Leading designers from around the world reveal the best iPad apps for design, creativity, inspiration and organisation.
Unlike the iPhone, Apple’s tablet has enough screen space to enable more complex interactions. It’s therefore no surprise many within the design industry are using iPads for research, organisational tasks, finding inspiration and even creating work.
But how do you find the best apps to help you in your day to day design work out of the hundreds of thousands of free and paid-for apps in Apple’s App Store?
Well, one way is to ask other designers. So we spoke to some leading creative professionals to find out their recommendations and what iPad apps that they simply couldn’t live without.
If we’ve missed your favourite in our list of the best iPad apps, let us know in the comments!
A sculpting app, with a selection of tools that makes freeform 3D modelling possible on the go. With a selection of premade base meshes, it’s fast to get started with, while saving is a doddle and you can export to your favourite desktop software once you are done.
The GUI is simple but offers a wide assortment of tools that all work in a familiar way, including a set of texturing tools that let you project images onto your mesh.
Although it’s commercial uses are perhaps a little limited, TreeSketch is a fantastic little app, which makes creating trees a doddle. You can define everything from the droopiness of branches to the size and quantity of leaves. There are numerous species to get started with and it is incredibly fun drawing out the trunk shape with a finger-tip. The results are high quality and you can save, reload and export your fully textured trees from an object manager.
Forger and TreeSketch 2.0 were the choices of Rob Redman, a 3D artist and founder of Pariah Studios. Specialising in hard surface modelling, texturing, animation, lighting and photorealistic rendering. His previous clients included Ministry of Sound, Games Workshop, Katy Perry and The Who.
“There have been surprisingly few apps I find useful for my photography needs apart from one that is an absolute game changer” Henry begins, “Capture Pilot that runs along side Capture one pro. Basically it allows the iPad to mirror images that you are tethering form your camera to your computer.
“It helps to get the clients away from your computer; you can just set them up on the couch with a coffee and iPad and enjoy the freedom it brings. It also allows you to work remotely – you can trigger the shutter and work closely with your subject without having to be near your computer or camera.”
Capture Pilot was the choice of Henry Hargreaves, a New Zealand still life, art and fashion photographer working out of his studio in Brooklyn, NYC. He is known for fun, creative, provocative and memorable images, with his previosu clients including Ralph Lauren, Stefan Sagmeister, Boucheron, V and New York Magazine.
Diet Coda allows you to access files on your FTP/SFTP servers and edit them pretty much as you would on a desktop. For those who use Coda on the Mac this is the perfect companion for making quick fixes to your websites on the go.
Silkscreen lets you quickly view files on your iPad or iPhone. With more people designing for mobile devices, it’s good practice to check how your design actually looks on that device. This allows you to see early on in the design process what will and won’t work on the smaller screen.
Throughout your working day it’s likely that you’ll come across numerous articles to read, but not enough time to read them. This is a way to save those articles and read them at a later date. While there are similar services out there, Instapaper gives you much more control over how you categorise and share these articles.
Diet Coda, Silkscreen and Instapaper were the choices of Tom Brooks, a freelance web designer, based in Oxford. Since graduating from UWE and going freelance Tom has worked with numerous small businesses and individuals as well as various agency projects for companies such as Shire, POhWER and Yahoo.
This app is just like being in front of your computer, with all functions available to use. For that reason alone this is definitely a must-have app. Not only does it allow you to access your files from any wi-fi hotspot, it also allows you to manage files.
The monitor activity is also a great feature if you’re worried about your employees goofing off whilst you’re away from the office. Using ignition from your iPad, you can access your computer’s webcam remotely using Skype, photo booth or any software that displays your webcam on screen. To do this, open Skype camera settings to see what’s happening in your office from anywhere around the world.
AirVideo allows you to stream almost any video file from your pc/mac to your iPad. It’s no secret that there are video formats which are not supported on the iPad. The cool thing about AirVideo is that it uses live conversion to stream videos files, which you wouldn’t normally play on your iPad. You don’t need to wait for the entire video to be converted either – you can start watching immediately.
