12 things no graphic designer should be without

There are a few essential things no graphic designer should be without. While some things could be considered nice extras – luxuries even. There are absolute basics that it would be hard to do the job without. In this article, we'll look at exactly that: the 12 things that every graphic designer needs. 

These things include something to sit on – and you'll spent a lot of time sitting, so it needs to be a good chair. Of designers also need a good laptop for graphic design, a top drawing tablet, a trusty notebook for when you want to take things offline. But what are the other things you need for a pleasant day in the studio. These are 12 things we think no designer should be without.

01. An office chair

office chair

Proper chairs don't come cheap, but the investment will pay off

Never underestimate the importance of the right chair. It might be tempting to just grab a spare from the kitchen or dining room, but you'll end up paying the price after a few days perched on it.

Because you'll be using it for hours at a time, most days, you'll want a decent quality chair that's going to last you. What this basically means is don't go grabbing the first chair you see for $50 – if you do, sooner or later you'll find yourself cursing your miserly ways.

Instead, be prepared to spend more on something ergonomic with decent lumbar support. And if you get the chance, head out to the shops to try some chairs out for size and comfort; the last thing you want is to order something online, only to find (once you've gone to the trouble of assembling it) that it doesn't feel quite right for you.

For more advice and some different options to choose from, take a look at our guide to the best office chair. Or if you're looking for some specifically ergonomic, go for our guide on the best office chair for back pain. Below you'll find the best deals on chairs for a range of budgets.

02. A backpack

rucksack bellroy

Get a rucksack with compartments, like this Bellroy one

No matter where you're working, sometimes you'll have to go out – maybe to meet a client, or to do an in-house job – and you'll need to take your stuff with you. Don't get caught out at the last minute, trying to cram all your gear into a promotional tote bag; think ahead and buy yourself a good-quality backpack.

As with buying an office chair, this is something you won't want to be too cheap about. You need something that can comfortably hold all everything you'll need on your travels, and keep it protected as well; at the very least you want to make sure that it has a padded compartment for your laptop or tablet. 

And if you're carrying a load of stuff, go for something with plenty of pockets or compartments; if you just shove everything into one place you'll invariably end up having to dig through a whole load of stuff in search of a stray charger.

03. A Wacom tablet

wacom tablet

Wacom, king of drawing tablets

This nifty bit of drawing kit has been with me since I started out, and it's been as loyal and reliable as my own husband (maybe even more so). I think of my Wacom now as an extension of my hand. It's so wonderful, I haven't used a mouse in six years. It's made the transition between sketching everything on paper and then wrestling with the pen tool in Illustrator a lot more fun and definitely a lot faster.

The control I have is amazing and it makes digital drawing much more fluid and natural. Not only that but it is definitely a very beautiful gadget, all smooth and curvaceous (in case you can't tell, I really like my gadgets).

For those of you who haven't a clue what this is, think of it as a piece of paper and a pen that transfers every stroke you doodle on to your machine so that you can digitise the work. It's pretty darn wonderful and if I had to live without it? Well, I'd just be sat in front of my machine with no idea how to make the cursor thingamabob move. I don't just use it for artwork, I use it instead of a mouse or a track pad for everything. I really am severely attached to it, so please don't take it from me!

There are plenty of different ones to choose from. Take a look at our roundup of the best Wacom deals around if you're having trouble choosing. Not sure if a Wacom is right for you? Read our guide to the best drawing tablets for alternative options.

04. A sketchbook

A sketchbook is a must-have for any creative

This may be an obvious one, but every designer needs a good sketchbook. With my face planted in front of a 27-inch screen all day, it's good to break away sometimes for a five minute doodle.

Not only does it calm me down once I've checked I can still draw, but it's great for adding content to my social media networks and a nice break for my achy brain. I take my sketchbook with me wherever I go because you never know when someone is going to be late to a meeting and leave you twiddling your thumbs. Or maybe I'll have a brainwave for a new project and need to jot some ideas down before the idea flies away.

