Evernote for Designers

Designers love to look for inspiration and resources. And many of us have really complex ways of keeping track of all of it. Folders, pictures, bookmarks, binders... designers can create some complex methods to organize stuff. And that's why I'm surprised every time I meet a designer that doesn't use Evernote.

Evernote is an online ecosystem that is ideal for designers. Store anything -- designs, pictures, ideas, audio, links, PDFs and more -- in an online app and access it from any device. And I mean any device. Evernote offers desktop versions for Mac and PC, mobile versions for iOS and Android and web version if you are away from your own machine. Evernote has an API that allows developers to interact with the ecosystem, too.

I know a lot of designers that use Pintrest for saving inspiration. But Evernote's more flexible and lets you save different types of material. Plus you can actually save the text of an entire article or web page, not just the link. So if the link is moved or broken, in Evernote, you will still have the original content. In Pintrest, the link is gone.

Evernote allows you store your notes and thoughts in virtual notebooks that you can search and tag. Organize your notes in any structure that makes sense to you. 

If you don't have an Evernote account, sign up for one now. (Using this referral link will get you a free month of Evernote Premium.) 

Free vs Premium accounts

Evernote offers a free account that will likely offer everything you need. But the Premium account does add some great features for only $5 per month. If you really get into Evernote, you may want to upgrade.

Inputing Inspiration

So how do you get your ideas and resources into Evernote? There are lots of options that can work with your own personal workflow.

Evernote Web Clipper. Save anything you find online to your Evernote account. You can save just a bookmark or an entire text. The Web Clipper lets you add notes and a variety of annotations to screenshots, too. One drawback is that the Web Clipper doesn't work with iOS because of current sandboxing rules. Hopefully that might change with iOS 8.

Email. One of my favorite ways to add tweets and links from my iPhone to Evernote is with email. Go into Account Info on the desktop app or Settings > General > Evernote Email Address to set a custom email address. Add it to your address book. Pretty much every app on your phone lets you share links or files via email. Just type Evernote into the email address field and your upload email address will pop up.

TIP: I create a "Notes to be sorted" notebook in Evernote and make that the default notebook. Everything I add via email lands there. Once a week, I sort my notes into proper notebooks.

Skitch. Skitch is an app for your phone or computer that lets you capture images, annotate them and send them to Evernote. It's great for taking reference shots for photo shoots, site notes for signage, screenshots and more.

What do you keep?

I use Evernote to keep everything. A few of the design related things I use Evernote for:

Inspiration. I find inspiration all over the internet... not just articles about design, social media and communication, but also pictures and articles completely unrelated to design. Evernote lets you easily save and organize these treasures so you actually can find them later.

Read later. There's a whole series of online services that help you save articles to read later. But for me, Evernote works great. I save the article link to Evernote and read it later. If I love the article, I tag it and move it into a notebook. If not, I just delete the note.

That great Photoshop tip. Evernote's great for storing tips and techniques for your favorite apps. When you need a tip, it's much easier to find it in Evernote than having to search the web to rediscover it. 

Notes. I'm always thinking about projects, even when I'm away from the office. Got a great idea at lunch? While watching TV? In the middle of a meeting? Just make a note in Evernote and it will sync up with all your devices.

To Do Lists. I use Wunderlist for most of my task management, but Evernote has the ability to create custom and flexible to-do lists. Handy for managing projects.

Book recommendations. People recommend books to me all the time. But sometimes, I have to remember those recommendations months later when I'm looking for something new to read. Evernote is perfect for saving those recommendations.

Vendors and partners. I come across talented photographers and illustrators that I'd love to work with, but often, I don't have a project for them right then. Store their contacts and work samples in a notebook and easily find them when you need someone.

In addition, there are lots of non-design reasons to use Evernote. Travel ideas, gift ideas, confirmation emails, fitness plans and more. And you can organize these things right along side your work notes.

Finding stuff

The first level of organization in Evernote is how you sort and organize your notebooks. But that's not the only way you can find and organize things.

Of course, Evernote allows you to easily search across all your notebooks for any content you've saved. And you can even enable a feature that allows your saved notes to show up when you do a Google search.

Evernote allows you to tag your posts. So you can build a tag structure on top of your notebook structure. Basically, Evernote is flexible enough to allow you to organize and find your stuff in the way that works best for you.

Sharing your inspiration

Evernote is not just a place for storing ideas. It's also a powerful tool for sharing ideas.

Social media. Evernote makes it easy to share links via Facebook, Linked In and Twitter.

Sharing a notebook. You can share a notebook with another Evernote user and both of you can view and modify it. You can also create a public URL to the note if you are sharing with a group that doesn't use Evernote.

TIP: Upgrading to Premium adds some more flexibility with how you control sharing and collaboration. So if you are planning to share notes with a small workgroup, you may want to invest in Premium.

Presentation Mode. Evernote Premium also adds a presentation mode that lets you convert your inspiration into full screen, Keynote-esque visuals. Great if you're trying to share ideas with your team around your laptop or with a projector.

Give it a try

If you haven't given Evernote a try, sign up for a free account now and see if it will work for you. (If you opened up an account a while back and forgot about it, give it a try again.) It's key strength is really the flexibility to build a archival structure that works best for you. For designers that love to find and keep inspirational resources, it's tough to find a tool better than Evernote.

 

A few of my favorite things

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I often get questions about what software and services I use for my Sketchbook B projects. (Especially for type design.) Below is a list that covers pretty much everything I'm currently using.

I've also added a My Gear page to the About section. My plan is to keep updating the page as I discover new tools.

Software

Creative Cloud / Adobe – I should probably put this under services, but I have a subscription primarily for InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat. Plus a whole lot of apps and type to play around with.

