The design services landscape has undoubtedly evolved in the last decade.
Regardless of size or model, there’s been a rich history of graphic design services being a “relationships businesses.” Firms typically became known and trusted for their leadership, teams, and results. Reputation is still a factor today, but the variety of means for engaging with design practitioners continue to expand.
Outside agencies still exist and are now competing with the impulse within some companies to either build or acquire their own internal design teams. Individual freelancers and small boutique shops are looking for ways to specialize in countering these pressures. Freelancer marketplaces have been around for a while and focus on a race to the bottom in affordability.
An even more recent trend is the rise of design service companies that commoditize typical graphic and digital design production services and outputs and wrap them up in a SaaS (software as a service) styled capabilities model that offers predictability of pricing and flexibility of commitment.
The business world loves its acronyms. Perhaps this is model could be known as “On-Demand Design Services (ODDS)” or “Unlimited Design as a Service (UDaaS)” 🤓
What do these companies have in common?
Emphasis on a tiered fixed-price model, quite similar to SaaS companies
A contract-less monthly commitment that can be canceled any time
Ability to increase or decrease the scale of services needed month to month
They are usually remote-only, nobody shows up on-site to help you
Anonymity and variety, no guarantees that you can choose or know the designer(s) working on any given project
Proprietary online portals track all workflow processes, job requests, feedback, iterations, and sign off – asynchronously online.
They are headquartered around the globe
Many offer unlimited revisions
A promise of end-product ownership (IP, files, assets)
Some offer a “risk-free” trial period
Some target a mix of end-customers, from companies seeking design help to other agencies and freelance designers that need immediate assistance
Most emphasize graphic design production, NOT strategic thinking or brand creation
Here’s a copy of this list in an Airtable database that you can bookmark, follow or copy.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the above services, nor have a had the opportunity to work directly with any of them. This article is meant for information purposes only and is not a recommendation to purchase or use these services.
If I’ve missed any related companies, or if you are a business that has hired any of these companies in the past and wish to share your experiences – please get in touch.
Big streaming players and upstarts alike are driving the next phase of popularity in Podcasting. These players want to control that coveted position of the go-to Podcast app on people’s devices.
The ongoing demand is also inspiring some innovative tools popping up to help people create the supply of recorded media.
This roundup focuses on some notable recording and editing tools for A/V content creation. Not only that, these new tools are taking unique approaches to leverage transcribed text as a critical part of the overall editing user experience.
Descript “It’s how you make a podcast. Record. Transcribe. Edit. Mix. – As easy as typing. Take control of your podcast with Descript.”
Edit audio by editing text. Drag and drop to add music and sound effects. Descript is not just for audio either, you can also edit video by editing text.
Sometimes the analog approach is a quicker and easier way to achieve a particular design thinking task.
A classic example is the appropriately stereotypical use of sticky notes by User Experience designers to facilitate various design thinking workshop exercises such as card sorting and other ideation models. The ability to quickly write-out and rearrange notes keeps the ideas flowing.
After your effort has wrapped up, there’s often a desire to capture the analog results in a digital format. Transforming analog work to a digital copy allows a team to move toward the next phase of sharing or synthesis.
Here are some useful apps that can help quickly capture and convert photos of your hand written “Post-it®” sticky notes to editable text.
The Post-it® App
From the brand you know and love. “The Post-it® App brings the simplicity of the Post-it® Note to your Mac, iPhone and iPad. Whether you use Post-it® Notes for collaboration or for personal note taking, the Post-it® App helps you keep that momentum going.
Simply capture analog notes from a photo, or create new notes right on your device for those important reminders. Arrange, refine and organize notes and ideas on your board anyway you see fit. Then share your organized board with friends and co-workers, or export to your favorite applications and cloud services—including Trello, PowerPoint, Excel, PDF, Dropbox, iCloud and plenty more.”
Brill is an app that promises to help you digitize faster and work smarter “take photos of multiple handwritten sticky notes and instantly convert them to digital text in 100+ languages. Up to 200x faster than typing.”
“Save time when capturing your handwritten notes. Share to email, Slack, Jira, Trello and more!” With auto-detection and bulk uploading, Brill can “Take photos of multiple handwritten sticky notes and instantly convert them to digital text in 100+ languages. Up to 200x faster than typing.”
Miro is your team’s centralized platform for collaborating on user story and customer journey maps, workflows, and more.
One feature is a “Stickies Capture tool allows you to convert real stickies to fully editable Miro sticky notes. Share them and collaborate in real-time, turn them into Jira tasks or make a part of digital diagrams, templates, and more.”
