Be Your Own Designer - The Best Free Resources for when You’re Short on Time

Has there ever been a time when you’ve realised you’re a day away from a big pitch, but you forgot to book any design time through your creative department? Or perhaps there’s that last minute blog post that needs some images and banners, but there’s no way of roping in a designer at such short notice! It’s easy to become reliant when you have a Design team at the ready, but when push comes to shove, slightly unwillingly, you sometimes have to don that faux-designer’s hat. The trouble is, where do you even begin? To help you out in such hours of need, I have compiled a list of my favourite design resources for non-designers and designers alike. Oh, and did I mention they’re all free?

Just a quick disclaimer: this isn’t Graphic Design 101 (I’m definitely not ready to declare myself redundant as a designer at Distilled). Instead, think of this as more of a design directory if you will. Whether you’re after a nice font to spruce up your Word doc or you really need some images to dress that presentation to impress, if you’re going to find a fast, free solution anywhere, start here.

Typography & Fonts

Font Squirrel

Font Squirrel does exactly what it says on the tin; all the fonts listed are 100% free for commercial use. Best of all they are hand-picked, so unlike other sites offering free fonts (e.g.  Dafont) you have peace of mind that there has been a selection process. Plus, not everyone can submit material to Font Squirrel. The only thing to watch out for are the types of licenses: some fonts may only be allowed for desktop use and not web, so do pay attention before downloading.

Google Fonts

If, like me (and Distilled as a whole), you’re partial to a Google Doc, you might already be familiar with the awesomeness that is Google Fonts. The ability to just be able to pick and choose form hundreds of open-source fonts, without even needing to download anything! That’s the thing though, Google Fonts are all about the web and positioning themselves as the best resource for ‘webfonts’, they don’t even advertise the fact that you can download every single one of them to use elsewhere offline, even… (drumroll please) in Microsoft Word. It’s really simple to do. Once you’ve chosen your font and added to your collection, click ‘use’ and on the right hand side there will be a small download icon. I’d typically recommend getting the .zip file and installing the font manually.

Font Pair

If you’re feeling adventurous and want to use not one, but two awesome Google Fonts to mix things up, what you need is a good font pairing. Luckily for you, the guys at Font Pair have it covered. Choose between no less than six different style combinations that will be sure to give any copy that exciting edge.

FontFace Ninja

Finally, to round up this section is my absolute favourite: FontFace Ninja. This is really more of a tool than a resource, but I just couldn’t leave it out. Gone are the days of desperately trying to find out the font that I’ve seen used beautifully on a website, but which I don’t know the name of. Fontface Ninja is a lightweight extension, for Chrome or Safari, which allows you to find out the name and details of any font on any webpage, simply by hovering over some text. If it’s a free font it should also give you the option to download it. What more could you ask for?

Images

Although in recent years our screens have become saturated with crisp full-screen images, the trend isn’t quite over yet; users are apparently still hungry for more! The following is a bunch of my favourite photo sites that will a) meet your audience’s demands, b) not cost you a single penny, and most importantly c) not get your head in a twist over attribution and licensing issues, because they’re all released under Creative Commons Zero (CC0). In other words, not only are the images completely free to use, no attribution is required either.

Pexels

Pixabay

Stock Up

Screenshots & Mockups

Full Page Screen Capture

Screenshots can be a tricky one to get right, yet in our line of work it can play a significant part in things like sales pitches or client presentations. Apart from Grab, the native Mac OS app (which I also do swear by), Full Page Screen Capture is definitely one of the best screenshot extensions I’ve used. Capturing a full web page may seem slightly excessive if you just need to show a section, but for those instances when what you want to show extends beyond your laptop screen’s physical height, this works wonders.

Magic Mockups

If you want to take it one step further, for example when selling Creative ideas, Magic Mockups might just be the extra boost you need. This impressive and easy-to-use tool lets you create in-situ mockups of your website, app or product in just a few minutes. Not convinced? The following example took me less than 2 minutes to make and download. I barely lifted a finger, so this probably is a secret best kept amongst us lazy bunch.

Icons

iconmonstr

A lot of icon sets out there are definitely tailored to a more design-savvy audience, those who have Illustrator or Photoshop at their disposal. But what happened to the plain and simple PNG image that you can just whack next to some text in a banner? Look no further than iconmonstr. Sure, it’s not got the same volume as a site like The Noun Project, but as with the photography sites I recommended earlier, the advantage is that they require zero moolah, zero attribution.

Colours

Dribbble 

Colours are things that can often throw up a challenge for even the more experienced of designers, let alone someone whose full-time job is not doodling and colouring in all day. Whenever I need colour inspiration, instead of heading straight for “trending colour palette” sites, I go to Dribbble. This is primarily a place of refuge for designers and developers seeking anything from harsh critique to design infatuation. Needless to say it’s a breeding ground for creativity. The beauty for me though is that each uploaded design (or ‘shot’ as is the term in the community) comes with a colour palette. So, not only are you seeing the colours side by side as you’d expect of a palette, but you also get to see how it’s used in a real design. Get yourself an eyedropper extension (any will do really) and away you go!

Presentation Templates

Slides Carnival

Finally just to wrap things up: if the going gets really tough, and you find yourself having to create and design your own presentation from scratch, my advice for you would be… don’t do it! Instead, check out Slides Carnival, there you will likely find a suitable template to start with and then build up. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank slide, not knowing where to begin. The only catch is that you have to be willing to embrace Google Slides.

That’s all for now, folks. Thanks for sticking around. If you have any questions or thoughts, just drop me a line in the comment section below.

Get blog posts via email

About the author
Vicke Cheung

Vicke Cheung

Vicke joined Distilled’s growing Creative team in July 2012 after graduating from Central Saint Martin’s in BA Graphic Design. Her main focuses in the field include, but are not limited to: typography, branding and information design. When not...   read more