Twenty Tools To Help You Design Better And Write Smarter

Create compelling content. 

That’s the key to engaging your email subscribers and turning them into loyal customers.

But what happens when you don’t have the time to become a skilled graphic designer and a stellar writer because you’re too busy mastering your own craft, and, you know, running your business?

Thankfully, there are plenty of tools out there that’ll help you create engaging content with ease. This way, your subscribers will get quality, valuable content and you’ll still have time to take care of business (and enjoy Happy Hour at the end of the day ☺).

To help you design better, write smarter and create engaging content faster, check out some of our favorite content creation tools:

Design Better

A polished and consistent design will help you establish brand recognition and trust with your audience. When paired with the right words (or sometimes, no words at all), a strong design will drive your prospects and customers to act fast.

Create Stunning Visuals

Content is far more than just words on a page. By using visuals (e.g., adding an infographic to a blog post or posting shareable images in a social feed), you can enhance your content marketing efforts and make it easier for your audience to understand your message. Below are easy-to-use design tools built for the non-designer.

1. Canva

Canva

Cost: Free (with paid upgrade options)

Canva is blowing up in the content marketing world. Why? Because of its ease-of-use and practical templates. Whether you need to create a cover photo for your Facebook page or a featured image for your next email, Canva will provide the blueprints and tools to do it beautifully.

Pro-tip: If you know absolutely nothing about design, stick to their templates – they’re awesome! If you’re creating multiple designs with Canva, try to use similar templates to keep your look and feel consistent.

2. Pablo

Pablo Editor

 Cost: Free

We’ve all seen inspirational quote images shared on Twitter or Facebook. Fortunately, you don’t need Photoshop, or expensive software to make one. Pablo offers attractive stock imagery and modern web-fonts that allow you to create a shareable piece of content in under a minute.

Here’s a silly image that I created in 20 seconds:

Ice Cream

Pro-tip: Make sure it’s easy for your audience to read text that’s over an image. To do so, there should be enough of a contrast between the color of your fonts and the image. A white font over a light background, for example, can be hard to read on some screens.

3. Skitch

Skitch 2

Cost: Free

If you typically present instructional content, such as how-to articles, Skitch is a lifesaver. Built by the Evernote team (another awesome app to check out!), Skitch allows you to take a screenshot and annotate it with a small set of practical tools. You can easily add cues and text to point readers in the right direction.

Here’s an example I created in under a minute:

Skitch example

Pro-tip: If you’re creating multi-step instructional images, feel free to make a separate image for each step (or clearly number the steps within the images). Adding too many annotations to an image may create confusion.

4. infogr.am

infogram2

Cost: Free, with paid plans.

Infographics, when both informative and attractive, can be incredibly shareable. If working with data and presentations, consider using infogr.am to easily create visual graphs and charts.

Pro-tip: Infographics are fun and have the potential to go viral, but always be credible. Check your data and cite your sources!

Develop a Color Palette

You don’t have to study graphic design to know that color is important. Using consistent colors is essential to establishing and supporting your brand.

5. Adobe Color

Adobe Color

Cost: Free.

Professional designers don’t choose colors on a whim – there’s actually a lot of thought that goes into creating artistic and effective color palettes. Thankfully, Adobe released a free tool called Color to handle the behind-the-scenes calculations. Simply choose your base color and select from six available palettes.

If you’re unsure of your base color, you can upload a complimentary photo and select it from the image. Check out this example, using the cheesy quote image from above:

Color Example

Find Free and Engaging Stock Images

Need a good image for your blog post or email? Pick up a brand-new $750 camera, take a photography class at your local college or university, travel to an exotic location and start snapping! Yeah… right. Here’s a better idea: Simply download some amazing photos from any one of the options below.

6. AWeber’s stock image gallery

AWeber Stock Image Gallery

Cost: Free for all AWeber users!

Looking for the perfect image for your next email? Try our stock image gallery, which contains over 6,000 royalty-free images and buttons. Read more about it!