This is a app for those of you who have a massive media collection as movies take up a lot of space on your already shrinking storage capacity. With AirVideo – you can access your entire movie collection at the touch of a button.
Ignition and AirDisplay were the choices of Raam Joshi, a web designer, internet marketer and creative director. He specialising in almost all areas of the web with a keen interest in user experience and interfaces.
There are quite a few wireframing tools available for iPad (such as the excellent iMockups) but Proto from Adobe really stands out. What I love about it is its gestures – you can really quickly wireframe a site or app and get your idea across to someone in no time at all.
When starting a creative project of any kind, a mood board is essential to get a flavour for the look and feel before you really put anything substantial together. Collage, enabling you to bring in images from your camera or those from Creative Cloud or Google Images, is a neat tool for exploring these when on the move. I’ve used it quite a few times to try and brainstorm covers and the like.
Adobe Proto and Adobe Collage were the choices of Rob Carney, who has most recently worked as the editor of Computer Arts magazine. As a writer, he has produced features and articles for the likes of Mac Format, Tap!, Practical Photoshop and Adobe Creative Juices.
It may not be Photoshop CS6, and Adobe Photoshop Touch isn’t without its limitations–there’s no RAW import, and the maximum image export size is 1600-by-1600; however, it retains enough of its desktop cousin’s features (and places them in a sleek, pared-down, tablet-optimised interface) to make it an essential purchase, and one of the best iPad apps for designers.
Patten says he particularly likes “how it allows the user to still use layers and control opacity levels and blend modes”. And the fact that it costs less than a pub lunch doesn’t hurt either.
Suitably named, the thinking behind Adobe Ideas is to get visual brainwaves down rapidly. The app provides a simple but effective toolset for outlines, thumbnails and rough drawings, and you can draw over the top of images (photos, screen grabs) should you wish to. Usefully, exports are vector-based and so can scale indefinitely. “It’s a great app for fast sketching of any ideas and designs,” he enthuses.
Although seemingly in a similar space to Adobe Ideas, TouchDraw is a more full-featured vector-drawing app. While it’s suited to illustration, it also enables you to create libraries of reusable shapes or use bundled examples; TouchDraw is therefore suitable for working up flow charts, graphs, diagrams and floor plans along with logos and other imagery. However, Patten believes it’s the interface that makes it one of the best iPad apps: “I like how the toolset doesn’t take up much space, giving you more room to edit the image.”
Although the previous three products showcase how the iPad can enable you to create artwork, some apps turn your device into a focussed environment for critical ancillary tasks. For example, Palettes Pro provides the means for creating myriad colour schemes, either from scratch, through the use of colour models, or by grabbing colours from photographs and websites. “I really like the way it enables easy colour capture, and how it gives you the ability to build themes for anything you like,” says Patten.
Patten’s snuck one of his own creations into our list of the best iPad apps–he’s the co-creator and CEO of Spatik. However, the recommendation itself is sound, with the app enabling you to combine services that help you share into a single app. “Spatik has all of my RSS feeds to design articles, inspirational sites and tutorials, and I use it to organise my daily tweets,” he says, explaining the the app was designed to “make it easier to set-up daily tweets in a timely fashion”.
Photoshop Touch, Ideas, Touch Draw, Palettes Pro and Spatik were the choices of Nicholas Patten. Based in New York City, Patten is a video editor, graphic and web designer, and product manager of DirectMarkets. You can follow Patten on Twitter here, and you can also check out his very own iPad app, Spatik (which he cheekily worked into his list…).
‘Comprehensive’ is perhaps the best word to describe FontBook, which documents over 100 type foundries, representing 1650 type designers, constituting 35,000 fonts. Over-the-air updates ensure the data is always up to date, but Mall is most impressed by the manner in which the app enables you to explore typefaces: “There are resources online for browsing type categorically, but this app lets me browse non-linearly, which makes for a completely organic discovery experience.”
