Web Designers Toolkit

I’ve been running Gaslamp Media for over 5 years now. During that time, we’ve grown from a 2 person partnership to a firm with 7 full-time employees and growing. We’ve experimented with all sorts of software and hardware to help us run our business. Operations will always be a work in progress. These may not be the best way of doing things, but they work for our needs. Hopefully you’ll find it helpful if you’re starting out or growing your web development firm.

Time Tracking

Google Drive (Spreadsheets)$5/mo or $50/yr for business users; Free for individual Gmail users

We’ve tried all sorts online project management tools. The key to success (and often the point of failure) for any of them is actually using them. Many of them had too many steps just to record an entry.

  1. Create accounts for every employee
  2. Create “clients”
  3. Create “projects”
  4. Create “tasks”
  5. Enter time, select project, save.

Rinse and repeat for dozens of tasks and multiple people, and you’re missing out on a lot of billable hours every day. All we need to know is how much time each person is spending on a project, either to bill hourly or to make sure we’re within budget.

Sample Spreadsheet

File Transfers (FTP)

Mac: Yummy FTP ($10)

Why would you pay $10 for something that’s freely available? Speed. Connections and transfers are blazing fast, and it’s easy to bookmark specific folders on the same server if you have a server that hosts multiple websites.

Yummy FTP performs much faster than the freely available Cyberduck and is a native Mac app, unlike the also popular Filezilla. If you’re really strapped for cash, the free options do a great job. If you’re earning a living doing web work and care about the UI of your apps, Yummy FTP is the way to go and well worth the $10.

Windows: Filezilla (Free)

Pretty much the most popular option for our Windows users. Free, fast, and constantly updated (sometimes too often). Tons of features.

Code Editors

No clear consensus within our office on this one.

Mac: BBEdit ($49.99), TextWrangler (Free), or Sublime Text ($70)

My personal favorite is BBEdit ($49.99). Text Wrangler is a free, stripped down version of BBEdit. Sublime Text is wonderful and technically free (no enforced time restriction) if you can live with that on your conscience. But seriously, if you’re earning a living with it, pay for a license and support the developers.

For editing remote files, any of these are great paired with Yummy FTP as a file browser. I almost never use the built in remote file browsers with these.

Windows: Sublime Text ($70), Notepad++ (Free), Aptana (Free), or Dreamweaver (Included with Adobe Creative Cloud, $50/mo)

I love using Notepad++ on my PC. It’s lightweight, fast, has SFTP support, and can be extended with plugins. The built in file browser could be better.

If you’re already paying for Creative Cloud or have Adobe Creative Suite, Dreamweaver in code editor mode is actually pretty decent, and it’s an excellent visual editor for things like complex tables and CSS. It also has a good built-in FTP/SFTP and site management tools, which is great for connecting to a client’s website within a few clicks without having to open another program.

File Sharing

Dropbox.com – Free, but you’ll probably need at least their 100GB plan for $9.99/mo

We use Dropbox for sharing large files with clients. Just save your files to the Dropbox folder on your desktop and share the file or folder with them. Your clients don’t need a Dropbox account to access your files.

You can also use Dropbox to synchronize files across multiple computers, such as your home computer and work computer, or across your team’s computers. Sign in with the same account across each of your computers in the office and easily keep local copies of files on each computer. It’s a lot more convenient than maintaining a shared server, and it even includes built in backups and version control through Dropbox.com.

File Storage (Shared Storage)

Synology NAS  – Starting at around $200

For storing large files long term or to share large files within your office, I’d recommend a network area storage device. They’re essentially small computers with no display and 2 or more drive bays to put in hard drives of your choice. We use our’s primarily to store files long term and to access files remotely.

You can combine the two drives for extra storage. For example, if you put in 2 1TB hard drives, it can act as a 2TB drive. Or you can have them mirror each other (RAID array) so that in the event one of the drives fails no data is lost and you can continue using the other one until you can replace the drive. If you plug in an external hard drive, you can back up your drive to that and you’ll have another layer of redundancy in the event of an emergency.

At current hard drive prices, you can put together a 4TB network drive for a one time cost of about $600, significantly cheaper than any cloud based storage services.

Web and Graphic Design

Adobe’s Creative Suite is pretty much the de facto standard for website and graphic design. There’s a lot of criticism of Adobe’s subscription model, but we find it to be a good choice for us considering the licenses allow for both Windows and Mac versions of the software, and can be used on up to 2 devices per user, so our employees have the option of working at home with the same set of tools they have at work. There’s also no fussing with serial numbers and activations since they’re tied to Adobe accounts.

Word Processing

Online: Google Drive (Documents)

Most of my word processing needs revolve around writing proposals or documentation on projects. For that, Google Drive’s Documents does the job just fine. There’s no extra software to maintain and I can pick up on in progress proposals from any computer (even my smartphone) and reference bits and pieces from previously written ones in one place. When I’m done, I can save it as a PDF file and send it to a prospective client in seconds.

Desktop: LibreOffice or OpenOffice (Both Free)

Google Drive doesn’t always do a good job handling large files and we often get Word files from our clients. LibreOffice or OpenOffice lets us access those files without the extra expense of having Microsoft Office for each of our computers. Formatting isn’t always consistent, particularly with more complex formatting in Word, but it’s enough to get the information you need in most cases.

Bug Tracking

Mantis Bug Tracker (Free)

Fast, free, and easy to install. Has tons of options and highly configurable for any use case. You can remove what you don’t need by simply commenting out a few lines in the settings files.

Customer Service

osTicket (Free)

Whether you’re a freelancer or have multiple teams within you’re company, a support ticket system will keep you organized and provide a better customer service experience. Tickets can be supported by email or through a web interface. Responses are tracked within a single web interface, so administrators can see full support threads and monitor for quality service and response times.

Notes

Evernote (Free)

Evernote is hands down the best note-taking platform. It’s made my paper notebooks practically disposable. With their website, mobile apps, and desktop apps, it’s truly a unified note taking system. The desktop app is my favorite. As someone who takes phone calls throughout the day, the ability to instantly add and save new notes is very convenient. I also like to use it for random bits of information like links, file paths, code snippets, and the occasional recipe for dinner.

If you’d like to share your recommendations for specific software or unique use cases and solutions, please leave a comment.

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