Context is an extremely powerful desktop software tool that the people at LiveSurface are developing for exactly this purpose, and it’s incredible. It links up with Illustrator so that while you’re designing, you can hit a keystroke and instantly see what your design will look like on a magazine cover or computer screen or subway ad (or any of Context’s 300 other environments) all without leaving Illustrator. They export super hi-res images but remain always editable, and you can even add textures and finishes and adjust the lighting. The well-designed desktop application keeps track of all your images with a simple interface so you can go back and make edits to everything.
Cranking out tons of iterations of ideas is vital to my process, and being able to effortlessly preview my work in real-world contexts at every step of the way has totally changed the way I work (and saved me countless hours). It’s in beta previews right now, but when it’s released it’s going to be huge. Right now you can sign up for a beta invite on their website, and if you get one, the desktop application and access to all of their images is free.
Design Student Resource
Design professors will teach you more about theory and history than you ever wanted to know, but often, the basic practical knowledge it takes for new designers to realize their ideas gets glossed over. During my first year of design school, I could tell you all about Gestalt theory and the Bauhaus, but I had no idea what Pantone meant, I didn’t know why I shouldn’t print RGB images, and using Illustrator was like trying to teach myself brain surgery. This is a practical guide to all the nuts-and-bolts stuff that so often gets swept under the rug. It’s great for all the ‘stupid’ questions you might feel dumb asking your professors.
Design Salary Survey
Depending on your situation and outlook on life, this useful nationwide survey of the salaries of creative professionals will either excite and motivate you to keep pursuing your career goals, or make you decide that art is bullshit and become a web developer.