Pro-tip: AWeber also offers unlimited storage for images, so you can store and reuse any files you save from Canva, Pablo or other sources.

7. Unsplash

Unsplash

Cost: Free, but usage must adhere to this license

Ten new photos every 10 days – so you’ll always find a fresh selection from which to choose. That’s the Unsplash promise!

8. Death to the Stock Photo

deathtostockphoto

 Cost: Free, but usage must adhere to their license

Tired of stock photos that look too stock photo-y? Me too, and so is Death to the Stock Photo! Simply sign up with your email address and get stunning images delivered right to your inbox.

9. Subtle Patterns

SubtlePatterns

Cost: Free, but usage must adhere to their license

Sometimes your website, blog, email or infographic needs something less flashy than a stock image. If you’re looking for something a bit more subtle, check out Subtle Patterns for free-to-use patterns that make perfect backgrounds and textures.

10. Buffer’s Master List

Still looking for more? Buffer maintains a robust source of free image providers.

Pro-tip: Just a warning – there really are a ton of images from which to choose! Avoid getting get caught up looking for the perfect one, as you may leave little time for your writing (which just so happens to be a perfect segue into our next set of tools…)

Writing Smarter

Writing is an art form. It requires the perfect mix of rules and risk, of substance and style. Ain’t nobody got time for that!

If you run your own business or manage your marketing campaigns solo, you might not have time to “get in the zone.” Writing isn’t a stroll in the park – it’s a speed drill. That said, there are tools to help you write quick and clear, so you can keep on converting those subscribers into paying customers.

What to Write

Sometimes, we get stumped at step one: “What should I write about and who gives a hoot?”

11. Hubspot topic generator

Blog Topic Generator

Cost: Free

There are plenty of resources on our blog that speak to this in detail. If you’re looking for a quick exercise in idea generation, try out Hubspot’s Blog Topic Generator. Simply plug in three nouns and let the generator work its magic.

Pro-tip: This Blog Topic Generator is also a great way to brainstorm some subject lines for your next email.

BONUS: Portent’s Content Idea Generator

Content Idea Generator

Cost: Free

After publishing this post, one of our readers, Kim, mentioned Portent’s Content Idea Generator as an alternative to Hubspot’s tool. I just tried it and it was a lot of fun! I can’t wait to write this post: “15 Ways Heavy Metal Music Could Leave You Needing a Lawyer.” I had to add it to the list.

Pro-tip: Some of the suggestions I received were pretty silly (such as, How Heavy Metal Music Can Prevent Hair Loss,) so feel free to revise as needed.

Where to Write

Do not wrestle with your text editor (trust me, it doesn’t lead to anything good). There are plenty of options – paid and free – that provide the ideal text editing experience for your needs. Here are few outside of the usual tools like Microsoft Word, Google Drive, Pages, etc.

12. Desk

Cost: Paid application, available for Mac

Desk is a premium app available for Mac OS. If you plan to write daily, and perhaps publish to WordPress, Tumblr or Blogspot quite often, then an application like Desk may be your perfect companion. Advanced tools and publishing options justify its price, and distraction-free writing modes will keep you focused.

13. Ulysses

Ulysses

 CostPaid application, available for Mac

Another premium option is Ulysses, which focuses more on writing in Markdown, an easy-to-use format designed specifically for those writing and formatting prose. A wide variety of editor styles, and export options make Uylsses a top player in the paid editor space.

Pro-tip: Ulysses has a demo. Take it for a test-drive before committing to buy.

14. Ilys

ILYS

Cost: Paid, subscription-based

Ilys is a paid service, but only costs $1.08 a month. Basically, this handy web app forces you to write forward, and never go back. As writers, we often get hung up on one word, or getting a phrase just right. Experts like Ann Handley will recommend that you “embrace the Ugly First Draft.” Ilys forces you to do just that, only letting you enter one. letter. at. a. time. It sounds unconventional, and it is, but many writers claim to have found their “flow” using the tool. Save the editing for later.

