Remote work is the new norm. We were already headed in this direction, but everything simply accelerated a couple of years due to Covid 19. Whether you find yourself as a design leader, mid-level designer, or the inspired up and coming product designer, this article should help set you (and your team) up for success as we all learn to adapt to this new environment.
First things first, and everybody’s favorite. What’s your rig? So, here’s my must have items that help me get my work done.
- Logitech MX Master 3 is phenomenal. I’ve been using previous models of this for years and have not looked back. It’s ergonomic and helps me reduce any wrist pain. There are times when I’m at my desk for longer than I should be which may cause pain, but that’s my own damn fault. I don’t even use all the functionality but it provides me everything I need. It’s more of a habit than anything else that I haven’t adopted all the sleek actions. And, you can connect it with your PC, Mac, tablet or whatever else you need. Goodbye cables, hello freedom.
- Logitech MX Keys is, also, phenomenal. It types well, has the number pad which is so necessary for me not only for work but for budgeting and financials. Just like the MX Master, you can connect to the same devices and swap on the fly. Sensing a theme? Ease of use!
- LG Monitor It may not have the highest rating, but for me when you take this thing off its stand and put it on a Jarvis Monitor Arm on your Uplift V2 Standing Desk it gives you everything you need. The ultra-HD is huge for design, no more do you have to go from a retina display to something that doesn’t have that pixel perfection. For fun, it holds up well for gaming but the refresh rate suffers a tiny bit. That said, my PC and GPU could use an upgrade. Who’s really to blame here?
- Apple Airpod Pros are well worth the price tag. They exceeded my expectations and are amazing at drowning out coworkers (if you’re in the office) or kids (if you’re working from home). I’ve not received any negative feedback on the microphone audio quality, and as far as hearing all my work calls they do the job well. Music, games, and any other media sound great but I’m no audiophile.
Pens, Pencils, Paper, and more must haves
There is absolutely no reason to spend a lot of money on pens and pencils. Let’s face it, you’re not an artist. When you’re sketching wireframes and flows (which you should be doing often) you’re not looking for precision, you’re looking for thick, rough, quick, and intentional strokes. Here are my favorite tools of the trade:
- Pencils - The classic Pentel mechanical pencil is the best of the best (12 for $40). It’s light, and as a result you have complete control. In my experience, the bigger “cooler” pencils are simply too heavy and I feel like I am working against the pencil instead of it just being an extension of me. It has awesome color options! Those of you with larger hands may prefer something a tad larger and with a nice little grip, such as the Pentel EnerGize pencil (12 for $25).
- Pens - Without a shred of doubt, go with the Pilot Razor Point or Pilot Razor Point II. A pack of 12 goes for $12, enough said. And for rough sketching which I love to death, there’s the Pentel Sign Pen (12 for $13). It’s a thicker tip and pen, which naturally forces you to not get too attached to every line you make.
- Trace Paper - This is my big secret weapon. When it comes to iterating quickly on sketches, trace paper is a must have, and Alvin trace paper is the nostalgic choice. This is a staple in the architecture world and it’s something that’s always stuck with me after getting my masters from the University of Michigan. Go Blue! It’s invaluable to draw quickly, draw over other designs, and it's a breeze of a medium. Plus, everything looks fantastic on it. Trace paper combines with the Pentel sign pen is typically what I always reach for at my desk when wireframing.
- Notebooks I love - Moleskins are beautiful, but not practical as a user experience designer, or quite frankly for any designer in my opinion. With that said, there’s some really great notebooks that lie flat, and have the dot grid that I prefer. Dot Grid notebook is a great letter size book. The cover stands up, the pages are high quality and thicker than most. Milko Dot Grid is super affordable with a two-pack coming in at $15.99 for the B5 (4.9 x 6.9 in.) or the A5 (~5.8 x 8.3 in.). Anyone curious about where the A and B size paper comes from? Here you go, typical Unites States not doing what the international standard is and introducing Letter, Legal, 11x17. Classic. My only complaint with the B5 is that the binding is thick due to an abundance of pages, so at the beginning and end you find yourself a little awkwardly sketching from the change in thickness.
The abundance of options out there are overwhelming. It's easy to get niche products for niche things because one does it just better than the other. If you can reduce the tools you use as much as possible, you'll find yourself being highly efficient and streamlined. So, I'll break this list into those that are must haves, and follow it up with the best nice to haves if you find yourself underwhelmed.
- Figma - There was illustrator, then there was sketch, then there was sketch + abstract, then came InVision, and now there’s Figma. This, to me, is not only the evolution of products design for user experience, but how I would rank them from worst to best. Why? Figma, all in one space gives you all you need without being complex. Fast design, imbedded versioning, design system, prototyping. Are there quirks I would change? Absolutely. But, if there’s a need for something more involved there are some more advanced highly targeted applications. See some examples below.
- Principle - Principle works nicely with your vector based application in order to really elevate your animations and interaction design. To effectively communicate these ideas better, it’s a great tool to know well. It's fun and nice resume builder.
- Zoom or Meets - This really depends on your company. I prefer zoom and would advocate for it because of the whiteboarding, and custom backgrounds. But, so long as you have some telecommuting application, you'll be just fine.
- Slack - Obviously. Make sure you add Donut to your workspace to help build culture and connection with your remote team.
- Clickup - This is probably my favorite recent discovery. Let me tell you a story. I have been on the hunt for a task management system since the beginning of time. I’ve looked at iOS apps and desktop. I’ve paid stupid money for crappy applications that offered less than Clickup. It works as an individual, and is highly effective in the workplace. The regular updates to this product adding features seemingly all the time is mind blowing. I have a list view, grouped view, kanban board. I can do a gaant chart. With a larger team, I can get reports similar to JIRA on productivity. It seriously does everything you could want. Do you have to pay for some extras? Yeah, but I’ve not gotten to a point where I needed to go beyond the basic single digit dollars per month cost. I can link it to JIRA. It plays nicely with Figma, you heard me. I can set up design requests which create tickets, which syncs with JIRA. I can provide an open link to my board so everyone can see what I’m doing. It’s complex and sophisticated enough for those of you who require a ton of customization, but it’s simple enough to quickly input tasks, complete them, and mark them as done.
Nice to Haves
- Webflow - Should you need to manage your companies website and design, then I can't sing the praises of Webflow enough. Having worked with a design agency that has done a design for me, they left me with a Webflow project that had all the building blocks to scale a website. The level of customization is plenty, but after a little tinkering the simplicity of it reveals itself. Hey, it's what I'm using for this site!
- Loom - Let's face it, slack has its limitations. It is effective in replacement the slow nature of email, but loom is becoming effective in replacing the slow nature of typing messages. Often, as designers, things require a little explanation and walkthrough. Loom lets you record your screen, go through a prototype, show options to things, it's great. I will say I don't use it as often as I would like, but as the team continues to grow and grow this will be utilized more and more.
- Chorus AI - Our sales team uses this primarily. That said, it's such a wonderful resource for customer interviews and user research. Please, be a courteous designer and always ask permission before recording things. But, if people are cool with it, the ability to tag moments in time with comments and have notes transcribed for you. You will find your user research and recall on feedback elevate to a new level. More importantly, it's extremely easy to disseminate that information to your team for great communication and openness.
- Miro - I proposed this to my engineering team and they are falling in love with it. Architecture diagrams, design thinking, whiteboarding exercises, and any other type of collaborative visual documents make this product critical to your day to day. Are you kicking off a product and thinking of some flows and wireframes, this is an easy tool to collaborate with your engineering, marketing, product, or sales teams in a piece of software that's approachable for everyone.