Web design is such a complex and a rather time-consuming thing to do and with the increasing economy misfortunes looking to decrease expenses while staying on your A game is the key to the process.
No economy expert had foreseen that year 2014 would be amazing, financially speaking. While various industries and governments are struggling with the economy crisis, the big world economies are on the verge of recession. With this on plate, it is not unusual for everyone to stay alert for the even worse changes, budget reductions and online tools and assets availability decrease.
Neither web designers nor developers stand safe against this situation. Taxes and expenses are on the rise and everyone is consequently becoming aware of the inevitability of having to take up more jobs to keep up with the effect inflation is having on their income.
We’ve talked to a few successful designers and developers hoping to get helpful advice and recommendation on free or affordable tools, services and resources that in their opinion can help save money and make the work process easier.
The Cheaper the Product, the Better
If you are working on a really tight budget you need to be extra careful with planning both your finances and the time you’ve got. Joel Morgan, a Cetnresource’s graphic designer recommends MindNode (iOS and Mac) app that will help you organize your ideas.
The keep your thoughts organized in your task list, Remember the Milk made a free of charge online to-do service, featuring all reminders, shares and locations you need. A similar trait comes with Doris, while for an even simpler to-do list you can rely on WorkFlowy.
Linked by Air partner, Dan Michaelson, recommends Pivotal Tracker to help with development. As he explains it, the program is focused on helping you to set priorities on your tasks.
Dan Fields, CEO of BKWLD interactive production recommends Harvest for time tracking, also useful for costs and invoices.
Web designer Anthony Calzadilla says Toggl is the best choice. With the free version or the one you pay 5$ per month, you get access to Basecamp, iCal and RSS integration, reports and the possibility to keep track on your earnings. There are no contracts so paying for each month isn’t a priority.
Project Management Tools
A strong project-management plan is of utmost importance for collaboration of several people working on a project. It further serves the purpose for relatively complex solo projects.
Basecamp, a daughter program to 37signals is the leading and favourite option for most designers. For anyone struggling with a tight budget, there is a basic package at the price of 20$ per month (features 10 projects and 3GB of space).
Metakinetic’s marketing director Jocelyn Kirby finds Milestone Planner to be a good alternative to Basecamp and says that a relatively low price of 9$ per month offers an intuitive, intelligent tool helping a lot with project management.
Dan Fields suggest Codebase (8$ a month) which combines project management with services such as Git, Mercurial and Subversion hosting.
If paying is simply not an option, Centresource’s developer Travis Roberts recommends Redmine which features an excellent integration of version control. Fields adds that relying on Google Docs may just be the solution for everything – simply use your Gmail for your e-mails and Documents and Spreadsheets to organize your resources.
Mister’s creative director recommends Evernote, a free of charge program helping you gather and reach data from any location.
Cheep Tool Aids in Content Strategy Building
Current trends focus on the idea that content strategy is a major part of web page development. This field focuses on browsing, structure of content and ways on which content scenarios could be defined.
Google Docs is the recommended choice for everything else. Content strategy and copywriter expert Relly Annett-Baker (supernicestudio.com) made a few templates for a simple content strategy using Google Spreadsheet.
Available Online and Offline Wireframing
Since web designers and developers began to understand the value of creating a prototype site structure, then proper tools for wireframing are the obvious key to the process. Technical director of We Love Nikolas Head recommends pencil and paper as cheapest.
For the next step – share and update – it is advised to move to an online variant. Google Docs now includes a drawing service too which is free of charge and enables sharing. SlickPlan is also useful in creating site maps and flow charts.
Emphasizing interactivity, try a Mockingbird (from 9$ a month for two active projects), Jumpchart (free for the project of 10 pages, and from 5$ per month) and HotGloo (from 14$ per month for two projects).
Things are getting more expensive on desktop. Most common apps are OmniGraffle (99.99$, Mac OS X) and Balsamiq Mockups (89$, requires Adobe AIR). However, there is also an option for a bargain, including an open source vector editor Inkscape (Mac and Windows), Apple Keynote (19.99$, Mac App Store) and iMockups for iPad (6.99$), which designer Aral Balkan claims are perfect.
Cheap Design Tools
Unless you are loaded and reading this blog just for pure fun, you should know that anything that is “CS” will not be in your options-list. However, there are tools for those who cannot afford Adobe or who are looking for some additional, complement tools to the ones they already have.
GIMP is by far the one making the name for itself. It’s a free alternative to Photoshop for Windows, Linux and Mac. Truth is, it does have its limitations but it’s also very useful if you are currently unable to afford a commercial software.
If you are looking for photos, Flickr and DeviantArt are the best resources (read all the licensing rules well before actually using anything from the sites), as well as Web Snapper for Mac (15$) and SnagIt for Mac and Windows (49.95$).
