Brainstorms and Raves

Notes on Web Design, Development, Standards, Typography, Music, and More

Fri

20

DEC

2002

Friday Feast #30: Handy Web Design Tools

Every day we use tools to help make our jobs easier and organize our time and schedules. When people have asked me what tools I use to create and maintain websites and manage my business, I typically think of HomeSite, TopStyle, Photoshop, and QuickBooks Pro. There are other tools that I use and rely on also, some every day, some intermittently, and I’ll share some of my favorites below.

Image Properties

Jeffrey Zeldman mentioned a handy trick for Macs a week or so ago to quickly grab image information for image updates and changes with site maintenance. I do the same thing with Opera on a daily basis by right-clicking on an image, which provides a popup window with the image properties.

TopStyle is also handy for quickly grabbing image information. Right-click on the file name for the Properties popup window, which will provide height, width, and more. Or, just as with other editors, drag the image file to the editing window, where the height and width will seemingly magically appear, too. I often drag image files to blank editing windows in TopStyle for quick information without disturbing the page I’m editing.

Another convenient and fast-access tool is ThumbsPlus!, by Cerious Software. Once again, a simple right-click provides a popup window with the image properties.

Thumbs Plus screenshot

An especially handy feature with ThumbsPlus! is its Image View window that provides thumbnails of an entire project, for example, including image properties, dimensions, resolutions, and more, which you can customize to your needs. I can keep ThumbsPlus! open on my monitor next to my HTML editor for handy reference.

TopStyle, HomeSite, and other editing tools have image drag-and-drop capabilities, but sometimes another tool provides just the quick information that you need, too.

Cataloging: Keeping Track of All Those Images

ThumbsPlus! is also a fabulous cataloging tool for images. As their website states, ThumbsPlus! will help you “locate, view, edit, print and organize your images, metafiles, fonts and movies.” I’ve appreciated its cataloging even more as my home office has expanded to several computers, external hard drives, CDs for client project storage, zip disks, and whatever else. ThumbsPlus! catalogs the images, creates thumbnails, and its search feature works quite well. This program does a whole lot more than I use it for, too, including image manipulations, batch processing, and more.

Measuring on the Monitor

FabSoft’s free Cool Ruler is another tool I’ve used for several years. It takes measurements right on your computer screen, which I’ve often used with web design work. Cool Ruler measures pixels, centimeters, inches, or you can create your own measurement units with it, too. It also creates markers on the ruler and even has a built-in calculator. FabSoft has more handy tools, too.

PIM Tools

In the early 1990s I found Time & Chaos, an amazingly intuitive and user-friendly time and contact management program. It’s had time to season, grow, and improve over the years. I’m also thrilled that it includes a PDA synchronizing capability, so I use Time & Chaos instead of the Palm desktop.

This past September Time & Chaos was featured in PC Magazine’s cover story, where you’ll find a glowing report and concise information about some of its features. Its user-friendly interface makes it simple to use even though it has many powerful features.

Time & Chaos is compatible with or integrates with many other Windows programs. It’s also easy to import and export addresses, appointments, ToDo lists, notes, and more. So yes, it will import your Outlook information. There are also plug-ins available with more specialized features, too, depending on your needs, such as sales tracking, billing, and more.

Time & Chaos also adapts well for printing to a variety of sizes and information needs, from paper-based organizing binders to labels, envelopes, address books, calendar formats, and much more. I print out a monthly calendar for my bulletin board for quick reference, for example, and I often print out my ToDo list by category, priority, date, or whatever I need at the time. One of my colleagues doesn’t have a PDA and prints out her calendar, address book, and ToDo list into a small organizer binder.

The reminder alarms are an especially handy feature, too, reminding me to get to that afternoon appointment or whatever needed. The alarms can be set up as popup windows, an audible alarm with your choice of alarm sounds, and more.

Terrific program.

Extend Windows Clipboard

ClipMate is another terrific little program that I’ve used for years. ClipMate extends the Windows clipboard, providing a powerful, practical tool that I rely on throughout the day. Unlike the Windows clipboard that overwrites the last copy/paste, I can keep a multitude of copy/paste snippets stored for handy use with ClipMate—text, images, just about anything on my computer. It will save them long-term, short-term, or just keep a limited number. I’ve used this handy program as long as I can remember, relying on it all day long.

ClipMate also provides screen capturing, tacking saved clips together to your specifications, text editing and spell checking, text clean-up, and much more.

Planning and Organizing

New to me this year is Thought Manager, an easy-to-use tool for outlining, organizing information, taking notes, and more. Originally created for the Palm OS, there’s now a Windows desktop version, too. I’m totally smitten with this inexpensive and practical little program.

I’ve been using Thought Manager for a variety of organizing, planning, and checklists. The outline categories can expand to show each list item, and they can also contract to show only the main category items in your outline. The format can be a bulleted list, checkboxes, or numbers. Their Tips and Tricks page showed me how simple and helpful it could be to organize information with this handy tool.

Here are just a few of the ways I’ve used it during the past few months:

  • planning and organizing web design projects
  • making notes for my handyman organized by outside, inside, and which room
  • creating, organizing, and checking off my holiday shopping list
  • jotting down and organizing questions and topics to cover for appointments with clients, my accountant, my attorney, doctors' appointments
  • taking an inventory of my dinnerware to buy replacement pieces as needed
  • planning and organizing a trip itinerary
  • and a multitude of checklists

I use the desktop version and PDA version interchangeably, synchronizing them with my regular HotSyncs.

All Those Bookmarks

Powermarks has been my saving grace for managing bookmarks across browsers and even across computers. Like so many of us, bookmarks are a critical part of my information and reference base, just as important as the books on my shelves. Powermarks bridges the gap for me across browsers and computers, providing fast and simple access to whatever I need. I also make use of their online backup as a safeguard and to synchronize my bookmarks between my laptop and my main computer.

I wrote about Powermarks and other bookmarking tools and approaches, Looking for a Good Bookmark Manager?

Just for Fun

The Mirror Project is a delightfully inspiring place to meander through photographs somehow based on mirrors or reflections, especially if you have a little time over the weekend. I recently found some fun piano reflections, but that’s just one of literally thousands of interesting and creative photos.

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Recommended Books

 Book cover: The Design of Sites, Second Edition : Patterns, Principles, and Processes for Crafting a Customer-Centered Web Experience. By Douglas K. van Duyne, James A. Landay, Jason I. Hong. Prentice Hall PTR (December 14, 2006). 

Book cover: Bulletproof Web Design: Improving flexibility and protecting against worst-case scenarios with XHTML and CSS, by Dan Cederholm.

Hand-picked best book recommendations for Web site design, CSS, graphics, Photoshop, color, accessibility, more

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