out/implementing it to you website. It’s crucial to know how the site you envision for yourself or for you client looks on mobile, iPad, desktop, XL desktop, etc. Browser Stack is an easy way to show what your design looks no matter what device you’re reviewing it on.
9. The 99 Percent
Sometimes, working in a field where the clients can sometimes seem to rule all and want to squash your design dreams into a sad lifeless pulp, it can be hard to stay positive. The 99% is a site launched by Behance, and it provides limitless resources on how to make ideas happen. There are some fantastic articles to read through written about everything from how to best collaborate with a team, and the pitfalls/considerations of following your passions. There are also a ton of videos to watch on topics ranging from the value of asking “why,” to the value in creating genuine authenticity in your company.
10. The Noun Project
The Noun Project is a fantastic resource for designers looking for free and/or cheap iconography to utilize in their work. Icons function as a powerful visual language that transcends global markets. You can upload your own icons for sale as well, and gain instant access to eyeballs all across the design world. The Noun Project, “functions both as a resource for people in search of typographic symbols and a design history of the genre. It’s great resource for designers in a pinch when they are in need of something designed well and affordable.
Top image via Pexels