The iPad has made some of those working in traditional media rethink how creative output should be presented–books, movies and music are all being reconsidered by people in the field that have an experimental bent. Bjrk’s app marries music with art, in what Mall calls “an excellent example of making music an interactive experience”. He adds: “It’s a different way of thinking about what a visual and auditory touchscreen experience can be.”
Edge Inspect, previously enables you to pair devices with a computer and browse in sync
Mobile is increasingly important in the web design space, but testing websites on mobile devices can be a tedious experience.
Edge Inspect, previously called Shadow, enables you to pair devices with a computer, and browse in sync, along with editing pages using remote inspection. “Edge Inspect makes development across multiple devices much easier,” explains Mall. “The ability for every device to update changes in sync is absolutely priceless and saves hours of debug time.”
Fontbook, Biophilia and Edge Inspect were the choices of Dan Mall. The award-winning designer has in the past worked for Happy Cog and Big Spaceship and is currently founder and design director at SuperFriendly. Dan is also a technical editor at A List Apart, and – via his love/obsession for typography – he is also the co-founder of Typedia and swfIR.
Many modern designers are immersed in designing for mobile, but smartphones and tablets boast wildly different resolutions to desktop monitors, and so it can be tough to visualise how work will look on device screens. LiveView is one of the best iPad apps for quick ‘n’ dirty simulation, which mirrors your computer screen on a connected iPad. “It’s the one iPad app I can’t live without,” claims Guglieri. “After trying dropping files on Dropbox, emailing screenshots and using Image Capture, this is by far the best app I’ve used to see what I design, at the correct scale, on an iPad.”
LiveView was the choice of Claudio Guglieri, a senior designer at Fi (Fantasy Interactive) in New York City, and is also a ‘free time’ Flash developer. Claudio’s work can be found on the Fi website, and you can also find a selection of his latest projects on his Dribbble page. If you’d like to keep up with what Claudio’s doing day to day, then you should also check out his Twitter page.
iMockups turns wireframing into a tactile activity, enabling you to drag app or website components around and resize them with ease. “It’s one of the best iPad apps for quickly creating wireframe prototypes,” confirms Jobling. “It’s extremely simple to use with its intuitive UX and I find the app invaluable for focusing on a site’s foundations, free from detail. Built-in linking functionality is also a nice touch, allowing you to create interactive prototypes.”
You’d have to be mildly insane to consider creating an entire website on an iPad, but when you’re out and about and need to do some emergency editing, Jobling reckons Gusto is the best code editor on the iPad: “I love to have the ability to quickly write code and deploy it straight to the web without being near a desktop. With code highlighting for all popular languages and multiple-site support, Gusto’s the wisest £7 any web developer can spend.”
Heading further into techie territory than Gusto, Prompt is an SSH client, which developers Panic describe as “clean, crisp and cheerful”. Jobling’s a big fan: “Panic’s first iOS app is a must-have for any web developer. Connect to a server and manage it from anywhere. It’s perfect for those quick fixes or moments of inspiration.”
Mockups, Gusto and Prompt were the choices of Simon Jobling, online architect at Premium Choice. However, he’s also keen to “push the boundaries of additional media forms, introducing multimedia to practical commercial environments”. Si has also been called a “thought leader” and “early adopter”. You can follow him on Twitter, too.
Sketchbook Pro is perhaps the most refined and polished iPad drawing app for creating finished artwork. The toolset is robust and the interface is very well designed. “I use it regularly to concept and scamp or just doodle,” says Winter. “It has an intuitive interface that makes good use of the iPad’s functionality. It lags a bit when drawing, but overall it’s a sound bit of kit, and I find it far more flexible than Adobe Ideas.”
There are plenty of newsreaders on iOS, each attempting to carve its own niche. The aim behind SkyGrid is to enable you to fine-tune the news you receive, ensuring that your time is taken up reading content that you care about. “I love this app,” gushes Winter. “SkyGrid enables you to customise and share the topics that interest you–mine revolve around design, technology and advertising. It’s a simple, visual way of staying up-to-date with my news.”
