Alacrify Ltd

Things You Can't Do Without


24th February 2009

Things You Can't Do Without

Over the years there have been many bits of equipment and software that have become essential to how we work at alacrify; the things that would immediately be replaced if they ever broke. These toolbox must-haves cover communication, design and testing and all have proved their worth many times over.

In the communications category we rely heavily on Skype, not only to communicate between ourselves, and to exchange messages and calls with our clients, but we also broadcast our availability to our customers too, so they know when we're around and about in the office. This reduces the frustration factor for people who can't get hold of us as we usually put a status message showing when we're back whenever we're offline or in meetings.

My desk would look empty without Pantone's Huey; a monitor calibration device that means that the colours I see on my monitor match the printed output of the documents we design. This saves hours of to-ing and fro-ing to Pantone charts with proofs to get the colours right.

Aside from the design regulars from Adobe - InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop - and Macromedia - Dreamweaver, Flash, Fireworks - we also rely heavily on WSFTP Pro - a full featured and slightly more "techy" File Transfer program to manage our websites. This has the advantage of easy synchronisation between our local computers and the websites we're working on. It also allows you to open multiple local folders and remote folders allowing sophisticated workflows and transfers that are hugely time-consuming to achieve within Dreamweaver.

A couple of recent additions to the list have included SnagIt! which is a screenshot-capture program. This simple description belies its charm. It combines a brilliantly easy to use interface with some really elegant transformation options to allow you to snag an area of the screen, add text and callouts, drop shadows and resize, all in seconds. We use it regularly to help us with Customer Support instructions showing screenshots of what to do. We also use it to generate client presentations where screenshots are helpful to illustrate design ideas.

The final and most recent addition is SortSite which is a site testing application. We bought it to improve the accessibility standards of our site building. It tests on WCAG1.0 and 2.0 standards and allowed us to create the first of our AAA rated sites last month. In addition to WCAG testing it also tests for scripting and coding errors, and because it's all integrated with a really neat set of explanatory documentation for each of the errors, it's even better than FireBug (which is high praise indeed!). We do still use FireBug to check loading times and some scripting errors, but SortSite has become the first port of call in our testing toolkit.

We're always on the lookout for other neat programs and equipment to improve the quality of our services, and frequently trawl the internet looking for the latest gadgets. We also have accumulated a significant library of books over the years and perhaps in another blog I'll make a list of our top five most well-thumbed tomes.

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