The Design Essentials: iPad Apps for the Creative

Quietly and almost covertly, Apple’s iPad has become a common tool in every realm of professional design. Fashion designers sketch on it, designers collect and curate ideas using it, digital artists paint with it in stunning realism, and architects even prepare 3D models before going to production all from the 9.7″ screen. The device is a near ubiquitous sight inside studios, design shops, and most noticeably at trade shows, an ideal compromise when the pocketability of the smartphone is too little and a laptop is just too large. For a demographic regularly relying upon composing, showing, and sharing projects, the iPad is Goldilocks perfect. Here are several of our favorite iPad apps for creatives with content creation and collaboration in mind.


Curator: As a longtime (and daily) Pocket user I’m already well acquainted with the utility of clippings and tagging app for ideation footwork. But Curator is a little different than more singularly focused cousins, Pocket and Pinterest, allowing users to not only collect, but also compose handsome presentation-quality image collections/mood boards.

Designed by architect Daniel Nordh, Curator was built with designers especially in mind, and it shows every time the cell+grid UI greets users; with regular use the app populates with images pulled from nearly any online source, making it a fantastic project research tool designers can use to eventually present without worry of clutter and confusion.

>>> Download Curator app from iTunes (free)

Field: Don’t underestimate opportunities for conceptual exploration. Field isn’t necessarily a tool, but more of an audio-visual experience which utilizes the iPad’s camera to translate what the device “sees” into abstract light and color Op-art geometrics. Austrian video artist, media designer, and the mind behind the app, Rainer Kohlberger, belongs to the Art Concrete movement, a creative philosophy which embraces seeking abstract representations and experience outside of nature and the visible world. As you can see from the video above, Field does a fair job of creating this particular sensory experience.

>>> Download Field app from iTunes ($1.99)


Adobe Shape CC: The graphics software giant has made a notable investment in the iPad category with a whole stable of apps maximized for Retina display devices. Adobe Shape CC is an innovate tool in that it takes advantage of the iPad’s camera to convert photographs into vectors, a useful tool for putting together client/project mockups.

>>> Download Adobe Shape CC from iTunes (free)


Fontbook: In the past designers had to keep and thumb through large printed tomes to review font choices. Now it’s possible to skim quickly through a catalog of nearly 37,000 typefaces from 8,000+ font families sourced from 1,660 type designers from a single device. The Fontbook app is a definite improvement considering most designers are now designing for screens, not print, and the ability to compare side-by-side is a tool for efficiency, especially with 730,000 typeface samples on hand.

>>> Download the Fontbook app from iTunes ($4.99)


Brainsparker: Imagine a toolbox of images, questions, and quotes all collected for the sole purpose of igniting the corners of the brain into creative action and inspiration; the interface is analogous to a deck of flash cards, and as used as such, can be an informal aid for getting over a creative hurdle without overthinking.

>>> Download the Brainsparker app from iTunes (free)

iPad-Adonit Forge-app

Forge: Forge distinguishes itself from other visual inspiration/image organization tools by adding an additional layer of illustration and note tools. Users can import photos, sketches and notes from Adobe Creative Cloud, Dropbox or from the iPad’s camera roll, changing the opacity for easier sketch/tracing in conjunction with a stylus and the slew of drawing tools. Obviously great for storyboarding, Forge is also usable for (re)viewing the layout while planning a book, magazine, or website, whether in linear or non-linear fashion.

>>> Download the Forge app from iTunes (free)


Morpholio Crit: You can get with this or you can get with that…that’s the heart of the question Morpholio presents collaborative designers, architects, photographers, and artists when faced with decision time. The app allows for messaging and feedback directly from the app, essentially turning a project portfolio into an interactive and “live” tool where teams can hash out questions and solutions in one place. Designers will especially appreciate a visual tool which squashes long email threads in cases where “showing” is much more effective than writing – yet the option to annotate with notes still exists.

>>> Download Morpholio Crit app from iTunes (free)

iPad-Paper by FiftyThree

Paper by FiftyThree: As the name implies, Paper purports to be as easy to use as a sheet of paper when the need/desire for sketching and illustrating arises. The upgrade from its material predecessor is this digital sketchbook allows for diagraming, drawing, and planning using a 100-tools-in-one stylus (called Pencil, of course!) and adds the option for collaboration using FiftyThree’s file remixing platform, Mix. The tool set is fairly modest, but the simplicity is intentional, allowing solo or collaborating users to get right into sketching instead of hunting through options.

>>> Download the Paper app from iTunes (free)


Procreate: If more robust illustration and paintings tools are required than those listed above, Savage Interactive’s Procreate app does an impressive job of turning the iPad into a blank canvas where virtual pencils, paints, and inks with 120 brushes to choose from. 64-bit color values optimized for the iPad’s Retina display, the app is amongst the better choices for artists who can’t get back to the Wacom Cintiq setups back at the studio and need to get an idea on screen ASAP. Need a little more convincing? Check out what this app is capable of producing in capable hands.

>>> Download the Procreate app from iTunes ($5.99)


Phaidon Design Classics: Sometimes the best place to start on a project is reviewing how someone else tackled an idea. The Phaidon Design Classics is the equivalent of having an encyclopedia dedicated to the best in design (and in fact, is available in print versions), but without the shelf space required for a collection books dedicated to the designs of Marcel Breuer, Achille Castiglioni, Le Corbusier, Jasper Morrison, Dieter Rams, Eero Saarinen, and Philippe Starck. Each object can be viewed and turned using the iPad’s Multi-Touch technology, with each design supplemented with sketches, photos, and the historical context related to its creation. The only thing lost in going digital compared to the original books? The satisfaction of seeing them on your bookshelf.

>>> Download the Phaidon Design Classics for iPad from iTunes ($14.99)


Architonic: Those with their fingers on the pulse of architecture and design news are likely acquainted with Architonic. The site’s extensive material and product database of more than 200,000 products is available as an all-in-one iPad optimized catalog, designed to aid architects, interior architects, planners and the everyday design consumer in researching their encyclopedic listings for professional and private residence sourcing.

>>> Download Architonic from iTunes (free)

What are some of your favorite creative iPad apps?

Gregory Han is a Senior Editor at Design Milk. A Los Angeles native with a profound love and curiosity for design, hiking, tide pools, and road trips, a selection of his adventures and musings can be found at