There are a lot of fairly gimmicky photo apps for the iPad, but sometimes a polished example can win over designers and also be useful in a manner that the original developer probably didn’t envision. PicFrame is a case in point. “It’s a simple idea, enabling you to combine your favourite images–or images that inspire you–into a collage or framework,” says Winter. “And its photo effects, frame shapes and sharing options make it great for creating moodboards.”
You might be wondering why a game’s managed to sneak its way into our top-40 iPad apps for designers, but then its name perhaps reveals the reason–after all, what kind of game could be better for designers than one where you have to draw something? “When it comes to play time, I’m addicted to this game,” admits Winter, who adds that he also likes its social nature.
Sketchbook Pro, SkyGrid, PicFrame and Draw Something were the choices of Ben Winter. With a background in fine art, Winter has spent over a decade working as an art director and creative director for various agencies. He’s currently at SapientNitro, where he’s associate creative director.
It could be argued that the file system is beginning to become burdensome and is indicative of a bygone age of computing. But when you’re juggling dozens of files across many apps, it’s more essential than archaic. The iPad doesn’t provide access to any kind of file system, and so Dropbox acts as an alternative–many apps support it, and it’s also a great way to share content between PCs, Macs and iPads. “It’s essential on all our devices,” says Zeldman.
Apple’s attempts toreplicate iTunes for books became iBooks–an app with a store bolted on its back. However, the app is also a very capable PDF reader, and so even if you never buy a book from it, iBooks is worth downloading. Zeldman considers it essential, primarily for reference purposes: “iBooks provides instant access to my giant library of design and development books by Peachpit/New Riders, O’Reilly, Five Simple Steps, and A Book Apart.”
Apple’s Notes app is a bit on the basic side, and so Zeldman recommends replacing it with Simplenote, which brings with it tags, pins, versioning and sharing. “I use it to create, save, and sync texts of any length,” he says. “Simplenote’s big advantages are focussing on doing one thing really well–which it nails–and saving as plain text. This makes Simplenote much less problematic than other apps, whether I’m copying boilerplate into a business email or transferring content between print and web tools.”
“Evernote came first and is the fuller-featured app,” says Zeldman, comparing it to Simplenote. “It saves texts, photos–anything, really–and syncs across all your devices.” With an increasing number of iOS apps adding Evernote support and a client existing for pretty much every major platform, Evernote proves to be a useful and accessible dumping ground for any information you need regular access to.
31. Camera (free, preinstalled on iPad)
“Vimeo and iMovie are a powerful duo, but actually Apple’s humble Camera app is often sufficient for quick HD video editing needs,” thinks Zeldman–and he has a point. Shoot a movie and then tap its thumbnail–you can them trim it directly inside the Camera app, and share it via email, YouTube or the clipboard. There’s also an AirPlay button for sending the video to an Apple TV.
DropBox, iBooks, Simplenote, Evernote and Camera were the choices of Jeffrey Zeldman. Probably the most well-known figure in the web-standards movement, Zeldman is also an author, designer and the founder of Happy Cog design studios. Through his online magazine A List Apart Zeldman also published one of the most influential articles on the movement towards responsive web design.
Managing to-dos is one of those things that can be arduous if you’ve the wrong app. Wunderlist makes such things simple, syncing tasks across platforms. “It really helps me to stay organised and capture ideas on the go,” raves Robinson. “It’s essentially become my back-up brain.”
Wunderlist HD was the choice of D. Keith Robinson, a designer currently living in San Francisco and working as Desk.com’s director of user experience. In Robinson’s time as a designer he has worked in web, creative and user-interface design, for companies large and small. Robinson also has experience as a developer, project manager, game designer, writer and more.
“I don’t do any design work on my iPad,” says Stocks, but it appears that Paper has at least set him on the path. “I’ve recently been using it to do some rough sketches. Previously, I’d toyed around with Adobe Ideas, but Paper’s friendly UI and life-like tools appeal to the illustrator in me. Even the roughest wireframes now look wonderful, thanks to the ink pen and the gorgeous watercolour brush!”