Evernote lets you “Take notes anywhere. Find information faster. Share ideas with anyone. Meeting notes, web pages, projects, to-do lists”
“The Evernote camera is specially designed to enhance and transform your Post-it® Notes into beautiful, digital replicas of all your notes.”
Stock Up on The Real Thing!
Post-it® Teamwork Tools are the actual Post-it notes, large notepads, and other physical supplies that can help you facilitate your UX and Design workshop sessions.
What is a “Presentation” in the post-PowerPoint era?
There’s a subtle shift in the Presentation tools landscape that’s been emerging lately. Products like Google Slides, Zoho Show, and Apple Keynote came on the scene to liberate us from the monopolistic shackles of the ubiquitous Microsoft “.PPT”. Now, these tools have also matured into front-runners vulnerable to disruption.
There appears to be a new wave of tools that are moving beyond competing with other “Slide Deck” software, and are instead looking to shift our perspectives on how we craft and present our stories.
The approach varies among these contenders. However, there appear to be some notable themes among them.
Collaboration – making it even more seamless to simultaneously work together on content
Assistance – clever ways that a tool can help you craft the right content or visuals (yes, we’re talking the #Ai buzzword here)
Design Magic – upping the game in offering out of the box modern charts, graphs and infographics ‘templates’ to help non-designers quickly create great data visualizations
In Your Browser – many are SaaS web apps delivered via your web browser, so no clunky downloads or files to save
Here’s a roundup of compelling products to try out or keep an eye on.
Beautiful.ai “Add content and watch your slides adapt. No more tweaking text boxes or lining up arrows at 2am. Our Ai applies the rules of great design in real time, so it’s finally easy to tell your story”
Canva “Design a presentation that blows your audience away with our stunning collection of high-quality presentation templates. Free to personalize and completely online so you can easily edit and collaborate with your colleagues.”
Ludus “We believe that static presentations are a thing of the past. Ludus is a powerful web application that lets you integrate all the power of the Internet into your slides. This means you can embed 3D models, videos, VR experiments, Dropbox files, designs from Figma, prototypes from Framer, InVision or Marvel. It’s as easy as copy and paste.”
Piktochart “Easy-to-Use presentation maker. No complex design software. No heavy designer fees. Just a simple, intuitive tool that helps you and your team tell stories with the visual impact they deserve.”
Exciting announcement to start the month of October as we’ve just released #socialmedia templates on Piktochart! With more than 200 templates, you can now create beautiful visuals for your project and share them across your favorite social media channels. https://t.co/xowJ4WvRM3
PRESENTA “enables the content-first principle. Instead of starting positioning elements on the canvas, it’s better writing great contents first. This seems obvious but the current status-quo of the presentation tools forces people the other way around.”
Love the design philosophy behind this new slide/presentation tool called #Presenta.
Projector “When you have a story to tell, Projector is the platform that helps you craft it. From live presentations to Instagram stories, Projector gives you the creative power to captivate an audience — no design skills required.”
A little sneak peek of what we’ve been working on. Whether you’re a marketer, a designer, an educator, or a student, Projector gives creators of any kind a space to bring your ideas to life. 💫
Aquent Gymnasium offers a series of Webinars. Dave Rupert and I participated as panelists in their May 14, 2019 conversation regarding Prototyping.
Over the years, prototyping has become an integral part of digital product development. Learn the ins and outs of modern design documentation and the new tools that aim to improve it from three industry experts.
I’ve been intrigued by the potential endgame of a single environment that could satisfy the needs and modes of operation for both visual UI designers and developers. Convergence of tools has been a theme of my “Looking Ahead” new year blog entries for 2017 and 2018.
Typical UI Design tools still offer an excellent working model for quickly manifesting design ideas at any level of fidelity. Many of us know of situations where a well-executed mockup that took 30 minutes to render in a design tool (drawing pictures of screens) might get a dev estimate of many hours or days to execute (QA’d production code).
As long as that dynamic exists, many designers will continue to prefer WYSIWYG drawing tool interfaces over working directly in code – especially when they are early in the ideation process.
Popular tools like Figma, Sketch and AdobeXD continue to make moves toward exporting out to React and potentially other libraries. However, as of now, these are one-way, and the real deal will be bi-directional or zero-conversion options.
Here’s a roundup of new tools looking to shorten or even eliminate the distance between drawings of screens and production-ready code (in alphabetical order).
Alva – “Alva lets you design interactive products based on components engineered by your developers. And guess what – we are entirely open source.”