Skip to content
Team Adjacent | 10.24.19

Studio Toolbox (Fall 2019)

In our industry, a lot of emphasis—perhaps too much—is put on the stack of tools you choose to employ.

A certain autonomy comes with being a studio of four—and with it the ability to rapidly evaluate and settle on tools that work the best for our team. While we align to the idea that tools don’t make the designer or developer, we figured a handy post of the apps we use at Adjacent might help someone out there. Naive we are not, so here’s some disclaimers, lest we ruffle any feathers:

  1. You’ll see some old-school’ers on our list. Their inclusion is more of a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” than our being sticks in the mud and resistant to change. In fact, we periodically evaluate our tool stack and you’d be hard-pressed to mention something we haven’t heard of yet.
  2. Like with WordPress, we’ve made an intentional decision to be really good at one thing instead of spreading ourselves thin. Hence, we try our best to avoid redundancy in our apps.
  3. Could we work in other tools than the ones listed here? Absolutely, and at times we do when the project calls for it. We’re quick learners, after all.
  4. Most importantly, we’re not saying these are objectively the best tools for everyone—they just so happen to be the best ones for us at the moment, is all.

Sidenote: We love digging into how other agencies operate, so in the spirit of our sharing our list, we encourage you to pass along yours!

Good? Good. Without further ado, here’s our toolbox as of Fall 2019:

Studio Productivity

Docs & Planning

Google Drive

How We Use It

We get a lot of mileage out of Drive, ironically because a lot of the work we do is creating Docs. Whether it’s collaboratively hashing out an email, jotting down meeting notes, or drafting content, Google Docs is key to our workflow—hence, Drive.

Wish List

More foolproof sharing settings. It’s routinely a little buggy for us.

Site
File Management

Dropbox

How We Use It

Since we don’t use Google Drive for much more than documents, we lean on Dropbox for shared file management. Smart Sync is a game changer, and sharing large files is so dang easy—this might be the most important tool we have.

Wish List

The browser UI for individual files used to be a little unwieldy and didn’t use the available space very well. We’re gonna give the new UI some time before passing judgment.

Site
Quick-hit Communication

Slack

How We Use It

I’d like to think we’re similar to a lot of agencies in our Slack use (though we’re still warming up to Threads). It allows us to post quick updates and have brief conversations about projects. Even in a studio of four, it’s handy for asking who’s in for #lunch, who needs caffeine (#fuel), and most importantly, a landing spot for the latest photos of our cute children (#adjacekids).

Wish List

Slack can get noisy, for sure. We hook up our PM tool to various Slack channels, and in some cases it might be helpful to mute a bot.

Site
Conferencing

Webex

How We Use It

We bounce back and forth between conferencing tools. Zoom and Google Hangouts are arguably easier apps for client use, but Webex seems to work fine once folks install the app. It has all the features we need (screen sharing, call by phone or computer, call scheduling).

Wish List

Beyond any difficulty our clients experience installing it, Webex seems like a disjointed service, visually. Certain steps of the login and call process seem like they’re still between rolling out a redesign, which doesn’t make for a seamless experience.

Site
Project Management (Internal)

Breeze

How We Use It

Breeze is our primary PM tool, and we use it almost exclusively for internal purposes. It’s a great mashup between Trello and Basecamp, and allow us to track time and progress and have focused conversations about tasks. More so than Slack, it’s much easier to document discussions in Breeze.

Wish List

The UI leaves something to be desired, probably to a point where we wouldn’t feel comfortable opening it up for client use.

Site
Project Management (External)

Basecamp

How We Use It

Basecamp’s been a legacy tool of sorts for us—we still use Basecamp 2(!) and don’t find it compelling to move to 3. We haven’t found a better tool for client communication. Its onboarding is super easy and it accomplishes the goal of taking conversations out of email, where they’re bound to be lost.

Wish List

I’m not sure anyone loves getting Basecamp emails, though they’re kind of necessary. Some way to make this a more pleasant experience would be welcome.

Site
Audio

Spotify + Sonos

How We Use Them

We pride ourselves in creating the best “vibe” we can in our studio—it’s a space in which we spend 30+ hours a week, so why not make it enjoyable? Also, our windows are sealed 24/7, which creates a quiet space and escape from the street noise on Walton. We choose to fill the air with music, and the combo of Spotify and Sonos are our jam, so to speak. While we don’t lean on any studio-specifc playlists, Spotify analytics tell us we’re pop people.

Wish List

A bit more diversity in Spotify’s playlists—we tend to get a lot of all-caps & no-vowel bands.

Site
Proposals, Estimates, & Contracts

Proposify

How We Use It

We lean on Proposify for creating and sending project estimates and proposals. We especially like the ability to more deeply customize and brand our documents compared to its competitors.

Wish List

Google Docs and many other high-quality web apps have set a high bar on editing UX and Proposify definitely could benefit from some improvements.

Site
Billing

FreeAgent

How We Use It

While Quickbooks is perhaps the obvious choice for bookkeeping and invoicing, at the time of our initial evaluation FreeAgent offered the best customization options.

