4 Design Apps that are actually useful

Megan Isaak / Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I constantly come across lists of applications for designers and I think "oooh, cool! Let me download that." Then… I never use them. Ever.

This isn't a new topic, I first approached it a few months ago when I was going through different categories of design apps and trying to find a free/paid version of each to test. I found this approach didn’t work out well for me because, as the norm, I didn’t find myself using any.

There are a handful of very useful applications that I use day to day and I tend to stick with them. They have proven themselves time and time again.

So, to save you the time of drudging through lists and lists of design apps on the web and to save you time (and disk space), I've complied the following list of applications I recommend:

Paper by FiftyThree - Free but has in app purchases

I originally downloaded this application to see what the hype was about when it first came out. First thought: It’s a beautiful application. The UX is simple and follows the concept of having a notebook and being able to draw in it. I find myself creating new notebooks for each project I’m sketching for.

The app starts out with a simple color palette and a pencil, but you can purchase different types of brushes, (i.e. a pen, a water color brush, a marker) and additional colors for the palette. I would recommend saving the money and buy the complete package of brushes. It's worth every penny.

See how others are using paper

VSCO Cam - $.99

VSCO creates plugins for Adobe Lightroom and Apple’s Aperture. They have taken their amazing plugins to the app store with this iphone app.  It has a similar purpose as Photoshop Express so I find myself quickly drawing comparisons.  But why do I like it better? 

Photoshop Express is free, but it has quite a few in app purchase to gain full functionality, where as you just pay .99 cents for VSCO CAM and you have full functionality. You can actually fine tune exposure or contrast a bit more on the Photoshop app, but its difficult to use. VSCO has taken it into an easy process. In my opinion the amount you can do on VSCO is as far as I would consider doing on an iPhone anyway.  If I wanted more control I would take the time to upload my photo to my computer and adjust it in Photoshop on my desktop.


If I do want to make a minor adjustment to a photo before uploading it to twitter or facebook, this is the place to look.

Pinterest – Free

Pinterest isn’t just for meme’s and stay-at-home moms. There is a lot more than just recipes and decorating tips. The design section of Pinterest is full of color scheme ideas, mockups, texture patterns and info graphics.

It really is a great place to start mood boards and concept ideas for any project. And even if you’re looking at other sites, you can keep all your ideas together in a board on pinterest for easy access to them all.

What I love about the ipad app is that I’m able to easily scroll through pages and save pins. Both the ipad and iphone apps create a great browsing environment. Whatever I save to my phone, will automatically update to my pinterst account so I can access it on any desktop computer.

What the font? -Free

Its not that I’ve used this app more than a few times, but the truth is the times I have used it, I’ve found some real gems that I actually do use. So even though I only utilize it once in a while, I still keep the app on my phone, just in case something comes up.

Additional pros for this app revolve around the easy process: take a photo and identify the characters in the photo, then the app matches the font.