As a team that has worked remotely since day one, our partners still choose to work where they are comfortable, even though we have an office. We rely heavily on tools to stay in touch, and we're constantly trying new ones. Here are some great tools we think are worth recommending to you, and if you think there's something we should take a look at, feel free to let us know.
- Retired tools are marked in grey, but that doesn't mean it's not worth your while to try them out yourself.
- Affiliate links are purple, and you can get sign-up bonuses while supporting our efforts.
- Most of the tools start with a free plan, the prices below are how much do we pay for them.
Slack has been the hub of our communication since 2013. It links our Figma project, Zoom meetings, Whimsical docs, GitHub webhooks, and a bunch of bots to make our work easier. Sometimes we invite clients to join our Slack channel directly or connect two companies through Slack Connect.
The best tool for online meetings, period.
We‘re looking for alternatives right now since Zoom stopped providing services in China. The best one at the moment is Tencent Meeting.
Loom not only has a name somewhat similar to Zoom, it is also one of the most important tools we use to communicate. It provides an asynchronous way to communicate, and we are now addicted to using it to create internal tutorial videos.
Google Workspace has probably been our longest companion, generously supporting our mailboxes, documents and sheets. We now use Sheets the most, providing details of hours worked for those clients who need to be billed on time.
We‘re excited about Hey for Work.
Mimestream is a native Mac app for Gmail. It looks just like Mail.app only feels infinitely better.
Due to the wide acceptance of WeChat in China, it is now also one of the official channels to contact us.
Krisp is just as amazing as the noise canceling feature of AirPods Pro, and it works with any voice software. It dramatically reduces background noise during meetings, not only your own but also the other person's, making it a real must-have for the home office.
Tandem is a lightweight team meeting tool. Not all meetings require a new Zoom room, sometimes asking a quick question or just chit-chat, Tandem can be very convenient.
We’re disappointed by the video/audio quality of Tandem, so we went back to using Zoom as our primary meeting tool.
We love Spark for being able to write emails together and discuss without getting stuck in reply-all hell. My favorite feature is Templates, which saved me so much time.
Replaced with Mimestream.
Who doesn’t enjoy writing on a freeform paper? Also, it comes with the Dropbox subscription. We draft all of our documents, even contracts in Paper, thanks to its version control and beautiful tables.
Replaced with Whimsical Docs.
Notion is our documentation center. With our plans to expand our team, we are now more frequently documenting knowledge and skills that others need to learn. It is a tedious but rewarding task.
Our primary design tool. We used to have Sketch, Abstract, and Zeplin, but it was messy and expensive. Now everything is in one place instead of all over the place. We also use Ai and Ps for brand identity work occasionally.
Currently, Drama is our favorite tool for creating sophisticated interactions and animations. Although most of the time, we use Prototype in Figma. Before Drama, we have used Origami, Flinto, and Principle.
We’re all huge font nerds, and we enjoy using Fontstand to try out fonts for each new project.
We started using Dropmark when there weren’t many choices around for collection. Now, the market is crowded, but we stuck to it mostly because we forget to unsubscribe…
Whimsical is the best tool for designing wireframes and flowcharts. The newly added Docs feature is our go-to place to document product changes, discussions, and plans.
Overflow is an amazing tool for creating diagrams and flows. But Figma has replaced so many tools and saved us so much money.
Replaced with Whimsical.
After many years of being on our own, we are back to Asana. Its latest version is more powerful than ever, with not only Kanban boards and lists, but also our favorite view, the timeline. A recent complex project forced us to use such a powerful tool to keep track of everything, and we can't work without it now.
Our absolutely genuine paid font files and tens of billions of dollars worth of top-secret contracts are safely stored in the good ol' box.
Zoho Books is a faithful old companion. It's simple, with no fancy animations or interactions, but it's stable enough and trustworthy. We just wanted to settle down after trying many fancy things, and we signed up for Zoho Books and haven't looked back since.
We recently switched to Roadmap for project management. It‘s a timeline-based approach, which is more suitable for visual thinkers, you can really see what’s coming next and who’s working on what.
Replaced with Asana.
We use Harpoon to send estimates and invoices. But we ditched its time tracking because the mac app lacks features and updates. Instead, we use Timemator for much more accurate tracking.
Excellent customer service but too slow. Replaced with Zoho Books.
