Designers have a lot of free time. Well, those who are unemployed. But this article is not for them.

This article is for designers who perfected their creative process to the point where every minute spent on mundane tasks costs themselves a lot.

Imagine yourself taking 10 minutes to look for a previous design revision file, or trying to find a new matching font because a client didn’t like the one you’d used before.

What feels like minutes one day ends up eating weeks throughout the year.

By using simple tricks and tools mentioned in this article you’ll be able to save yourself a lot of time in the long run and still do your job at the highest level.

Ready to cut some corners? Tune in.

Plugins

Well, this article wouldn’t be complete without a full list of 278 plugins that you have to use in order to optimize your design workflow.

Number 1… Okay, just kidding. No, you don’t need to have that many plugins and no, not every plugin can save you time everywhere. Apart from that one Youtube blocker.

The main idea behind this section is that every application usually comes with its own infrastructure of plugins built around it, so you’ll do yourself a huge favor if you take time and actually look for those.

Take Sketch.

You’ve probably heard of a Craft plugin from Invision. A “supercharger” for Sketch. And it is.

You can collaborate with people in real-time, and get instant feedback from them without having to write a Slack, or worse, wait for an email reply.

Another useful feature is auto-filling your designs with data directly from Wikipedia and other data sources. No more copy-pasting lorem ipsum, just click the button and fill your design screens with authentic data.

That’s just one plugin.

If you work a lot with web designs you can manage your padding option with Relabel.

If you work a lot in UX, you can create and multiply user personas with Sketch Personas.

If you’re actively using AdobeXD in your work, they have their own plugin library.

For example, UI faces allows you to create user personas and avatars for your projects that utilize social profiles or models.

Icons are another thing that designers spend a lot of time with. First, it’s hard to find icons that go well together in your user interfaces. Second, it takes time to find good ones, as there are so many really bad icons on the Internet.

Luckily, Icons8 plugin for Figma solves this problem.

If you’re working with front end developers, Web Export allows you to quickly export CSS and HTML attributes. And so on.

Figma? Similayer and Figmotion. Yes, Figma now has an animation plugin. Check it out, now you don’t need to export your work into Protopie every time.

In short, study your software, every design software has its pros and cons, and plugins often can add or improve functionality that simply wasn’t there in the first release.

When it comes to design productivity, many of those plugins are real time-savers. If you’re just saving five minutes on a project with a single plugin, that may not be too exciting, but if every plugin does that, your overall winnings can be massive.

Color Palettes

Every designer knows that sometimes the whole project, illustration or design screen is built around a simple, yet very effective color combination.

Oftentimes, color changes the mood of the project completely, and the difference can result in whether your project is accepted or you get the “I don’t quite dig this vibe”.

All in all, designers go through quite a few color palettes before they even start sketching elements, so color palette generators can be a real time saver.

Below are some of the good ones.

Adobe Color

Create color palettes with the dynamic color wheel, using the 7 common color harmony rules.

The best feature? Extracting color palette from an image or photo. It’s best when it comes to creating, say, a flat illustration based on a real photo.

Colour Lovers

A community of designers sharing their favorite color palettes. Here’s a trick: you can sort palettes my the Most Loved and Most Favorites to see which ones are the most useful.

Or sort by Most comments and find the most controversial ones.

This is great if you need to check feedback before you even started creating a project.

Coolors.Co

Where has all the elegance from Adobe Color gone? Into Coolors.co. Simple, effective, beautiful.

Best part? You can lock the colors you like and then simply go look for that 5th shade that you think is missing from the picture.

Now, how do you present your work?

Presenting Your Work

It actually takes a lot of time to demonstrate your work to your client. Especially if you need to demonstrate several screens, explain how they work together or present your ideas as a whole before clients start to criticize them as separate pieces.

Here are some of the hacks to make it work.

Screen Capture & Video Presentation

If Skype call is not an option, record your screen and your voice, and demonstrate your project to the client in video form.

Great works of art don’t need an explanation from a master. But with clients… Yes, you often need to explain things. Anticipating and building a narrative as a video will help you a lot to control the output.

There are many screen capture tools out there. Try Loom.

Slide Presentations

That’s a bit old, but there’s something about CEO and business clients that make them like presentations. Perhaps it’s just a natural language to them. Anyway, if you want to create an online presentation quickly and with style, try Slidebean.

Presentations work best when you need to present mood boards because the interactive presentation is always more engaging than a static Pinterest board.

