Here Are 8 Killer Single-Purpose Design Utilities

Sure, design can be fun–but it’s also a time-suck. We trolled the depths of the web for apps and services that will save you time and make your final results look more professional. is a site that makes it easy to find the physical size, aspect ratio, and pixel dimensions of smartphones, tablets, and monitors. The resource is a quick and easy way to get basic information about the most popular devices with sortable and customizable columns that fill the site. Over a dozen different Android phones are listed and an equally sizable amount of tablets including BlackBerry’s Playbook, Microsoft’s Surface Pro, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook line. For the devices that are less popular, makes locating valuable data dead simple. The site also incorporates a popularity rating which the makers say is based off monthly Google queries and fuzzy math, a feature they say is better than nothing.


Subtle Patterns

Subtle Patterns isn’t a secret by any means, but the site houses some of the best images to use for project backgrounds available. The beauty and appeal for the patterns is represented in the most basic need, an unobtrusive texture beyond just plain white. One of the best features the site offers is the ability to instantly preview any pattern as the site’s background. Subtle Patterns also has a new Photoshop plugin that will be available soon, allowing the same functionality of the site, but in an always up-to-date program plugin. The best feature? The patterns are free to use.

Lost Type

“Homestead” is a font that once you’ve seen it, you begin to see it everywhere. It’s just one of the fonts available on the co-op site, Lost Type. The site uses a co-op model, bringing in different designers who all allow their fonts to be downloaded for “pay what you want.” Those users seeing the tremendous value and offering to pay do see 100% of their payment going to the font’s designer. Clicking “Ribbon,” another distinct font offered, takes you to its own details page complete with real-world examples and other tidbits of relevant info. Lost Type has quickly become a resource every designer should know about, or already does. There are few other places online offering the quality they do in the same generous manner.

Red Pen

Red Pen fills a complicated, necessary, task and does so with a simplicity that few sites, services, or apps have been able to accomplish before. Red Pen allows a designer to drag an image onto the site, then after it uploads, have it sent to someone who can then just click on the picture to leave notes in specific places. Once the image is commented on, the uploader is notified that feedback has been given. Instead of emailing and trying to describe what area of the design you do or don’t like, Red Pen allows anyone, regardless of skill level, the ability to send or comment on an image. Oh, and it gives you a short URL to the uploaded picture as well.


Pattern Tap

Pattern Tap is not a tool or utility in the traditional sense, but a resource that every designer will probably need at some point. The point of Pattern Tap is to give you ideas about different aspects of a web page. For example, the site lists categories such as 404 pages, about pages, audio players, button types, breadcrumb styles, and many more. When you’re stuck in an inspiration rut, seeing different ways of implementing an item can often help. Having all the different ideas in a single place rather than having to endlessly search the web for them is probably one of the biggest features, though. Pattern Tap also allows searching based on colors, and styles, in addition to the elements.

Blokk Font

Blokk Font is self-explanatory. The problem is that you want your wireframe design to look full of content, but deciding what content to fill it with is unneeded and extra work. Blokk Font takes the gibberish (hsafjasdhgfjhdagf) and turns it into something beautiful and self-aware. Instead of Latin, or nonsense sentences, you get patterned lines which mimic the written word.

The Icon Set from Brankic1979

Described as pixel perfect icons, the set of 350 icons is freely available for apps, websites, or any other project you may have. Ranging from numbers to gears to microphones, the set of icons probably has something that will work for your needs. Even though the times when you might legitimately need a Batman logo icon are few, knowing it’s available and within reach may prompt some unique design choices just to make it work. Not just for personal use, the free icons are also available to be used in commercial works, but you just aren’t allowed to resell them, obviously.


Color By Hailpixel

There’s no shortage of color-picking tools. It’s one of the first things a designer needs to have ready to go, but Color by Hailpixel is definitely one of the more interesting ones. Visiting the site, you’re presented with a blank screen with only the reference to black (#000000). Moving your mouse changes the color on the entire screen and also gives you the hex code as well. Once you’ve found a color you like, you click on the screen and it freezes, dividing up the remainder of the screen, flashing colors again as you move your mouse. Left and right direction changes the hue, up and down changes the lightness, and scrolling changes the saturation. A tool you have to try to fully appreciate.

[Image: Flickr user John Mayer]


About the author

Tyler Hayes is a Southern California native, early technology adopter, and music enthusiast. You can reach him at