15. Calmly Writer

CalmlyWriter

 Cost: Free, with a paid option

Looking for a distraction-free solution that’s also free? Try out Calmly Writer online. It’s an elegant editor with little to get in the way of your writing. Beware though: this doesn’t auto-save your progress, so if your computer freezes or you navigate away from the webpage, you will lose your work. Avoid the stress and tears by exporting your work when you’re done!

Pro-tip: A distraction-free editor is only one half of the equation. Make sure your mind and environment are also clear of distractions before you sit down to get “in the zone.”

Find the Write Words

See what I did there… don’t do that.

16. Power Thesaurus

Power Thesaurus

 Cost: Free

Looking for the perfect word? Look no further – Power Thesaurus can help you find it. This is a great tool to use during editing, especially if you find yourself repeating the same words over and over again, and want to include some variety.

Pro-tip: Most people tend to use a thesaurus to find a big fancy word to replace their simple word. Instead, choose words that you would use if you were having a conversation with your friends – this is what your subscribers want to hear or read. If you would typically say that something is “everywhere” in a conversation, don’t feel inclined to say that it’s “ubiquitous.”

17. Word Counter

wordcounter

Cost: Free

Word Counter is a simple tool that provides you with writing stats, such as total word count, average words per sentence and keyword density. Keyword density is particularly helpful, as it shows your most repeated words within the text. You can then optimize (or decrease) your keyword usage as needed.

Pro-tip: Let’s take a look at the age-old question of “how many words should it be?” In my opinion, the only person who can answer this is your audience. Find the happy place that works best for both you and them. Tap into your blog’s analytics to see what’s working. This will also vary by medium, so a quick opinion blog post will be significantly shorter than a well-researched informative post.

Analyze and Edit

One of the quickest ways to become a better writer is to become a better editor. Editing content doesn’t have to be a chore if you take advantage of any one of the three tools below. These apps will analyze your content and provide you with grammatical suggestions, readability scores (a.k.a. how easy it is to read your content), spelling errors, word/sentence counts and more. Are you using passive voice too frequently? These three apps will tell you. Are you constantly using adverbs and adjectives? You’ll definitely find out.

With this kind of information, you’ll be well on your way to creating content that truly engages your audience.

18. Grammarly

Grammarly

 Cost: Free, with paid options

Grammarly is a powerful tool! There is even an extension for the Chrome web browser that allows you to analyze your grammar anywhere that you type on the web. The free version of Grammarly has a few limited features, but will still provide great recommendations to improve your writing.

19. Expresso App

Expresso

Cost: Free

Expresso app provides a quick way to analyze text and make improvements. All you have to do is paste in your content, click “Analyze Text,” and you’ll get all of the information you need to take your writing to the next level. One feature that’s really cool is the highlighting of “filler words,” which can inflate your writing.

20. Hemingway App

HEMINGWAY

Cost: Free

Hemingway will quickly display sentences that are difficult to read and provide a general “Readability” score for your content. Many writers (including this one) are guilty of accidentally switching to passive voice. Hemingway will point this out so you can make the correction before you publish or send your content.

Now get to it!

There you go – 20 tools to help you design better and write smarter. Try some out yourself the next time you sit down to craft a blog post or email. We covered a lot of awesome tools, but don’t get bogged down on any one suggestion – only use the tools that will save you the most time and money.

What tools are you using to optimize your content creation? Please share your suggestions in the comments!

Need help designing your emails? The AWeber design team can create a custom template just for you! Whether you want to modify an existing template or develop one from scratch, we’ve got you covered. Click here to request a custom template.

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23 Comments

  1. Mick Kennys

    3/18/2015 12:59 pm

    Really man, I love you! You put all that i was looking for in one place – thank you!

  2. Tom Tate

    3/18/2015 1:05 pm

    You got it! We are here to help.

  3. Naina Sharma

    3/20/2015 5:05 am

    Hello Tom,

    Really I found Very Useful Information at One Place…

    Love Your all Points.We can Compare One tool with Other and will Choose the best suitable for Our Requirement.

