Mason Weis

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3 of My Favorite macOS Apps (as a Designer)

Happy Wednesday! I’m back with another blog post. This time I’d like to talk about a few apps that help me work more efficiently as a designer. Specifically, I'll be covering the ways in which these apps help me with design work, but I want to also keep things general enough for them to appeal to those of you who might not be designers yourselves. My hope is that anyone reading this will be able to find a new, cool app to help them out.

Also, disclaimer before we start: everything I’m writing applies to my chosen operating system, macOS. I’ll do my best to mention if the programs I’m writing about are available on other platforms, and I’ll give alternatives for those of you on Windows or Linux. 

Alright, let’s jump in. 

nvALT 2 (Free, macOS)

Where would I be without this little app? nvALT, which is based on the popular Notational Velocity is an incredibly powerful note taking tool given how barebones it is. Almost all of my notes go into this app and it’s helped tremendously with my design work. During my work with various clients, I’ve used nvALT to jot down quick notes about anything and everything related to the project at hand. Including, but not limited to, design briefs, hex codes, random ideas I managed to come up with seemingly out of nowhere, questions for the client… you name it!

Simplistic, just how I like it.

Simplistic, just how I like it.

You might be thinking to yourself, “it looks ugly and rudimentary, why all the praise?” And to that I say… “don’t interrupt me I’m still talking.” There are a few reasons I love nvALT. The first being the emphasis it places on never moving your hands from the keyboard. This app is entirely focused around hotkeys, making everything lightning fast once you learn all of the keystrokes. There’s even a handy (and customizable) “bring to front” hotkey which means that with a single keystroke, I can bring the app up and start writing.

Aiding in this speed is nvALT’s search function. While I’m often a fan of tagging for organization’s sake in most note taking apps, I’ve never felt the need for such a feature in nvALT because the search is incredibly powerful. As long as you vaguely remember what the note you’re looking for is about, you can find it within seconds, I kid you not. 

The last thing I love about nvALT is the fact that it syncs to Simplenote and Dropbox. It’s not available on mobile, but it doesn’t have to be. All I need to do to add a note to nvALT is set up my Simplenote syncing and I can make a note in Simplenote on my phone that will show up in nvALT whenever I need it. Of course, this works the other way around as well. Because things sync over, I’m never away from my notes and I can access anything I’ve written on mobile as well. 

Sadly, nvALT is only for macOS, but that doesn’t mean I’m gonna leave you guys high and dry. Check out Notation if you’re on Windows or nvPY if you’re on Linux. 

A fun little side note, this blog post (as well as most of my blog posts) was written entirely in nvALT.

Todoist (Free or $2.50/mo for Premium. Windows, macOS and Web)

Todoist is great app that has certainly increased my productivity since I started using it. In essence, Todoist is a simple to-do list, but there are some things in here that really appeal to me as a designer and have made my life so much easier. 

In my experience, Todoist works best when you sort everything you need to do into “projects.” Personally, everything I put into the app can be sorted into one of my many different projects each of which can have sub-projects for more organization. For example, this is what my Todoist looks like.

Not pictured on the sidebar, "Wellness," "Errands" and "Movies to Watch."

Not pictured on the sidebar, "Wellness," "Errands" and "Movies to Watch."

As you can see, I have separate sections for my website, as well as a client I'm working with and my own personal brand at the moment. By breaking all of my various tasks down into color coded projects, I can stay on top of my game and make sure that I’m organized and efficient. I never have to worry about hunting down the tasks need to be done for my design projects within the app because the inherent structure of the app encourages organization. 

Another feature I really appreciate is the intuitive and context sensitive “date” entry. When I put a task in, all I need to do is write that it’s due “next Wednesday” or “every other Thursday” and Todoist will understand and make sure that that task or deadline for a project appears in my “Today” box every time it needs to.

Todoist makes it easy for me to stay focused and on top of things. While I don’t personally pay for it, there are also premium features such as labeling, filters and reminders for the pretty fair price of $2.50 a month. Other people might like alternative to-do list/habit forming apps, but Todoist is my current favorite and I plan on sticking with it for quite a while. While I’m not sure if a version of it is available for Linux, it is accessible via the web, so you’re in luck Linux users!

Automator (Free macOS)

This one’s feels like a bit of a cop out to me since it’s included with macOS, but I can’t not go over it because it’s immensely helpful. Some of you might be familiar with the command line or AppleScripting and therefore might scoff at Automator. But the fact of the matter is, many, if not most people using their Macs probably aren’t going to go that route. For these kind of people, Automator is an incredibly powerful, and underutilized tool. I’ve only just really started to use it myself, but I know that the possibilities with it are endless and I can’t wait to do even more with it. 

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Automator, let me tell you how my mornings go. When I get up and eventually make my way to my computer, a Safari window with my website, AIGA’s homepage and LinkedIn opened up, is already waiting for me. Not just that, but my email, Todoist, Messages, Spotify and more are all waiting for me and my computer does this by itself every morning before I even get to it. Because of Automator, I don’t have to worry about starting anything up when I get on my computer. I can unlock it and immediately focus on whatever needs to be done. 

Automator can export into standalone apps, or actions that operate within specific folders.

Automator can export into standalone apps, or actions that operate within specific folders.

Automator is a program that… well… automates just about anything you can think of. Want to open a certain spreadsheet every day at noon? Automator (with a little help from your calendar) can do that. Want to quickly move every .jpg from your downloads folder to a folder called “really-cool-jpegs-2” with a single click? Automator can do that. 

Right now, I only have a few Automator workflows going. Such as the one I mentioned earlier, or one that clears out a temporary folder in my Documents folder every day at 5pm or one that allows me to start my screensaver with a single keystroke. However, because there’s such a wide variety of things you can do in Automator, I simply haven’t had the time to really explore everything just yet. There are a few workflows I have in mind to make my design work more efficient, but for now I'll still need to play around. I can see that it’s very powerful though, and I can attest that it can make certain tasks much much easier. 

You can run AppleScript inside of Automator too, so don't scoff too much...

You can run AppleScript inside of Automator too, so don't scoff too much...

Automator is only for macOS, since it’s an Apple program. But I did some searching around and found a program called “Actions” on Windows that is used for automation, as well as a few mentions of something called “GNU Xnee” for Linux. 

Well that’s all for now. I’m planning on posting another article with more apps next Wednesday so stay tuned!

Until next time!

Mason Weis