Since I'm all about killing two birds with one stone, and I'm always TRYING to finish Christmas shopping before Christmas Eve, a great way to shop is to shop philanthropically and online. We've all heard of and probably own a pair of TOMS by now, but here are a few places that are near and dear to my heart that you can check out for the holidays:
Designers Care – Stamped Cards for a Cause
Beautifully designed stationery for an even better cause: Hurricane Sandy Relief Aid. Thank you cards, Note Cards, Inspirational art prints, and gift tags are available, and all the profits aside from shipping and transaction fees go to the American Red Cross.
If you love baking or cooking with butter, check out the gifts tags I designed for a great finishing touch to homemade holiday gifts or even lunch box notes:
Krochet Kids – "buy a hat, change a life"
I used to work at the Apple Store with Stewart Ramsey, one of the co-founders of Krochet Kids, and I'm not surprised at what an amazing company this is because he was such a likable fellow. This company was started by GUYS who crocheted and wanted to empower people to rise above poverty, so they started by passing on these skills to a group of women ... and now, over 150 people in Uganda and Peru are working, receiving education, and being mentored toward a brighter future. You can buy a hand-crocheted item and then personally thank the woman who crocheted it (the label on the inside shows who made it).
Beloved International – Belong. Build. Believe
It's been a privilege for me to occasionally help out Beloved when they need some graphic design work done. Two of the founders attend my church, and this non-profit Christian organization is currently working to create a self-sustaining home for orphans where the orphans are actually adopted into the home by two loving parents. The Beloved Rehoboth Children's Home in Kenya is currently in need of a kitchen and dining hall for the family, and it's their goal to raise enough money by Christmas. Make a donation on behalf of a friend, or visit their small shop to buy t-shirts or a hand-crafted "beloved" bracelet.
For the many people who don't want to shell out a huge amount of money for software like Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign, I HIGHLY recommend Apple Pages for Mac users (only $19.99). Pages is Apple's version of Microsoft Word, but with amazing page layout tools and some pretty nifty easter eggs. I won't get into much on the page layout, except to say that most people use InDesign for page layout in creating magazines, books, etc. You can see below a screen shot from Apple's website demonstrating a well-designed layout.
The following tools are two reasons I think Pages pays for itself:
1. Instant Alpha Tool (Click on photo; in the menu bar, click on Format > Instant Alpha)
This tool will take the background out of a photo with a simple click and drag over the areas you do not want. You can click and drag more than once, so it pays to take your time clicking and dragging on certain sections of color , as pictured below).
Granted, it's not as powerful as it's Photoshop predecessor, but it definitely does the trick, especially for photos where the background is more solid in color and contrasting with the main foreground element. I recommend placing a bright colored square shape in back of the photo before you start so that you can clearly see if you've gotten everything as you are using the tool. Also, as you are deleting the background, don't forget you can undo (command+z) any time you take out too much. Below is my finished collage.
2. Pen Tool (click on Shapes in toolbar and choose the last icon with the calligraphy pen tip)
The pen tool is the bread and butter of Illustrator, and it's in Pages! Like the tip above, it definitely does not have the full functionality of the mighty pen tool in Illustrator, but it can do quite a bit. The most common uses I've recommended would be for creating your own logos. While I recommend hiring a professional, if you're strapped for cash and want to try something on your own, this would definitely be a good place to start for custom shapes or tracing over a sketch/illustration. It works a little like "connect-the-dot" – each click you make creates a line.
The illustrations below were all created in Pages by my friend and former co-worker Carlos Joaquin, from "What A Dream I Had". Check out this awesome time-lapse of him in action as he draws a Charlie Chaplin illustration!
So after all of one week doing a Tip of the Tuesday, missing a week, and now 20 minutes away from Wednesday, I have even more respect for bloggers who are consistent and punctual. To better organize myself, I'm definitely going to have to keep a list of tips I'd like to blog about in Evernote. If you're not already an Evernote user, I highly recommend it for its affordability (free!) and great features like syncing, formatting options, and notebook/tag organization. For online retailers like myself, it's a great place to keep track of descriptions for products you sell (specifically, for Minted challenges, I keep track of all my entries in Evernote; that way when something doesn't get picked, I can easily copy and paste a description when I sell it elsewhere).
Speaking of free apps, here is my actual tip, great for the thrifty app-aholic: when you see a free app that you are remotely interested in, don't hesitate: DOWNLOAD it. You don't have to keep it on your device, and you can always re-download it later. Why encourage this pack-ratish/hoarder behavior? Some apps don't always stay free. There have been countless apps that launched free or went on sale as free, but later jumped to prices well over the $.99-1.99 "comfortable" range. My favorite example is Adobe Ideas, which launched free but after a major update a year or so later, the price jumped to $9.99. I didn't use it for the first year I had it, but it's now one of the apps I use the most for sketching out ideas on my iPad.
It's a tiny tip, but could save you a lot of money in the longrun
I'm hoping to force myself to blog more consistently with a "Tip of the Tuesday" weekly post. While most tips will be design/productivity focused, I can't promise that a random tip or two might slip through!
Today's tip won't wow any of my former apple coworkers, but it's something I use many times a day on my Mac: SPOTLIGHT.
It's kind of a misnomer because it's actually the tiny magnifying glass icon sitting in the top right corner of your screen, but in this case Apple didn't name it as literally as it has done with other apps like "Address Book" or "iCal". The keyboard shortcut for Spotlight is command+spacebar (unless you have changed your default shortcuts). While Spotlight can definitely be used for searching anything on your local drive in a manner of seconds, and give it to you categorized, I actually also use it for a few other reasons, and below are my top three:
1. Application Launcher
If you're like me and you don't like cluttering up your dock with Apps you don't use on a regular basis, simply "command+spacebar" and start typing the first couple letters of the app. The app usually pops up by then and you can just press "enter" if it's highlighted on the app you want. I still find it faster to use than Launchpad, although I haven't upgraded to Mountain Lion yet.
For calculations, you don't even have to launch the calculator app, you can just activate Spotlight and start typing -- i.e. "1499*1.0775" will yield the cost of the $1499 item plus sales tax in my state. Just use the asterisk for multiplication and the slash for division. You can also include parenthesis to indicate priority (A+B)*C.
Simply type in a word and if you hover your mouse over the "Look Up" section, the definition will pop up. If you click on the highlighted word, it will launch the Dictionary App and you can then have access to the Thesaurus and Wikipedia.
Have any Spotlight tips for me? Would love to hear them!