    Thanks For Such a Nice stuff…

  4. Tom Tate

    3/20/2015 7:09 am

    Hi Naina,

    Thank you for reading. I hope you find the best tools to help you succeed!

  5. Ysf

    3/20/2015 12:49 pm

    thank you!

  6. Steve Feld

    3/21/2015 11:08 pm

    Thank you, thank you Tom, for the writing tools info! My own Holy Grail in putting Kugelschreiber to Papier is the semi-colon. Perfect understanding of this mysterious punctuation is out there! What you have here is the proverbial step in the right direction!

  7. Tom Tate

    3/23/2015 7:02 am

    Hi Steve,

    Thanks for the comment. Ah, yes – the mysterious semi-colon. There are many untapped grammatical techniques out there. This might be a good topic for a future post.

    Best of luck with your writing!

    Tom

  8. Rahul

    3/22/2015 4:21 am

    Hey Tom !

    Awesome piece of info. It is very useful for designers and also bloggers. I personally have used Canva and Pable, they are more than awesome tool.

    Looking forward to try others also. Most of they seem to be very effective tools.

    Thanks for sharing man !

  9. Tom Tate

    3/23/2015 7:05 am

    Hi Rahul,

    No problem!

    Best of luck with your writing and designing,

    Tom

  10. Rahul

    3/23/2015 9:42 pm

    Thanks Tom !

    Wish you the same. 🙂

  11. peter mcgrath

    3/24/2015 12:23 pm

    hello grata source of info for creating great graphics and writing articles thanks you so much for sharing with your readers always you give great content many thanks’ peter McGrath
    ps I am going to save this page

  12. Tom Tate

    3/24/2015 12:38 pm

    Hi Peter,

    Thank you for reading. Best of luck with your marketing!

    Tom

  13. Jeff Mikles

    3/24/2015 1:27 pm

    Excellent article and resources! Thanks Tom.

  14. Tom Tate

    3/24/2015 2:09 pm

    Hi Jeff,

    Not a problem. Hope you find a few to be useful!

    Tom

  15. Sergio Felix

    3/24/2015 2:05 pm

    Hey Tom, amazing compilation brother!

    I’ve heard about (and used) a few of these resources before but haven’t used everything.

    Going to check the ones I’m not familiar with, thanks!

    Sergio

  16. Tom Tate

    3/24/2015 2:11 pm

    Sergio,

    Glad you liked the post, and thank you for reading.

    Best of luck with your marketing!

    Tom

  17. David R

    3/24/2015 2:47 pm

    Very helpful for English users.
    I am French and my customers are French too, shame, quite noting for my similar needs?
    Regards.

  18. Kim

    3/24/2015 6:34 pm

    Hey Tom a great article, with a lot of cool information and resources. This is great for bloggers. I have used hubspot topic generator but I have also used portent.com http://www.portent.com/tools/title-maker to create some pretty grabbing blot titles. It’s a lot of fun. I must check out pablo. And of course use Aweber for my autoresponder. Again thanks for the article and I’ll share with my audience. This will be great for bloggers who are just starting out. Cheers Kim 🙂

  19. Tom Tate

    3/25/2015 7:15 am

    Hi Kim,

    I’m glad you enjoyed the post, and thank you for sharing with your audience!

    I just used Portent’s Idea Generator and it was great. Added it to the list above. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Best of luck with your content creation and business,

    Tom

  20. Bahiyyah

    3/26/2015 7:05 am

    Thank you Tom for the information. It was just what I needed.

  21. Tom Tate

    3/26/2015 8:29 am

    Hi Bahiyyah,

    Great! We are here to help. Good luck with your content and marketing.

    Tom

  22. Wendy

    3/29/2015 7:32 pm

    Thanks so much Tom really! All these are great, but those design tools are going to help me so, so much, and really cut down my time on posts & newsletter design. What a gem 🙂

  23. Tom Tate

    3/30/2015 8:31 am

    Hi Wendy,

    Glad you enjoyed the post. There’s nothing better than saving time!

    Best of luck with your content marketing,

    Tom