Paper is the choice of Elliot Jay Stocks, a Bristol-based designer, speaker and author. He’s also publisher of 8 Faces, a print magazine for devotees of typography. Mire recently Stocks co-founded Viewport Industries with his friend and former colleague Keir Whitaker, and the two of them are currently working on a series of exciting projects aimed at web professionals.
AKQA’s founder is a big fan of Apple’s iPad app of the year, primarily because it succeeded in totally reinventing newsreader apps, making your feeds more enjoyable to consume. “That’s because of the rhythmic way it presents stories, rather than bombarding you,” he explains. “Flipboard is great because it is not chronological but more aesthetic and has a better flow, including feeds from all the sources that are important to you.”
Flipboard is the choice of Ajaz Ahmed, the founder and chairman of award-winning AKQA, the largest independent digital agency in the world. The company now employs more than 1000 staff across the US, Europe and Asia and AKQA is the company some of the world’s biggest brands turn to when they want to embark upon innovative digital advertising campaigns.
Although a version of Photoshop now exists for the iPad, Filterstorm’s elegant, touch-optimised interface and low price should still tempt you, according to Mielke: “I’d say the app is for ‘power’ Photoshop users. It has advanced image-editing features like layers, masking, channels, and a clone-stamp tool to remove unwanted items from any image.”
Snapseed is another photo editor, largely focussed on filters and adjustments. Helpfully, it also supports a range of formats, including JPEG, TIFF and RAW. “It has a unique touch-based interface that gives you lots of creative control for modifying images and photos, such as textures and blurs,” says Mielke. “It’s a perfect app for taking an average image and making it look like a dramatic piece of artwork.”
Filterstorm and Snapseed are the choices of Shane Mielke. He’s a designer and creative director at 2Advanced, where he spends his time working on web development, design, motion and photography.
CloudApp is a service that enables you to rapidly share files–all you need to do is drag them to the menu bar and paste a link. But when you’re out and about, having a client that provides straightforward access to uploads is a must. “I’m a huge fan of CloudApp, which I mostly use to upload project screenshots for clients,” says Hoff. “It’s great to be able to access and manage all of my uploads on my iPad.”
Word processors on the desktop have in many cases turned into something more akin to desktop publishing tools. That’s fine if you’re trying to create a pretty leaflet and someone’s set fire to your copy of InDesign, but it’s not much cop for writing. iA Writer is the extreme opposite of such products: an overtly minimal app for entering text and little more. “It’s great for jotting down notes or writing Markdown, and I love that it syncs with Dropbox–I never need worry about accessing all of my notes,” says Hoff.
Designers like to lurk on Twitter, firing 140-character nuggets of brilliance into the digital ether. The default Twitter client on the iPad isn’t bad, but many people hanker for something better, hence Tweetbot. “My iPad during the day acts as a mini-monitor, with Tweetbot’s streaming keeping me in the loop with Twitter,” reveals Hoff.
DropCloud, IA Writer and Tweetbot are the choices of Brian Hoff, a graphic designer based in New York. He mostly works on websites, user interfaces and brand identities, concentrating on “solving problems by balancing usability and accessibility with memorable, timeless designs”.
The web is often about numbers: how many people have visited your website; your current Twitter follower count. Ego for iPad supports eight popular services and gives you a beautiful interface for quickly checking numbers and also delving deeper into your stats. “It’s a central place to show me how well I’m doing in terms of my website analytics, Twitter followers and general feed statistics,” explains Woods. “It has a clear interface, showing what is important, and gives me the data I need in order to go forward.”
Although we earlier mentioned PicFrame as an app for creating moodboards, Moodboard is, as its name suggests, dedicated to this task. “It’s an excellent app for prioritising inspiration,” thinks Woods, who uses it for creating all kinds of boards: “Some are just for inspiration, and others are for specific projects I am starting on.” He also uses it to present to clients a design’s direction.