My sketchbook is pretty much my bible. It's got doodles in it that have been turned into infographics and motion graphics, so it's like a diary of sorts. I also keep a notebook by the side of my bed. I'm not a great sleeper so I quite often think about projects and work during the night, and sometimes the perfect idea will strike in the middle of the night. 

05. Post-It notes


Forget sticky notes, get some real Post-Its

I definitely couldn't work or live without Post-Its. I'm talking about the actual real, physical kind, not one of those sticky pad applications you can download to your computer. In fact, I'm probably keeping the Post-it manufacturing industry afloat all on my own. In the way that my sketchbook is my idea jotter and doodle Bible, Post-Its help me organise my day and keep on top of tasks.

I do use a digital calendar as well of course, inputting all the tasks I need to do for the next day so I have a clear list of to-dos. But my Post-Its are an extension of that and a way to keep everything at the forefront of my mind. I can close a calendar but if I've got Post-Its in front of me all day, along with lists, there's no way to get away from what I need to do and that keeps me focused.

I also use Post-Its for personal encouragement and goals. If I see a phrase that really jumps out at me, I'll jot it down on the nearest Post-It and stick it in view. Or, if I need an extra kick of motivation, I keep specific goals I want to achieve in view. These little reminders keep me motivated, energised and focused.

06. Spotify


Spotify: can help you not explode

Oh Spotify, what would I do without you? Answer: go out of my mind! I don't know about you but the kind of music I listen to completely depends on my mood. Sometimes I need to listen to every single David Bowie song or I just might explode. Sometimes I'm so incredibly sick of everything that I need to listen through the radio setting on the app to see if I can find anything new that hits the spot.

Basically, Spotify is there for me, whatever mood I'm and it never gets angry with me. It just finds some awesome tunes for me to fall in love with while I'm busy working hard. The radio function is genuinely genius and I definitely couldn't be without it.

Another bonus is that if you're linked up with your friends on Spotify you can share music between you and occasionally you can make fun of them when you catch them listening to Boyzone's Greatest Hits when they thought nobody could see. Satisfying. Now all I need is for the developers to find a way to make Spotify know what mood I'm and what I want to listen to immediately. Hurry up, will you?

07. Snacks


Snacks can prevent a deskbound meltdown

If you're anything like me, work tends to overtake a great deal of things, including preparing healthy brain food and snacks for the week to keep you from having a meltdown at your desk. In fact, in some cases, you can completely forget about lunch and look up from your work to find it's already 5:30pm and your stomach is screaming at you to feed it. Sound familiar? Enter Graze!

This genius idea has been around for several years now. You create an account here (or here if you're in the US) and browse through all the options for healthy snacks (and a few naughty ones) and bin the options you're sure not to like. Then, you can set when you'd like your nifty little box with four snack sections to be delivered and how often. Simple as.

I get mine delivered once fortnightly as it's not the most cost effective way to snack, but it sure it the most convenient and definitely rather fun. Graze gives you an option to view what's in your box before it arrives or you can wait and have a lovely surprise.

08. A social media tool

sprout social

Connect up your networks with Sprout Social

I work with social media a lot and I use all of the platforms to promote my work, my business, gain new contacts and gain work so it's really important for me to be able to make the process of posting and uploading content super-efficient and reliable.

Not only that but I need to be able to see how posts are engaging, who's engaging with them, if at all, and compare them with other posts so I can make sure all my content is as impactful as possible.

Sprout Social is a great tool for this. For a small monthly fee, I can connect my social networks together in one neat list and compose content, which I can post to all at the same time. Or I can schedule posts to go out at different times.

This is an amazing revolution for me. I can come into the studio on a Monday, go through the content I've collected all the last week and organise posts for the entire week showcasing work, things I've seen and done. This saves a great deal of time and distraction in the long term. Although we all know engaging with social media is a complete must for businesses, it can be quite distracting throughout the day.

This way I know I've got some interesting content going out throughout the week and I can sit back and relax and review the stats that Sprout very handily display on the dashboard. Voila!

