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The best design software for creative teams

by Kate Lindemann  |  June 14, 2021

5 min. read
Laptop showing photoshop with Canto integration.

Visuals are the face of your brand, but stunning, strategic designs don’t appear out of thin air. They’re the result of skilled work by designers and other creatives. To bring their ideas to life, creative teams need the right tools.

So which design software system is right for your team? We’ve put together a list of the most popular choices.

Adobe Creative Cloud: The design software giant

Adobe’s Creative Cloud tools are practically synonymous with graphic design software. If you were to walk into a room full of professional designers and ask them to shout out the first design software that comes to mind, you’d probably hear a chorus of Adobe products in response.

Screenshot of a vector illustration work in progress in Adobe Illustrator.

Illustrator – Illustrator is Adobe’s vector design software. It’s designed to create graphics that need to stay sharp and scale to different sizes – logos, custom typography, icons and more.

InDesign – InDesign is graphic design software for page layouts. It’s optimized to combine text, images and other elements, with grids and guides to help position everything on the page. If the collateral you’re designing will be printed or have multiple pages, InDesign is the tool for you.

Screenshot of Photoshop's trace contour feature.

Photoshop – Photoshop is image editing software, and perhaps Adobe’s best known application. In addition to photo editing, Photoshop can also be used for other image-heavy design work, like merging photos and illustrations, combining multiple images into a single design and even animation.

After Effects – For anyone doing video post-production or animation work, Adobe After Effects is the perfect choice. Whether you need to integrate with a 3D application, animate content or add special effects, this versatile software will take your motion design to the next level.

Lightroom Classic – If it comes to editing a lot of photos professionally, there’s hardly any professional photographer who wants to miss the capabilities of Adobe Lightroom Classic. With a broad range of functions such as image management, non-destructive editing or editing presets, Lightroom is able to handle any photo editing task from color correction to photo organization to batch editing.

XD – What InDesign does for print layouts, XD does for websites, apps and other digital formats. Adobe’s UI/UX design tool, XD helps web and UX designers create visually appealing digital collateral, with reusable design elements to save time and ensure consistency.

Most graphic designers use a combination of Adobe software. They may design a logo in Illustrator, edit photos in Photoshop and bring everything together in InDesign or XD.

Figma: For collaborative web and UX design

Screenshot of website designs in progress in Figma.

While Adobe is a longstanding leader in classic design software, they’ve got some stiff competition in the digital design space. Figma is a particularly popular choice among web and UX designers.

While it doesn’t have the full range of capabilities Adobe does, Figma is indeed a great digital design all-rounder. In the words of one UX designer who weighed in on this overview: “Figma is perfect for everything.”

Because it’s entirely in the cloud, Figma makes it easy for multiple designers to work on the same project in real time. For teams doing a lot of collaborative design work, this gives Figma a slight edge over Adobe XD. XD also offers real-time collaboration, but with designers often working offline and synching, it can be a bit more cumbersome.

Figma is also designed to optimize collaboration between designers and developers, making it easy to loop developers in early and hand off designs when they’re ready to go.

Canva: For drag-and-drop simplicity

Screenshot of Canva's user interface.

So far, we’ve discussed standard tools of the trade for professional designers. But not everyone who needs to make great-looking visuals has years of design experience under their belt. Canva is the perfect design software for anyone looking to hit the ground running without a steep learning curve.

Canva cuts out all the advanced features of other tools in favor of a user-friendly drag-and-drop system – a blessing for marketers who need to create their own graphics without the support of a dedicated creative team.

Even teams with solid design expertise find Canva useful to speed up workflows. For example, social media managers can work with templates created by designers without needing to know the ins and outs of Illustrator or other Adobe tools.

Canto: For faster design workflows

Canto gallery image library showing image with lamps and associated metadata tags.

Of course, designers don’t create marketing collateral out of thin air. They work with thousands of images, graphics and other design elements to create a consistent look across a brand.

Canto makes designers’ jobs easier by centralizing visuals and other brand assets in a searchable media library.

In addition to putting images and other media files at designers’ fingertips, Canto removes unnecessary steps from design workflows and hand-offs.

With Canto’s Adobe integrations, designers can search for images in Canto and add them to projects without leaving the Adobe program. That means no more cumbersome downloading and uploading. Among other time-saving features, designers can also toggle between high-res and low-res images with a single click, and sync edits between Canto and Adobe.

Screenshot of flyer design showing Canto image library integration in InDesign.

Canto also eases communication between designers and other teams. Features like dedicated Workspaces for works in progress, version history and asset approval mean designers can edit and revise visuals without having to constantly rename files or send multiple versions back and forth to decision-makers.

With everyone on the same page about what changes are needed and which version is which, designers can spend more time designing and less time organizing files and explaining updates.

Picking the right design software for your needs

Every team needs something a little different. Fortunately, there’s design software out there to meet almost any need.

Professional designers creating marketing collateral and other visual content will appreciate Adobe’s advanced features. Web and UX designers may prefer Figma. Anyone who’s not a professional designer (but still needs to make stunning visuals) will benefit from Canva’s intuitive interface. And finally, if you need a centralized media library that makes designers’ work easier, Canto’s got you covered.