Dribbble is a hugely popular service among designers, and this client enables you to browse work on the site and, if you’re ‘drafted’, also follow your favourites feed. “Without this app, I would be lost,” claims Woods. “The daily inspiration I find for icons, textures, web design elements and interfaces is what helps me improve as a designer and to challenge myself. Dribbble has a fantastic community of designers that helps inspire our industry.”
Computer Arts is the leading magazine for designers, illustrators and creative professionals, and it’s available right on your iPad via Newsstand. “Computer Arts has become a graphical bible for inspiration in design, enabling me to advance my techniques in Photoshop, illustration, logo design and typography,” says Woods. “It has helped me turn flat designs into designs with more depth, personality and flare.”
Woods is another designer who uses the iPad to manage tasks, but Sorted is his app of choice for doing so: “In my job environment, everything is fast-paced, and deadlines are arranged and must be met. I use Sorted to help me on a daily basis sort what needs to be done and completed. With it being a lightweight app with no thrills and spills, it helps me prioritise, view and complete tasks in a timely manner.”
Ego, Moodboard, Dribblr, Computer Arts and Sorted are the choices of Anthony Woods, a web developer and designer who works at Glasgow-based Toltech.
Staying on top of industry news is always a challenge, and Dahlstrm’s favourite app for doing so is Zite. “It allows you to quickly scan news, and the feature to tell the app what I would like to see more of enables it to become much more tailored to my interests,” she says. “Another reason why I love it is the integration with other services that I use–Instapaper and Delicious–which means I can use Zite to bookmark items into the same places as when I’m using my laptop.”
Although Tweetbot is a first-rate Twitter app, it’s perhaps most geared towards people who only regularly work with a single feed. If you’ve multiple feeds and could also do with managing Facebook and LinkedIn accounts, HootSuite’s worth a look, thinks Dahlstrm: “The more people or topics you follow, the more useful HootSuite is for keeping on top of it all. It’s the kind of app that works really well with a touch-based interface–interacting with your different streams is easier when using swiping gestures instead of a mouse cursor.”
“OmniGraffle was the first app that made me wish that there was a really large version of the iPad,” jokes Dahlstrm on the charting and wireframing tool. “I use it quite a bit for work, particularly in the early phases of a project when we define the overall strategy and experience across platforms and channels. It’s a joy to use and great for being able to get really hands-on and up close with the objects that you manipulate on the screen.”
“Keynote is another example of an iPad app that makes working and manipulating objects on it a breeze,” says Dahlstrm of Apple’s presentation tool. “Adding animations is simple and it’s a great tool to have in your bag, quickly allowing you to put a presentation or prototype together, or just to show a presentation, for that matter.”
Zite, Hootsuite, OmniGraffle and Keynote are the choices of Anna Dahlstrom. Originally from Sweden but now based in London, Dahlstrom is an IA/UX designer. She’s currently working at by Flock.
It’s all very well doing the right thing and coming up with insanely complex passwords for website log-ins, but they’re then extremely tough to remember. 1Password provides the means to log-in to websites with a single tap and store information you don’t want others chancing across. “It’s one of the few apps I can’t live without, storing all my sensitive information in one place but syncing across multiple devices,” enthuses Jacob. Note that a universal ‘Pro’ version [http://itunes.apple.com/app/1password-pro/id319898689?mt=8] exists if you’ve also got an iPhone; it costs £10.49/$14.99.
While lacking the natural media input of Paper, Penultimate is nonetheless an excellent note-taking and sketching app. The feel of the tools is surprisingly tactile, and you can add new paper types(for gaming, music notation, and so on) via IAP or install your own custom designs. “It’s my go-to app whenever I need to take notes or quickly sketch something,” says Jacob. “It’s extremely easy to use and, importantly, you can save to Dropbox and resume work from another device.”
John A. Jacob
OnePassword and Penultimate are the choices of John A. Jacob, a freelance web designer with a passion for web standards and gaming.
And that’s your lot! There should be something here to suit your design needs, but if we’ve missed an app then please flag it up in the comments. And if you’re looking for great web experiences on the iPad, check out these examples of HTML5.