Wish List

Because its based in the UK, some of the company and tax-related setup can be a little less than intuitive but once you’re up and running it’s pretty smooth sailing.

Site

Design Tools

Multi-purpose

Adobe Creative Cloud

How We Use It

While the trend seems to be pointing towards Adobe alternatives, we find Creative Cloud fairly essential for our projects. Because we’re rarely producing static page comps, Photoshop is handy for short, browser-informed explorations (not to mention editing photos). Illustrator handles all our vector artwork needs, and InDesign our publication ones. We’ve slowly brought XD into the fold for layout exploration when sketches aren’t enough but we need clarity in code as well. We also do a fair amount of video odd-jobs, and After Effects is great for that.

Wish List

Save for the gripes you’re probably familiar with, we typically don’t wrestle with CC apps. That said, if Photoshop stops being efficient for us, we’ll likely up our XD (or Sketch, InVision Studio, Figma, etc.) usage as opposed to waiting for Photoshop to get better features.

Site
HTML-to-PSD

Page Layers

How We Use It

Dan here. If you’ve seen any of my presentations, you know how much of a broken record I am about Page Layers, an app that captures webpages as layered PSDs. It’s been six years since I started using it and it’s still magical, every dang time. It probably gets used 2-3 times per web project, which is totally worth the $35.

Wish List

None. It’s perfect and you can’t tell me different.

Site
Sketching

Paper & Whiteboard

How We Use Them

We fully embrace working in low fidelity, and do our best to get our clients and partners in on that approach. Paper and whiteboard sketching informs a lot of what we end up designing and coding.

Wish List

More markers.

Presentations

Keynote

How We Use It

While many of our meetings with clients and partners lean on Google Docs for planning, it’s often helpful to button up some proposed ideas in the form of a presentation. Knowing Keynote inside and out helps presentation prep not feel so daunting.

Wish List

While Keynote is in Apple’s ecosystem of apps, we wished it felt more like Adobe’s in the way it manages the “canvas”, colors, type, etc.

Site

Development Tools

Coding

Visual Studio Code

How We Use It

We know, wars have broken out over less than editor preferences (*cough* tabs vs. spaces). But since this is our space for recommendations, Code would be it. It’s an editor with all web development batteries included, providing insights and understanding the structure and relationships of your projects out of the box. If the base level isn’t enough, its extensions bring you anything from color schemes to full-blown debuggers and git clients.

Wish List

Code may be mean, but it’s certainly not lean. Built with Electron, it’s basically a web browser strapped with rockets posing as a native app, and will happily run up a high CPU and memory tab. If your dev machine is a featherweight (or your battery’s low), try runner-up and Code’s spiritual predecessor, Sublime Text. While less robust, Sublime is light on resources and still holds its own as a straightforward, rock-solid editor.

Site
Source Code Management

Tower

How We Use It

We believe in continually trying new techniques, technologies and tweaking our process to most efficiently deliver the best products and services for our clients. So, we use Tower to reduce our learning curve on getting into and utilizing git. Tom would argue that nothing beats the native terminal approach, but Dan and Nate prefer a little UI assistance.

Wish List

Honestly, we’ve been pretty happy with the existing features and updates to date, but if we could get improved diff/merge capabilities, it would be the icing on the cake.

Site
Development Server

MAMP PRO

How We Use It

Developing fancy sites requires fancy development setups. Or, rather, it would, if MAMP didn’t exist. Minimal clicks get you a fully functional web stack on your desktop, and a handy UI to manage it all. While you could install and configure Apache, Nginx, MySQL, and multiple simultaneous versions of PHP yourself, MAMP follows the old Apple philosophy and Just Works.

Wish List

Well, this app does what it says on the box, and then gets out of your way. We need more apps like that.

Site
Windows Testing

VirutalBox

How We Use It

Many a web developer would love to forget the anguish Internet Explorer’s historical quirkiness has caused. And yes, while Microsoft’s latest Edge browser is somewhat reformed, it’s still not without its problems, and its older counterparts continue to live on in the wild. VirtualBox, combined with free Virtual Machines from Microsoft, allows you to past-proof your creations on various versions of IE/Edge without leaving your seat. Which is good, that’s where all that legacy IE pain may have accumulated.

Wish List

VirtualBox is surely a powerful (and free) Virtual Machine tool, but is severely lacking in its usability and interface. The “Clone” button has a sheep on it—need I say more?

Site
Database Wrangling

Navicat

How We Use It

For any developer who’s used the clunky web-based phpMyAdmin, Navicat is a breath of fresh OS-native-app air. If your servers are up for it, Navicat lets you swiftly manage all your databases from one place, additionally making backups, transfers, or dissecting that mysterious data issue that much less annoying.

Wish List

With great power comes great responsibility. Navicat feels like an old-school IT Swiss army knife, and has got plenty of functions that can hose your data if you’re not careful. If you’re a little more green to the DB administration world, you might stick to simpler tools.

Site

Your turn. What do you use?

Let Us Know
More Studio Things