Five (mostly)Free Design Tools Every Content-Creator Needs RIGHT NOW.

Even the best carpenter in the world prefers a good set of tools over a dull saw and some duct tape.

Same rule applies to the best content creators in the world: we appreciate things that helps us create better stuff more easily — especially if those tools are free.

I use the five [mostly]free tools featured below for virtually every piece of content I create. Much of the time, these tools are ALL I use (not counting, of course, my laptop/iphone, hands and brain).

Here are just a few examples of content I’ve created using these tools exclusively (click on the arrows at left or right to scroll through the gallery):

To be clear, none of these tools alone will turn boring, ho-hum drivel into a highly-coveted, lead-generating masterpiece. (Check out this post on The 10 Commandments of Creating Remarkable Content for a primer on how turn ho-hum into HOLY WOW!).

But they will make it easier for you to plan and create beautiful, remarkable content quickly (and frequently). Even if (or should I say especially if) you’re not a designer.

Without further ado…


Best Tool for planning/outlining remarkable content: Post-It Notes

That’s right. Good old fashioned post-it notes. Or if you prefer, index cards (preferably without lines). A chalkboard or white board will also do.

I start every content brainstorm with a stack of multi-colored post-it notes. Once I’ve clarified the objective, audience, and general theme or topic of my content, I brainstorm key ideas, resources, examples, and anything else that pops into my mind that might be worth including (note: a lot of the stuff that’s in the initial brainstorm will end up in recycling—and that’s okay!).

I use one color for high-level themes; another for visuals; a third for sources and stats; etcetera.

Once I’ve got all my ideas onto post-its, I sort them into meaningful groups and take a photo of each step along the way, so I have a digital record of the process. This colorful collection of paper becomes the outline for my content.

Recently, I’ve been using the 3M Post-It app to take my photos, sort, and save each brainstorm on my iPhone. Download the app here.


best tool for creating eye-catching graphics & social media posts: CANVA

Canva has made design for non-designers fun and easy IMHO. Their ever-growing collection of templates, photos and illustrations has dramatically decreased the amount of time I spend creating content for social media and email in particular.

They’ve also made it easy to create your own branded templates as well as a “brand kit” (with color palette and typography), which helps ensure that everyone on my team can whip up a graphic quickly without going “off-brand.”

Which does NOT explain how THiS happened:


Best tool for finding fresh, free photos: UNSPLASH

I’m not a fan of stock photography, though I’ll admit it’s not possible (nor wise) to do a custom photo shoot for every piece of content, even the remarkable kind.

Which is why I’m so grateful for — my go-to source for beautiful, fresh, free photos.

Not only do the photos you’ll find here not smack of “canned, stock photography,” but the whole platform will challenge you to think beyond the obvious metaphors and keywords. Which means you’re more likely to set the right mood visually than hit your audience over the head with another overused “attractive-multi-ethnic-business-team” or similar trope, like these priceless examples of good-intentions-gone-wrong:


best tool for finding simple, customizable icons: THE NOUN PROJECT

When content calls for an icon, I turn to With over 2 million icons (and growing), created by a global community of contributors, you’ll be hard-pressed NOT to find something that works for your needs, even when that need is a little (or a lot) esoteric.


You can download any of the icons you find (and use them) for free with attribution; or you can pay $39.99 for a year of unlimited access to their entire library of royalty-free icons, use them without attribution, and customize the color and file type of each as needed.

A totally worthwhile investment, in my book.



I am totally, 100% a typography whore. I love them (and I leave them), and while I don’t get paid for that love, I have spent a small fortune purchasing them over the years. (Maybe that makes me a typography pimp? Unclear.)

Apparently, I’m not alone in my passion for finding a typeface that helps visually drive home a point, set a mood, or simply stand out. Nor am I alone in the pain experienced when your premium font isn’t recognized by your audience’s device of choice—and therefore renders in gobbledygook, throws off your pixel-perfect page layout and/or replaces your premium font with (GASP!) Calibri, the ugly stepsister of Times New Roman.

Lucky for all of us, Google has come to the rescue with Google Fonts. As they put it (quite eloquently): “…the best way to bring personality and performance to websites and products is through great design and technology. Our goal is to make that process simple, by offering an intuitive and robust collection of open source designer web fonts. By using our extensive catalog, you can share and integrate typography into any design project seamlessly—no matter where you are in the world.”



Which design tools can YOU not live without?

There’s always something new and exciting being developed, and by no means are the above five the ONLY options. If there’s a tool you’re obsessed with (and having great results with), do tell! Share in the comments below or send me a tweet.


Marta KaganComment