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8 Resources to Build Your Design Toolkit and Brand

Updated: Apr 18, 2020

Design and photography skills have served me well throughout internships, full-time jobs, and side projects. Design is one of those skills that can help you communicate and prototype ideas, grab the attention of your customers/clients, and help you establish credibility as a brand, even if you’re just launching your business or side-project.

Entrepreneurs, small business owners, and bloggers often find themselves wearing many hats, and while hiring a designer or photographer is absolutely worth the investment, basic design knowledge and composition will serve you well as you bring ideas to life, whether it’s a mockup of a new website, an online advertisements, etc.

With that said, here are my top design resources for finding inspiration and executing on your design ideas, regardless of skill level. If your more of an “ideas woman” and design isn’t for you, the Inspiration and Resources section is full of useful tips to generate new ideas.

Makenzie Hess | Created in Photoshop for Tech++ Launch Event Fashion Show

Inspiration and Resources

1. Behance

Behance showcases online portfolios for creatives across different industries and design fields - graphic design, product design, advertising, photography, and interaction design. I often start here when I’m looking for design inspiration for my next project.

Makenzie Hess | Created in Photoshop for University of Washington Information School Capstone 2017

2. Pinterest

Pinterest isn’t just recipes and pictures from your favorite fashion bloggers. I’ve used Pinterest to save ideas and organize into different “Boards,” like Branding, Website Design, Instagram Story Inspiration, PowerPoint design, Editorial Design Layouts, etc. The Pinterest App is easy to navigate and one of my most frequently used apps. It can be great for design inspo or finding templates and resources (free or paid).

3. Creative Market

Creative Market is a place to shop design assets from different Creatives and is where I often find new fonts, stock images, patterns, or Photoshop templates. Each week they release about 6 “Free Goods” for download. Not only does this give you free assets to play around with it’s helped me find designers that match my design aesthetic that I would have necessarily found online on my own. My favorite part about Creative Market is you’re supporting the creative work of other designers and small business owners.

Executing Your Designs

4. Adobe Creative Suite

Adobe Creative Suite will always be #1 in my heart when it comes to design tools, mainly because the extensive list of features, the freedom Adobe gives you to bring your ideas to life, and the way each product in the suite works together. If you’re willing to pay a monthly subscription for design tools I would consider investing in at least one of the following products depending on your needs:

  • Illustrator: Graphic and vector based illustration design

  • Photoshop: For editing and creating photos or raster-based art

  • Adobe Experience: Used for prototyping mobile, tablet and website design. You can easily insert Illustrator or Photoshop designs into your UX mockups, as well as add hotspots to each screen of your mockup test the flow and navigation of your design (If Adobe isn’t for you checkout #6 below for other prototyping tools)

  • Lightroom: A photo editing tool used by professional photographers (Personally, recommend Lightroom over Photoshop for editing photos). You can also download the Lightroom Mobile App for free. Tip: search Google, Pinterest, and even Instagram for Lightroom presets to create a cohesive aesthetic for your brand.

  • InDesign: A publishing tool used for creating Flyers, Magazines, Books, etc. I used InDesign for class projects back in college, but find the learning curve to be more challenging and prefer Canva or Lucid Press (Resource #5) for more straightforward designs. With that said, the design freedom you have with InDesign is incomparable to these other tools. At the end of the day it depends on your needs!

Makenzie Hess | Created in Photoshop while an intern for University of Washington Football

5. Canva or Lucid Press

Canva and Lucid Press are great because they help eliminate poor design by providing bloggers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses (and everyday people in general), access to design resources to bring their ideas to life. They have a wide range of templates for everything from print (i.e. brochures) to digital design (i.e. Facebook ads or Instagram posts). Both of these tools are wonderful if you’re in need of a template for a project or need to start from scratch with a blank canvas. I’ve managed to get by with their free membership, but you can also upgrade for access to more features.

6. Prototyping Tools

Prototyping allows you to test an idea with an end user before investing time, money, and effort developing the product. Other tools I’ve used for prototyping include, Sketch,, and Balsamiq. I recommend shopping around and trying out each product’s free trial to find a tool that works best for you.

Makenzie Hess | Mobile App Mockup Created with Adobe Experience Design

7. Stock Images and have a wide variety of high-quality stock images for free under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license.

8. Icons will meet all your icon needs. Enough said!

As one of my mentors always says, “Every interaction leaves an impression.” Your website and social profiles are an extension of your personal brand and there are lots of great tools for sharpening your online presence and building brand recognition.


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