10 Design Resources to Have in Your Toolkit in 2021

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that technology can’t take the place of in-person interaction—but it’s getting pretty darn close. Working in the creative industry, I’ve always fed off other people’s energy and have had some of my biggest breakthroughs in collaborative settings. When U.Group moved to a fully-remote posture I was initially concerned about how this type of collaboration and peer-to-peer learning would work in a virtual environment.  

Thanks to tools like FreeHand and Sketch—and some of my favorite professional associations moving online—I haven’t missed a beat. Keep reading to learn more about some of the best resources to have in your back pocket in 2021. Whether you’ll be working online or in-person, these items will speed up workflows, improve usability, and keep you plugged into the latest industry innovations.  

1.) Adobe Creative Cloud 

Photo of woman taking a photo on adobe

As a daily user of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, it’s nice to see Adobe continue to improve their products. The latest updates in Camera Raw have really helped my workflow and headshot retouching. The updates—which include controlling shadows, faster edits, and panel displays—provide a wide range of tools to edit headshots for our team

Adobe also has a Creative Advisor Community to gain insights and feedback on their products. I am happy to be a part of this forum to influence possible new features and share a dialogue with other creatives.


2.) Sketch

Sketch prototype screenshot example
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Sketch is U.Group’s go-to application for prototyping website designs. Its snappy interface allows for fast layouts across multiple artboards. Beyond its usability and collaboration support, Sketch’s active product release cycle and plug-in support are other great selling points. By using Craft by InVison our team can quickly share designs and allow developers to inspect code and layout.


3.) InVision Freehand 

invasion freehand graphic image
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Freehand is a shared digital whiteboard for creative collaboration. We use it to work with our clients remotely and explore ideas in real-time. Freehand gives everyone on the team the ability to share their ideas in a way that makes sense to them—whether that’s sketching, drawing, dropping images and inspiration, or typing up feedback in comment boxes. Another benefit is our clients are free to use the tool through our account. Freehand’s recent updates added even more functionality, such as version control and templates to use during our sketch sessions.  


4.) YouTube 

YouTube continues to be an amazing resource for creators, and one that I find myself using almost daily to keep up to date with the rapid changes of the design environment. The fact that the video sharing platform is free is another huge plus. I’ve recently found myself searching for videos of headshot retouching tutorials and learning the basics of video editing. Some of my favorite creators are: Peter McKinnonStorysium, and PiXimperfect.

A screen shot of a person on youtube
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5.) Envato Elements

Envato is a brand that I have been following for many years. The company supplies stock videos, royalty-free music, photos, graphics, graphic templates, and more. They now have an amazing subscription model that brings their various assets into one place. Their comprehensive library is a great resource for things like infographics, stock music, and much more.

envato element graphic templates example

6.) Noun Project

Noun Project continues to be one of my go-to resources for finding quality icons. No more creating a magnifying glass and email icon from scratch! With a Pro account, the ability to download icons as svg files, then manipulate to create a cohesive icon set is incredibly important to speeding up my workflow. 

Noun project astronaut icon example

7.) Sidebar.io

There are many daily design emails, but Sidebar.io my favorite. Each day I receive five new design articles in an easy to scan format. Give it a try and share with your team. 

example of sidebar.io news

8.) Stark

Accessibility is a core value here at U.Group. I have recently been using Stark and 508 compliance checker right in Sketch. No more copying and pasting hex values across websites.  

Screenshot of Stark 508 accessibility contrast checker

9.) Image Optimization Tools 

image compressing tool JPEGmini

At U.Group, we strive for speed and optimization on all the websites we build and maintain. I use a combination of compression tools to keep images small and their quality high.  

  • For Jpegs: Jpeg Mini, is our Design team’s application of choice for batch compression. Compressor.io is free online tool. Give it a try!
  • For Pngs: Tiny Png is a free online tool 
  • For Svgs: Use SVG minify to remove unnecessary data 
  • Bonus: Check out Upscaler—a promising tool for upscaling small images using AI 

10.) Community Events 

DotGov Design Conference 2021 logo

While the health crisis keeps us home, it is still important to network with your peers. There are always new skills to learn and people to meet. Check out AIGA DC virtual events and 2021 Dot Gov Design Conference, happening soon. Other design groups to check out: Refresh DC, DC District Creatives, and Design Buddies. While not traditional tools like many on this list, these events are a resource that will surely help keep your skills sharp. 


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