There’s no shortage of incredible (often free!) design assets on the internet. Tutorials, photoshop files, fonts, patterns, and icon packs are all yours for the taking. What, you haven’t heard of Tuts+, Premium Pixels, 365 PSD, Lost Type, SubtlePatterns or gasp dribbble?
I hope you’re sitting down for a while, because exploring these sites sets forth a domino effect! Embrace your hunt for assets as a way to simultaneously learn about their authors and how they became successful in their fields. Then, think about following these fine designers and companies on twitter to stay in-the-loop on their latest projects and what’s going on in the industry.
Once you’ve started building your asset library it’s helpful to keep them organized. Speaking from experience, when I kept everything in one giant folder it was too easy to lose and forget about.
Start by getting a free Dropbox, this is where you’re going to keep all your assets so you have them at work, home, and any computer with internet access. You’ll never be without your most recently downloaded fonts, PSDs, tutorials, and books.
I like to put a number prefix before my folders (at the top level) to indicate importance… this is subjective, used to to make sure the stuff I click on most often is at the top. At first I organized my assets using broad folders like Photoshop, Icons, Books, and Fonts, and eventually I started organizing assets within those folders. It’s totally ok to start broad and refine later, once your assets outgrow their categories. Let the organization take an “as needed” approach and don’t get overwhelmed with categorizing every file. You can always restructure later!
When you’re first starting out go ahead and download anything that looks interesting. As time goes by, you should get pickier and weed out the files that you no longer need or consider helpful.
Consider breaking the pattern folders into light and dark within sections. Devices is a place to put commonly used objects like the iPhone, iPad, and laptops. My GUI folder holds these templates for facebook, twitter, youtube, and vimeo.
It’s pretty awesome that we have so much access to these well crafted assets. If you’ve gotten something for free please don’t forget the hard work, time and effort these designers put into sharing with you! It’s always nice to repay them with a tweet, blog post, or donation (some authors have buttons to donate with paypal.) And of course, think about repaying the community by sharing your own work down the road.
This post has focused heavily on items available free of charge to build your library, but there are many incredible assets available for purchasing. If you’re a student or just starting out, keep a small budget for purchases of books and icons - these will give you the most bang for your buck!
Books can now be purchased on a budget in digital (ebook, pdf) form. I would highly recommend anything published by A Book Apart. My personal favorites from this series are Elements of Content Strategy by Erin Kissane and Designing for Emotion by Aaron Walter, both books pack an incredible amount of knowledge and inspiration. Other books worth their weight in gold are Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37 Signals, and Design Professionalism by Andy Rutledge.
Icons of course depend on the project at hand but I’ve found the Pixicon pack by Jackie Trananh, Uicons by Kenny Williams, and Pictos sets by Drew Wilson to be well crafted and widely encompassing. Gedy Rivera’s circular Social Media Icons are a steal at $5.
IconSweets2 is an absolutely stellar free icon pack by YummyGum, organized impeccably and available at 16, 32, and 64px sizes (adjusted perfectly for each.)
Armed with your personal arsenal of hand-picked assets you should be ready to tackle your next project with inspiration and ease.