Glyphs / Mac – My primary type design app. Powerful and delightful to use. If the full version is too much for you, there is a Glyphs Mini that is significantly cheaper.

Byword / Mac / iOS – I've tried a few Markdown writing apps. Byword is my favorite. Works great on the Mac, iPhone and iPad.

Scrivener / Mac – I've been working on some long format writing. Scrivener is an amazingly powerful app and well worth the investment. And maybe someday, I'll finish the book...

Flare / Mac– Kind of like Instagram for the Mac. Let's you massively customize effects, filters, textures and more. I like to use it to add texture to my illustrations.

Reeder / iOS – My mobile preference for digging through all the RSS feeds that I subscribe to. Supports Feedly, which is what I use now that Google Reader is gone. I can't wait for the new Mac version.

Services

Dropbox – How did we get anything done without Dropbox? Online storage made really, really easy.

Evernote - I'm addicted to Evernote for stashing all of my ideas, notes, stories, articles and other random stuff that I want to be able to find later.

Wunderlist - I've tried lots of to-do list programs and services, but Wunderlist is my favorite. And did I mention it's free? And Wunderlist has web, Mac and iOS versions. Love it.

Feedly - I was a little panicked when Google Reader was discontinued. But Feedly is a really great service with a lot of potential.

Squarespace - Sketchbook B is hosted on Squarespace and has been for a long time. It keeps getting better. The latest version is really, really impressive.

Tumblr - I use Tumblr for Wanted in Columbia. A nice option if you want to host a simple blog for free.

Kuler and Evernote

A screenshot of Adobe Kuler for iOS. Here, Kuler is selecting a color palette from a picture of Rutledge Chapel on the campus of the University of South Carolina.

A screenshot of Adobe Kuler for iOS. Here, Kuler is selecting a color palette from a picture of Rutledge Chapel on the campus of the University of South Carolina.

Adobe's Kuler app for iOS (iTunes Link) is a relatively simple and useful app. Take a picture and select a color palette from the image. Your color scheme is then uploaded to Adobe's Kuler site where you can download an .ase (Adobe Swatch Exchange) file.

If you aren't familiar with .ase files, they allow you to share color palettes between Adobe apps like InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop.

The Kuler site does provide you a page with all your color palettes. But I use Evernote keep track of my Kuler palettes. With Evernote, I can set up a notebook with project information, other design inspiration and potential color palettes all in the same folder. 

When I find a color palette I like, I email it to my Evernote account. Every Evernote account has an email address that you can add notes with. It's generated by Evernote and you can easily add it to your address book. 

The email attaches a graphic of the color palette and a link to the site where I can get the ASE file. I wish the email would include a copy of picture that inspired the palette. But that's easy enough to add separately in Evernote if I want to keep a record of it.

Getting organized for 2013

I’m always looking for ways to be more organized. I recently cancelled my 37 Signals Backpack account. I liked Backpack and used it for many years, but recently they have decided to stop development on the product and I just haven’t been using it enough to continue paying for the service. And Basecamp — even though I love it — is overkill for my personal needs right now.

When I started using Backpack, I used it for to-do lists, to transfer files between the office and home, making notes and keeping track of bookmarks. Over time, other services took over features I had originally used in Backpack.

Dropbox took over the file transfers. I love Dropbox and couldn’t imagine my workflow without it. So elegant and effortless. I have gotten by with the free version, but really should upgrade to the paid version simply because I love the service so much. If you don’t have a Dropbox account, you are completely missing out.

There are lots of good task management apps on the market, but I needed something that would sync easily between my office Mac, laptop, iPhone and iPad. Flow is an online app with a companion iOS app and has become my go to for keeping track of projects and to-do lists. At $10 a month, it’s not cheap but is well worth the investment.

I started using Google Reader to organize all the RSS feeds for blogs and sites that I read regularly. I’m not fond of the Google Reader web interface so I use Reeder for Mac and iOS for reading articles.

I still needed to find a service for keeping track of bookmarks and notes. I’ve tried lots of services over the past year and I eventually settled on Evernote.

S creenshot of Evernote for the Mac
Screenshot of Evernote for the Mac

I first tried Evernote several years ago. And I didn’t like it. But recently, I gave it another shot and this time, it worked for what I needed.

Evernote is a web app that allows you to save notes and websites, organizing them into Notebooks. They have native apps for iOS, Mac and pretty much every other platform. Plus extensions for browsers that allow you to easily add pages to your Evernote account.

For websites, I just use the web clipper extension. And Reeder has the ability to send any story I read in the RSS feed straight to Evernote.

I often want to save tweets with links or photos. Most Twitter clients give you the option to email tweets so I email them to my dedicated Evernote email address. (You can easily add it to your contacts on the iOS and Mac versions.) I actually end up doing this quite a bit when I’m on my iPhone.

I set up an “Inbox” Notebook that I throw everything in. And then sort the notes into appropriate categories when I get a chance. Kind of like Inbox Zero.

I’m just starting to look at other ways to get notes and comments into Evernote. Evernote offers an app called Skitch that lets you add pictures and comments to your Evernote account. Squarespace’s new Note app lets you add notes straight to Evernote (plus Squarespace, Dropbox, Twitter and Facebook). Moleskine even sells an Evernote edition that you can use to catalog your sketchbook creations and even use labels to tag content.

Evernote has a section of the site called The Trunk dedicated to apps and solutions that work with Evernote. There are quite a few interesting solutions out there.

I haven’t upgraded to the Premium service yet ($5 per month or $45 per year). Most of what’s included is more than I need, but Notebook sharing is interesting to me. I could see sharing home ideas with my Pinterest-obsessed wife or project notes with other creatives.