Category: UX advice / How I work

An office in a bag – tools for UX design

In recent times the computer and mobile phone have made a lot of physical items irrelevant. Last year I realised I only needed a few tools to get my work done and if I was to stock up a backpack, I could have those things with me at all times. Now when I need to head out to meet a client or do some work on the move, it’s just a case of grabbing it and going.

As of mid-2018, this is my setup for getting UX design done wherever I am, including the key software I use in my day-to-day work. Hopefully you’ll find it a useful list of recommendations.

In my bag

MacBook Pro 13 inch

I am a big fan of this laptop. I got it at the beginning of 2015 for 15% off from the refurb store and it delivers daily as my workstation. I used to have a 15 inch model, which now just looks absurdly big but I still prefer the aesthetics of the Pro to the MacBook Air (I’ve never liked the tapered design). It runs everything nice and fast and I detail below what software is on there.

Laptop sleeve

I went for this one, which does the job of protecting my laptop just fine. I mainly chose it because I wanted a top-opening design for sliding my laptop out when my bag is on the ground.

Laptop charger


iPhone charger

It’s always worth having a spare one of these around. I have one permanently plugged in at home and one always with me so I’m not caught out by the smart phone battery flake out.

iPhone external battery pack

It’s one you charge up and then can plug into the phone if you need extra juice. I literally have never used this and it probably doesn’t have any charge in. Still, could be useful for visiting clients in the wilderness in future…

2x pens, 1x Sharpie

I write and sketch with cheap or free biros because I value speed and I don’t want to be limited by not having a specific pen. Also there’s always a ready supply of free pens knocking around. In a similar vein the ‘Sharpie’ for Post-It writing is actually a cheap version from Wilko.


I mainly use this for scribbles and notes in meetings and calls. I like these grid paper Moleskine-style ones as I’m a sucker for their sturdy design and they seem to last ages.


I keep quite a few cheap Post-Its on me. They’re always good for planning projects and user flows out. It’s also the ultimate tool for working in groups and getting everyone to contribute.

Business cards

I haven’t actually given any away for months but it feels like the kind of thing I should always have on me as a freelancer. I use Moo for them, who are expensive but I like playing around with different finishes and multiple designs per pack (for instance I have one design for clients and one for workshop students).

Screen cleaner fluid

Laptop screens are always picking up dust and finger prints etc. This is handy for when I stop being able to see what I’m working on.

Spare headphones

Having the ability to block distracting sounds out and getting into the flow while working is key. I usually have a pair of headphones in my pocket for tuning out fellow tube/train passengers but I keep those crappy default Apple ones as back-up in case I forget the others. Have needed them a few times when working in coffee shops.

Ethernet to USB adapter

I bought this adapter because I worked on-site at a place where I needed to plug in rather than use the wifi and Apple has now done away with ethernet ports. I haven’t needed it since but you never know.

A book

I still like to read physical books on commutes for a bit of escapism and a screen break. I read a mixture of fiction and non fiction.

Water bottle

I’m pretty obsessive about always having a water on me and staying hydrated. I used to just refill old plastic bottles but I’ve finally got something more sturdy.

Paracetamol and plasters

My very minimal first aid kit.

Freelance designer bag tools laptop

The contents of my work bag

On the Mac

Work apps


This has become the go-to tool for pretty much all designers working on the web. It’s pretty easy to use, has a wealth of useful plug-ins and thinking in terms of symbols is a good way to train yourself to think about style sheets.

Affinity Designer

When I got my laptop I decided to see if I could work without the dominant Adobe software and so now I use Affinity Designer for all my Photoshop-esque tasks. It’s pretty powerful and can do at least 90% of the Adobe beast for a fraction of the price.


I do a fair bit of teaching so Keynote is a must-have for sorting out my slides. I also use it for project proposals and just find it good for organising my thoughts on a subject—thinking slide by slide is like story-telling. I’ve also used it for prototyping animations, which it is surprisingly good at.

Komodo Edit

I rarely code but when I need to dabble, I find this freebie does the job nicely.


Obviously if you work in tech the law is you now have to use Slack for everything… I’m on a bunch of channels and whilst I’ve found the software pretty buggy of late, having a virtual meeting/chat space for working with others is now vital. It can save on Skype calls, which are still an occasional necessity.


For when I need to get into a state of flow and crack on with work, Spotify is great. I’ve been paying for it for about five years and I still reckon it represents excellent value. The Discover Weekly playlist is a pretty special service in itself.


I write an article of long-form piece at least once a week and I find Apple’s Notes app does the job fine. It’s minimal and allows you to write—what more do you need? Also it syncs with my phone so I can take notes and edit things whenever I think of them.

I’ve written before about a few other apps that I use to help with productivity, so take a look at that here.

Online resources

Evidence gathering software

There’s a few online services I regularly use to gather quant and qual data, which are covered best in this article.

Google docs

These are super useful for sharing work and data—I put all my competitor analysis and user testing reports in here so I can share with clients and get their comments. Of course I dabble in building dashboards in spreadsheets. In fact I’ve worked with start-ups who are run entirely by Google docs.


The simplicity of Trello is hard to beat for project management and collaborating. Turning projects into ticketed tasks is the best way to make progress on anything that’s going to take more than a few weeks. I’ve also got a few Trello boards setup to be automated with Zapier, as described here.


When it comes to sharing designs and wireframes, I find Invision is the Google docs equivalent and the ability to have contextual conversations through the comments keeps things away from messy long email threads. I also use it for connecting together a few designs into very lightweight prototypes.


For mobile app prototyping, I’m a big fan of Marvel. It’s really simple to use and produces prototypes that feel pretty convincing on a mobile device. I also have it connected with Google Drive so as soon as I export new designs for screens, the prototype automatically updates (a real time-saver).

Last updated on 28 October 2019
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