Best SEO Tools Money Can Buy
Given that Google is the leading search engine on the web, it is only logical a recommendation to go with its tools whilst working with SEO. Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics are crucial for SEO. You can see which keywords Google considers relevant to your site, which ones attract visitors, which sites have links to yours and much other helpful information.
Tim Gibbon, director of Elemental company, adds that Google Webmaster Tools make it possible for you to create a site map based on the sitemaps.org protocol. Bing, Yahoo and others use this, too.
Search engines have yet another amazing role – they help in improving SEO by using the free plugins. SEO for Firefox offers a good overview of resources, Web Developer provides tools for SEO, and Chrome SEO Tools for Google Chrome browser.
Online Resources for Outsourcing
Outsourcing is a common web industry trait. It allows agencies and freelancers to accept jobs they would otherwise reject. However, you have to be really clever with handling the outsourcing as it may awfully quickly come very close to exploitation.
A good start might be Freelancer site, with its two million registered ‘freelance professionals’, thus covering all website fields in such a way. All you need to do is post a job, wait for the offers, choose a freelancer and pay him when the job is done.
Similar sites to this one are Elance and Guru Employer. Be careful when using these services; the key to successful collaboration here is communication and sites like this one are best for clearly defined goals, rather than the subjective aspects such as visual design. Still, if you are looking to find a solution for yourself in the design outsourcing field, you can try your luck on Crowdspring and 99designs.
Cheap Tools for Coding
There are a lot of applications that serve only to work with the code, from free ones to those which you will have to pay but which will land you a couple of things more for the same amount of money.
TextMate (48.75 EUR) is popular also, as well as Espresso (75$). But if you lack money to treat yourself to one of these tools, Adams Morgan, owner of Adams Immersive (adamsi.com), recommended TextWrangler. He uses it for encoding and cleaning with a powerful text-find and replace, syntax coloring and tools to cope with the strange and troubled characters.
As for the platform, Alec East recommended Eclipse, development environment, which, he says, is great for any manually writing code, has auto-complete, error-checking and extensions for version control. He also prefers the Firefox Web Developer extension, which has a set of tools for developers, including the ability to edit CSS and HTML. There is a Firebug, which allows you to inspect using the option check the code and modify it in real time.
Not So Expensive Testing Tools
For the purpose of web site testing, Mac application Silverback is the number one choice.
For within browser testing, there are free options for online, local and mobile testing. For dynamic sites, using MAMP (Mac), Wampserver (Windows) or XAMPP (Windows / Mac / Linux) is probably the best choice if you are looking to set up a local Apache with MySQL, PHP and Perl.
For multiple browsers testing, use SauceLabs; there is Firebug for debugging and Opera Mobile Emulator, Opera Mini Simulator and Firefox for Mobile Simulator for testing of its appearance on mobile devices.
The Affordable Tools for Providing Feedback
We are here looking for tools that will provide us with a feedback on the website. There are a few tools that may be helpful.
Dan Ruffle, senior designer at Metakinetic, is just one of the numerous fans of Five Second Test, who says this site is a great place to get a first reaction on your design from people visiting the page. He also favors Get Signoff (from 12$ a month).
Concept Feedback has a community within which designers give constructive advices. To set up your work, all you need to do is review five other concepts. In addition, Dribbble is very popular with designers who have already made a name for themselves.
Reliable Web Hosting
There is no need for opting for the cheapest option possible, but rather choose a combination of pricing reliability.
We would obviously rather recommend AdriaHost, as it features reasonable prices, excellent service and customer support that meets each individual’s requirement.
Inexpensive Solutions for Site Maintenance
When designing a web site, CMS provides great flexibility which allows the client to easily update it’s content. Most used free CMSs are WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.
When the site is up, it’s good to know when it’s not working. One way to establish this is Pingdom service. It supports multiple sites and offer different pricing plans.
The Best Cheap FTP Tools
Transmit is an FTP client that many opt for. There is no doubt its time-saving options are great, but it is featured for Mac only and costs 34$. If you believe this is too much money to spend, Cyberduck is a Mac alternative and FileZilla remains an FTP client covering all platforms.
A free open source solution for creating and handling invoices is Siwapp. If you prefer hosted solutions, you can use a Hiveage which offers an easy, fast and secure online system for accounting with branded emails. It has free and paid plans, starting at 6.95$ per month.
Besides these, there is Project Bubble (from 50$ per month) which offers a system with joined invoicing, project management and time tracking. FreshBooks offers similar services with reports at the end of the year (from 9.95$ per month). Kashoo starting at 4.99$ per month and provides a good online accounting that is perfect for small businesses.