09. A time-tracking app

freshbooks time tracking

FreshBooks is a handy time-tracking tool

There is one thing a designer should never be without and that is a decent time tracking application. I searched high and low for something that not only had a well-designed, easy to use interface but also was available and equally easy to use across mobile and mac platforms. I found it.

FreshBooks is a very valuable cloud accounting tool for tracking your time across projects, tasks and clients. It gives you the ability to add team members and invoice your clients directly, as well as giving them the option to pay online in a couple of easy steps. There are plenty of options though – take a look here to find one that suits you.

As my business is growing, I've begun to employ a few freelancers of my own and what better way to keep track and manage projects remotely that to invite them to a project on FreshBooks and then enable them to either enter a time spent on a project manually or use a handy time tracking clock and add hours that way?

Everyone can manage his or her hourly rates and I can invoice a client once the project is finished, as it exports all the hours spent into one very well designed invoice. Genius! It's simple and intuitive and allows everyone to work from anywhere.

10. A smartphone 


Smartphones are handy for all kinds of things

This is quite an obvious one, but I've no idea where I would be without my smartphone. Running a business alone is hard. Fact. There are so many things to think about and do on a daily basis that it can easily become a juggling act. For instance, if I'm not plonked in front of my Mac, I spend a lot of time each month going out and meeting clients, attending networking events and generally being on the move.

While I'm doing all this, clients are emailing, freelancers are sending work through and I'm scheduling more meetings and more events and more work. Phew! How is this possible? My wonderful iPhone. It goes with me wherever I go and there are apps that are in full time use most days if I'm out of the studio.

My calendar is always open, being added to, changed, inviting contacts. My FreshBooks app is running if I'm keeping an eye on freelancers or invoicing for a project. My Skype app is always in use for my overseas clients. My Sprout Social app is there if I want to add content to my networks on the move. And of course, my email client is normally buzzing away. Who knows what I'll need to do while I'm out – it's best to be prepared!

Although iPhones have long been favourites amongst the design community, there are several other companies giving Apple a run for its money. To see what we thought, take a look at our run-down of the best smartphones for designers.

11. Visually


Visually can help you promote your work

Within the last year and a half, infographics have become a major component in marketing businesses as well as communicating complex data to audiences. Visually is one of the best infographics tools around. I've used Visually to collect all my infographic work in one place, which is great for linking with potential clients. If a client is specifically getting in touch with me for infographic work, I can either send them my web link where they can look through recent work or I can give them quick and easy access to my entire infographic library. Simple! 

Of course I could upload every single one to my site but that wouldn't leave room for much of our other work. Not only is this a quick and easy solution, but it serves as a great inspiration bank when I've got a creative block.

12. Competition

computer arts magazine

To keep up to date with what your competitors are up to, check out Computer Arts magazine

What would the world be without a little competition? There's nothing like some fresh blood to keep you on your toes. However long you've been doing the job, there's always something new you can learn, whether it's a new approach or a new technique or even a design software shortcut you weren't aware of.

The fact is, two heads are always better than one and if you can surround yourself with creatives then all will be well. Instead of working head to head, why not try some collaboration and learn something new?

When I was just starting out and working from my little living room desk, I knew I needed to get into some shared office space to keep the creative juices flowing and the competition in my eyeline. Mostly to have some like-minded people to bounce some ideas off but also to learn anything I could.

That's exactly what I did and not only did I learn a great deal about what could be achieved but I also learnt about dealing with clients and other everyday necessities. It was the best thing I ever did. Not only that but employing some fresh young freelancers has given me a push to improve my skills and get up to date with the latest tech.

Never stop reading about what's going in the design world and what people are doing: it could inspire you to create something that you never knew you could. A quick dose in the mornings from websites like this might be all you need to have the most creative day you've ever had.

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Jessica Draws is an experienced designer with a love of beautiful, creative visual work. She has produced infographics, illustrations, graphics and digital artwork for brands including Sainsbury's, Go Compare, IKEA, and London Women's Clinic.