Design Handoff

The era of Photoshop handoff has ended. It’s time to use specific design handoff tools. If you’re working closely with developers, it’s not even an option. Try Zeplin.

Also keep in mind that if you work as a UI/UX designer, most of the UI designing tools have built-in collaborative functions, like comments, shared workflow, and even mobile prototypes.

By all means, use those when you can.

Chrome Extensions

Designers spend a lot of time online. Looking for inspiration, checking out how their work looks in different formats, that kind of stuff.

Certain Chrome extensions can save you a lot of time, especially when the internet is one of your most important sources for research and inspiration.

Check out these extensions.

Muzli

Muzli is not just an inspiration hub. It’s an all-designer-things hub. Install it, and you’ll get easy access to the top design projects of the day, curated newsletters, and digests.

In simple terms, Muzli helps you keep in touch with the industry. As we know, it’s as important these days to stay in trend as ever.

Window Resizer

If you’re using a wide-wide monitor for work, that’s ok. We don’t judge. Most designers have one. But not all users have a 27 inch Macbook, and that’s something you should account for.

That’s why Windows Resizer is a perfect extension that lets you see how your projects look on different screens. There won’t be any more surprises when your clients open the website layout on their 12” laptop.

ColorZilla

In continuation of our efforts to save you some time on picking color palettes, this Chrome extension lets you sample any online photo or website and instantly extract its colors. Silent, simple, and powerful.

Pinterest Button

If you’re big on Pinterest boards as a point of reference for inspiration, you have to know that it’s crucial to keep your own Pinterest boards updated.

Browsing the Internet lets us find all kinds of cool imagery, so saving it in one place, in this case, on a Pinterest board, is a really good idea. With this extension you can do that all in one click.

File Management

Of all the non-design things that eat up lots of a designer’s time, file organization is probably the worst. Save as final. Save as final_final. Save as final_final_01. And so on.

One extra client and all your project files become a complete mess. Of course, it’s paramount to keep your design files organized.

Here are some tools that help you with that.

Dropbox

The best thing about Dropbox is how easy it is to share your files with other people and to manage access permissions.

No wonder many design teams use Dropbox as their go-to file storage service.

However, even solo designers can benefit from it. The ability to synchronize your projects across all devices is worth that alone.

Google Drive

It’s either Dropbox or Google Drive. Consider using Google Drive if you deal with video files or heavy graphic design files, because its free version gets you 15Gb, while Dropbox gives you 2Gb.

Graphic Assets

Everyone knows how assets dramatically save you time. Let’s take it one step further.

No one does anything from scratch and using graphic assets doesn’t just simplify the process for you and your clients, it saves you a LOT of time during the sketching and prototyping phases.

Some of the resources to consider.

Icons8

Who would have thought that the biggest custom-made by a single team library of icons will be on the list? Subverting the expectations.

Anyway, here are some facts about Icons8:

  • Online service with 100,000+ icons in 20+ most relevant & demanded styles
  • Free for a link
  • Design software that includes ready-to-use icons for your graphic design & prototypes
  • Desktop app
  • Effects, recolor, resize, background, editing to fully customize any icons you like

Ouch

Need vector illustrations for your projects? Pick any.

If you go right now and start browsing the Dribbble top page, 10 seconds in you’ll find at least one project that uses Ouch! Illustrations. The library is constantly updated. They even released an online illustration creator that you can use to create your own vector illustrations and collages.

Moose

When you’re tired of bland, generic, and repetitive stock photos, Moose is where you go.

  • 50 + models: all races, sizes, genders, occupations.
  • Background generation and removal tools
  • Online photo collage maker
  • Thousands of high-quality photos
  • Free for a link

web services and tools

Other options:

  • Unsplash
  • Envato
  • Pexels
  • Graphic Burger
  • 1001 Free Fonts
  • MockupWorld

About the author: Andrew is a usability specialist and content creator at Icons8

Title image from Marginalia pack on Ouch, the free vector library

Try other tools for creators by the Icons8 team:

Icons8, a diverse library of about 120K free iconsanimated icons and free clip art images
Pichon, the desktop app to download icons and clip art and use them offline
Lunacy, free graphic design software with built-in design resources
Icons8 Photos, the big collection of free stock photos designed to work together
Photo Creator, free collage maker with AI-based technologies to make custom photos for your story
Vector Creator, a free tool to make custom vector illustrations
Ouch!, a library of free vector illustrations 
Fugueroyalty free music for videos of any kind
Line Awesomefree icon font made of 1380+ line icons

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