We have been paid customers of Basecamp for many years. As I mentioned above, now we invite clients directly to our Slack. We still use Basecamp occasionally if the project requires a lot of sending deliverables and documents back and forth.
Too slow to use in China. Also too expensive for small businesses.
We value our visitors’ privacy as much as our own. That’s why we replaced Google Analytics and Gauges with Fathom, a privacy-focused alternative. No cookie consent popups, yay!
Finally we can publish (and schedule) Instagram posts from the desktop. But weirdly you can’t boost your posts right from the app.
If you’re a subscriber of Dine News—which you should be—you probably have seen Revue, our email marketing service.
Pitch is a complete platform for presentations. With high-quality templates, anyone can create beautiful presentations in no time.
We’re a big fan of presentations, the best way to sell a design is to present it beautifully. Paste is super easy to use. You can focus on the content and let it take care of the rest automatically.
Replaced with Pitch.
Smallchat is connected straight to one of our Slack channels, visitors on our website can talk to us directly from the page.
We removed Smallchat from our site because it tracks our visitors.
We use GitHub for all of our websites and client projects. Thanks to the generosity of Microsoft, we no longer need to pay for private repos.
GitHub is great for most of its job, but for speed and compliance reasons, we also have our own GitLab server and a CI/CD workflow set up on Aliyun.
It’s vital to our business to have a fast website for domestic visitors as well as a pleasant experience for our clients to use their CMS that we provided.
Everyone loves CloudFlare. From their robust DNS service with speed optimization to the powerful Workers that turns Notion page into a website with a custom domain.
Fork is our preferred git client. It’s fast, friendly, and made git less intimidating for designers like us.
Visual Studio Code
VS Code has finally won me over once I begin to learn React development. The integrations and extensions are unmatched. It’s just so neat and pleasant to finish all the developing, debugging, committing work in one single app.
Vercel is our newest web hosting provider. It is very fast, not only in terms of access speed, but also in terms of build speed. It was able to reduce the build speed from 3 minutes to just 22 seconds compared to the previous Amplify, giving us the freedom to try more new things.
We have fully migrated to Aliyun private servers.
AWS hosts all of our websites, builds code with CodeBuild, routes all the traffics through Route 53, hosts all of our files on S3, and serves via CloudFront.
Replaced with Vercel.
The shiny new toy. Currently serves as our build and test platform for Jekyll and Gatsby sites. It’s super fast and a delight to use.
Replaced with Vercel.
All-in-one easy-to-use online PDF tools, for those who can’t afford Acrobat.
Remember when we had to remove the image background in Photoshop? This tool can do it for you automatically in 5 seconds with zero clicks.
It even works with videos!
Since we have been using more and more videos on our website and in client projects, Handbrake really comes in handy when dealing with MP4 files.
Here’s our preset for compressing videos to use on the web.
Compared to Google Translate, which you don't dare to trust too much, DeepL's translation is so good that it's unreal. Combined with Grammarly's error correction, you can confidently put a large paragraph on your website or send it as an email to a client.
From time to time, we need to optimize image file sizes manually. Optimage is the best choice after trying almost everything.
Grammarly is a must-have tool for us to find and correct writing mistakes. We recommend it to everyone who works in an English speaking environment.
DocuSign is the de facto standard in electronic signature services. We use it with our foreign clients and contractors.
Manually tracking your time can be troublesome and easy to forget, also inaccurate from the employer‘s point of view. Tell Timemator which files you’re working on or what applications you use for your work, it will automatically start the timer for you.
Elpass is your all-in-one password manager. It’s lightweight, blazing-fast, and syncs with iCloud. In our opinion, its autofill feature works a lot better than 1Password’s.
Of course, we designed their lovely icons.
CleanShot is our team’s favorite screenshot tool. With its powerful annotation utilities and built-in cloud sharing feature, it’s a superior replacement for the macOS tool, Droplr, CloudApp, etc.
We use uPic to share files with clients through our private server.
If you like taking notes, you should definitely try Drafts. I use Drafts to jot down design ideas and take meeting notes. It’s the fastest and most versatile plain text editor that also syncs across devices instantly.
Other file transfer or storage tools have many constraints even to share one single file. That’s why we choose CowTransfer for unthrottled transfers.
Replaced with uPic. Figma greatly reduced the need for us to transfer files.