in Design

Tools of an Interactive Producer

As an Interactive Producer, one wears many hats (though in my case it typically ends up being the project manager hat) and those hats need some associated tools to make life easier. So here is what I use on a fairly regular basis. Some of the stuff I use by choice, some of it I am forced to. In the list I will differentiate what I have to use and what I choose to use (and in a few cases what I wish we use).

 

Development

What we use: SVN
What we are transitioning to (maybe): GIT

If you don’t know what these are then you are already behind the game. Everyone should know rudimentary commands for both (things like init, pull, clone, commit) because version control can save your project and help keep development changes straight. Use it or lose it. It being version control in the first case and your project in the second case.

 

What I use: Sublime Text 2

I had been using Comodo IDE for about a year and fell in love with how an IDE treats projects and elements and had an expedited workflow. Then, on a whim I tried Sublime Text 2 after seeing it was simple and at the time I needed something quick but better than Text Wrangler. Sublime Text gives you a vast syntax highlighting library with a eye-friendly built-in theme (Monokai) but these are just candy; multi-select/edit, multi-file search, highlight-skip-highlight, and term highlighting is what really puts ST2 above the rest. Soon thereafter I heard about Package Control for ST2 and with that add-on ST2 had me sold. It is virtually infinitely extensible and blazingly fast even with a dozen packages installed. I’ll have to do a breakdown of my packages at a later date.

 

Design

What we use: Photoshop (technically we use CS5)
What I wish we used: Sketch

Photoshop. You know it. We all use it. It is great. But it allows you to do things you can’t do on the web (with CSS3, sure you can do many of the things you can in Photoshop but those aren’t always cross-browser compatible and can still be very time-consuming to replicate). This is why I really wish we used Sketch. It better constrains you to elements on the web and keeps things vector which allows you to create more scalable graphics and elements. This may sound like a bad idea, but in most cases being constrained forces you to become more creative and find innovative solutions to the problem. Photoshop is a tool for other heavier hitting needs in the graphics world whereas Sketch is a precision instrument to aid in designing for the web and mobile apps.

 

Wireframing

What we use: Protoshare
What I use/wish we used: Balsamiq

Wireframes are important 75% of the time. The 25% of the time can become a massive time suck. Sometimes it is quicker and easier to just roughly sketch something out then do the visual design instead of getting mired in worrying about the pixel widths of gutters  and every little piece of content. Protoshare is nice but past the multi-user review capabilities and some extra levels of interactivity, all Protoshare happens to be is Photoshop without the visual eye candy. Balsamiq is good because it de-emphasizes the exacting visuals and puts the show on the general layout and interaction patterns. Protoshare and other programs like it tend to make you start worrying about pixel perfection too early and extract you from caring about usability and how users will actually use the site. Also, web-based interfaces can also be finicky,  slow, and completely unusable if you are offline (what happens when I need to wireframe something while on a car ride to the client?). Don’t get me wrong, I find that interactive prototypes can be extremely helpful and illustrative but they are not appropriate for every project. I could write an entire post on wireframing; I more than likely will in the near future.

 

Project Management

What we use: Basecamp, Dropbox, Cloud.App, Google Chat

Project management is one of those things I loathe doing but do realize that it is important. Managing a digital project requires a variety of tools too keep everything going. Basecamp acts as a document storage and conversation archive for projects; put something on there and it is dated/timed and filed within a project so that it is easily searchable and accessible by anyone on the project. “New” and “Classic” Basecamp both have their sweet features and glaring flaws, but it is overall one of the best and easiest to use programs for Project Management. Sometimes Basecamp isn’t the best place for files (oops I uploaded the wrong one; gotta delete that version and hope nobody downloaded it) which is why we also use Dropbox. If you don’t use Dropbox, or Box, or Google Drive, then you are missing out on some of the best ways to keep files/folders synced between team members, clients, and computers. Cloud storage is an invaluable tool, though it should go without saying, you should not entirely rely on it as your only form of storage for some files; keeping your own copy elsewhere will save our skin. Cloud.App was something I had never heard of before starting at MadMonk. Everyone used it and kept using some crazy jargon about sending clouds or “CL’s”. I thought they were crazy until someone sent me one. Then I saw the magic: being able to quickly (and in some cases automatically) upload files/screenshots/documentation/text files/items directly from your clipboard to their cloud storage and generate a link to share is freaking genius. You can share screenshots without worrying about attaching them to emails or send a quick text file you just need to read and not necessarily open/save on your computer. If you are on a mac and aren’t using it, then you are majorly missing out.

 

Of course after writing this I must say that this is by no means definitive, and as you can tell, I am critical of what I use. If there is something better out there, I want to try it and if I like it, massage it into my toolbox and workflow. Constantly evolving, finding new techniques and tools, and willingness to try something new help keep an interactive producer fresh and not stick in 1995. An interactive producer needs a little bit of everything to stay on top and having the right tools can help. If you have any ideas or thoughts on the tools I use (or should use) just drop me a line. Pinging me on Twitter is usually the best way.

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  1. Nice list, I wrote a blog post about something similar before. Thought you may include Omnigraffle in Wireframing software or Visio for PC users?

    Also for Resource Planning under Project Management I would take a look at Hub Planner http://hubplanner.com

    Nice to see this list maintained, thanks for posting.

    Natalie