10 great cloud-based apps for your design business

Illustrator and content strategy director Steff Green gives you the lowdown on the best cloud-based solutions to aid designers.

While cloud-based solutions offer many pros and cons, in my opinion, the pros far outweigh the cons. I've been running my freelance/agency in the cloud for a couple of years now, and I've never been happier. Here are some of the reasons I prefer cloud-based services:

  • You can access all your data - client files, research, accounts, design portfolio - anywhere in the world, from any device. This is especially vital if you have a team working remotely, or you like to travel while still checking in.
  • You have a built-in data recovery system in case of a disaster.
  • You may decrease your overhead. Many cloud-solutions are free, and those that aren't offer a low-cost monthly subscription fee that allows you access to the latest software without paying for constant upgrades.
  • Many cloud apps and services provide solutions, such as mind mapping tools, to streamline workflow and increase productivity, thus enabling you to work smarter.

I've compiled a list of my favorite cloud-based apps that I use regularly in my content/design business. Some of these are free, and some have a low monthly subscription fee.

01. Morpholio

Morpholio

Cloud-based portfolio app Morpholio has its own creative community

Price: Free

Morpholio gives you a way to dynamically and beautifully present your portfolio to potential clients, industry professionals and other creatives. The cloud-based app has been recognized by ABC News, ArchDaily and USA Today as one of the best apps for creatives.

Using Morpholio you can view your portfolio, invite users to comment on and even sketch over images, share image libraries with other creatives, and even print your work into portfolio books and other products.

In my opinion, one of the advantages of Morpholio is the creative community it has created. Community members share their images and work together on projects and idea generation.

02. Workflow Max

Workflow Max

Workflox Max works seamlessly with Xero Accounting

Price: NZ$25 (about US$19) per month for solo access, and small business packages for agencies from NZ$49 (US$38)

Workflow Max is job management software that integrates seamlessly with Xero Accounting. I use Workflow Max to manage the small creative team I employ. I enter jobs onto the system and can track and manage them through each stage of the process, create to-do lists, send invoices, time tracking, running reports - basically anything I could possibly need to manage workflow through my business.

What I particularly love is the Adobe Time Tracking Extension - if you're tracking time for clients or for you own records, you can do it from this widget directly from the Adobe Creative Suite - no more breaking your creative flow.

03. ColorZilla

ColorZilla

ColorZilla is an amazingly useful Firefox add-on

Price: Free

I use this Firefox add-on all the time. Simply download ColorZilla to any device you've got Firefox on (it doesn't work on Chrome or Safari). Now, let's say you see a colour on a website you want to use - no worries, just click on the icon and you'll get an eyedropper tool that will instantly convert that color to its RGB value.

04. Typetester

Typetester

Trying out fonts has never been simpler than with Typetester

Price: Free

Sometimes the most useful apps are the simplest. Typetester is a nifty little app that enables designers to test the look of three different paragraphs of text at the same time. Use different parameters such as size, typeface, alignment and color to generate a veritable smorgasbord of options.

After you've selected your font, simply click the button and you'll be able to copy/paste the CSS.

05. Slideshare

Slideshare

Slideshare is a great way to share concepts and works as a promotional tool

Price: The basic service is free, and other tiers of benefits offered from US$19 per month.

Often, clients want their concepts or projects presented to a committee via Powerpoint. I use Slideshare to share client projects with everyone at the office who might need to view them. The clients appreciate having the project viewable from their computer, and I no longer have to fiddle with USB sticks and non-cooperating projectors.

Plus, slides are viewable and searchable by browsers online - enabling you to increase brand awareness and obtain more followers and capture leads. If used wisely, slideshare can be an excellent promotional tool for designers.

Slideshare offers some great basic features, but if you're doing a lot of presenting in this manner, you might want to look at the pro options – offering detailed analytics, meeting hosting and increased private sharing features.

06. Flow

Flow

Online collaboration tools are a real boon, and Flow is one of the best

Price: US$9.99 per month. Discounts available for teams of 3+ people

Flow is a simple, Mac-like interface for project collaboration. Using Flow you can manage and delegate tasks to a team, discuss ideas, organize tasks with lists and tags, and even offers email integration so you can tasks from your inbox.

The Flow app syncs between all your devices, and is perfect if you don't need a huge, robust system like Workflow Max to collaborate with your team.

07. Dropbox

Dropbox

Dropbox has virtually become the verbified byword for cloud storage

Price: Free for 2GB storage. Pro plans starting at 100GB from US$9.99 per month

Do you need to share or send large files with clients and other team members? Do you a cloud-based data storage backup? Well, Dropbox is just what you need. Simply drop your stuff into your 'box' and you can access it again from any device. Share files with others and take advantage of the robust dropbox security system.

08. Xero Accounting

Xero

We all hate accounts, so let's make it as simple as possible - here Xero delivers

Price: US$19 per month for freelancers, and US$29 per month for larger small businesses such as agencies

Now that you've got the creative side covered, it's time to take care of your accounts. Xero accounting is my preferred option, because it's beautiful and so easy to understand, even for a maths-adverse type like me. All our accounts are stored online in a secure system, so you can access and update any time you need.

With Xero, you can manage invoices and get paid online, automatically import and code your bank transactions and even work with foreign currency. Xero have also partnered with a variety of developers to create a suite of add-ons designed to make business even easier.

09. Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe Creative Cloud

Adobe's Creative Cloud is already the benchmark cloud-based design product

Price: US$49.99 per month (US$19.99 for students and teachers)

In 2013 Adobe has been focused on integrating its suite of creative services into the cloud. With Creative Cloud, you can gain access to the latest versions of all 15 Adobe products, including Photoshop CC, After Effects CC, Illustrator CC and more, for one monthly subscription fee.

Adobe is pretty much the must-have resource for designers and creatives, and it sounds as if a cloud-based solution is the direction the company is headed, so you're going to have to learn to use cloud apps as a designer.

However, the name 'Creative Cloud' is a little confusing - you don't need to be connected to the internet to use Photoshop CC, Illustrator CC and so on - just to download it (and once a month to verify your account). Where the cloud action really starts to take place is when you want to take advantage of the interoperability the Creative Cloud offers - such as syncing fonts, colours and other settings across devices, using the free online storage, publishing to Behance, and so on.

At its current price point, Adobe Creative Cloud is an affordable option for those who use a range of suite programs and prefer to operate the latest updates. There's also a cheaper single-app plan; but those who only use a couple of the applications might want to look for a more cost-effective alternative.

10. Evernote

Evernote

Is there anything Evernote can't do? And they keep adding stuff to it!

Price: Free for 60MB per month of storage, and upgrades to premium features available for US$13 per user per month

I love Evernote. I use it for all sorts of things - to bookmark interesting sites, to collect images for research, and to keep a searchable database of potential clients, publishers and blogs.

Basically, Evernote is a searchable digital scrapbook. You can bookmark pages, URLs, videos, screenshots and images and organize them according to a system of categories and tags. You can install an Evernote widget into your browser to make using the application even easier, and it syncs to all your devices so you can always access your research. You can also share your notes with others and use Evernote to create collaborative boards.

Words: Steff Green

Steff Green is a freelance writer, blogger and illustrator, and director of Grymm & Epic - a content strategy and management agency based in New Zealand. Download one of her free ebooks: 10 Content Marketing Ideas for Badass Business.

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What cloud-based services are you using? Let's share our favorites in the comments below!