My Toolbox

Every 5 seconds, I see a web design blog publish a list of "17 web design tools that will completely change the way you work in every way imaginable." Screw that. I'm not interested in a huge list that I have to hunt through to find something that fits into my workflow.

When it comes to toolboxes, I prefer having a few good tools in a moderate sized box, instead of the massive chest that holds an individual tool for each and every circumstance you may ever come up against. This is partially because I enjoy using things that are well thought out and well designed, and partially because I'm incredibly absent minded when it comes time to keep track of all the little pieces of, for instance, a socket wrench set. I like simplicity ( if you haven't caught on to that yet, take a look at the site you're on, or read another article. You'll get it) both for its aesthetic and for its practicality, and that translates well to the tools that I choose to use in web work. Here's what I use personally (and no more).

HTML, CSS & Javascript: Coda


When I began coding, I was working in Dreamweaver (as a lot of beginners still are). I found out very quickly that Dreamweaver is quite set in its ways, and adds a lot of junk code. Personally, this really irritated me. I'm not a fan of sloppy anything, and that definitely includes sloppy code. Needless to say, I began looking for a suitable replacement for Dreamweaver pretty quickly—but this was not a short search. I tried out various programs, but none really fit the bill.

Enter Coda. I was turned onto it by a developer friend who was just learning front-end. Coda really is a one-stop-shop for front end design, but my favorite features are not that unique to the program; they're just executed so much better than anyone else (the only program that comes close is Espresso). Coda 2 improved on the already fantastic original in almost every way. If you're a web designer, you need to be using this.

Content Management: MODX


Content Management systems come in one of two flavors (typically). They're either easy-to-use with limited features, or very difficult to use, with an abundance of features. You also have to consider the end-user when you're choosing a CMS; typically they're not web designers, so it has to be approachable and usable by the layperson.

The beautiful thing about MODX is that it is a very well realized average of all three of these aspects. The backend is relatively easy to pick up and places no restrictions whatsoever on your visual design, and the manager itself is endlessly customizable to your end users so that they can pick up their new site and run with it. If you haven't checked out MODX (or haven't looked in a few years), do yourself a favor and take the time to.

Visual Design, Image Manipulation: Photoshop

I'm sorry, but if I have to explain this one, you don't belong in the design world. There's really nothing that comes even close.

Web Fonts: Typekit


While there are other options out there for web fonts, Typekit is definitely the most full-featured, and since it's Adobe, they also have access to the vast majority of the fonts that print designers enjoy (and if they don't have the exact one, they've got something comparable). Since I already subscribe to Adobe Creative Cloud, I get free access anyway—so why not use such an awesome resource if it's available?

Other Stuff

While software is definitely the main thing to consider as a web designer, I also have other things in my workspace that help make my job easier and more enjoyable. A few recommendations:

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  1. John


    Mar 14, 2013

    Thanks for this list - it really is nice to have a designer with some experience share what works for him. On a parallel note, do you have any recommendations for billing/invoicing software for clients?

    Reply to John

    1. Jesse


      Mar 14, 2013

      No problem, John. Currently, I work for an agency, so I thankfully don't have to handle billing often. When I do, Curdbee is my software of choice. You can find them at