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Designing for Aqua The Aqua Designer's Toolbox

by Alan Graham

Carpenters, engineers, baristas -- they all have their favorite tools. Graphic designers are no different. Whether you're new to the Mac platform, or interested in expanding your existing toolset, here's an overview of some of the most powerful design applications for Mac OS X.


Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop

For the creation of interface elements such as buttons, icons, etc., the combination of these two applications can accomplish almost any task I throw at them. I have to admit, I can't live without them. It would be like running the human body without blood. Thankfully, they are both available for Mac OS X.

A 30-day trial for both applications is available at

Adobe InDesign

I use InDesign for building my help files and application documentation. I've been a PageMaker user for 10 years, and I recently switched to InDesign. Now I can't see using anything else. It's the ultimate page layout application, and has almost every feature I could imagine. The text and layout tools are extremely versatile, and the ability to build and re-use a set of master pages is powerful and saves a lot of time.

I could build an Apple help file, but I prefer to build pdf documentation with URL links, stylized text, and nice graphics. It also gives the user more flexibility for home printing. If my application requires a published manual, I build it once in InDesign and can output the digital/print formats from the same document. InDesign can also export my publications as html documentation. What could be easier than building it once and then outputting it in almost any format?

Screen shot.
Some InDesign options for pdf files.

A 30-day trial is available at

Adobe LiveMotion 2

Many years ago, Adobe released ImageStyler, an application for developing Web graphics. This application later evolved into LiveMotion, and recently Adobe released LiveMotion 2 for Mac OS X. LiveMotion is one of those programs that's much more versatile than Adobe indicates in its marketing copy. Sure, I use this application for Web graphics, but I also use it as my "Dr. Frankenstein's Lab" for prototyping a user interface.

LiveMotion supports Photoshop files and layers, allowing me to work seamlessly with the other Adobe applications. As a prototyping program, LiveMotion allows me to import all of my UI icons and elements, build a quick mockup of my interface, and add my own faux Aqua-fied buttons. I find this valuable, because I can move elements around to get an idea of what works and what doesn't.

Screen shot.
LiveMotion's flexibility makes it perfect for brainstorming with clients.

I've built a number of templates and items in my LiveMotion Library that allow me to mimic any Aqua window in just a few moments. I quickly can see if a UI works or needs adjustments. If I find some icons don't work at their current size, I can make changes immediately. I can rearrange the positions of icons and UI objects until I am happy with what I've done. When satisfied, I print out a copy on my color laser and use it during meetings and as a reference of the evolution of the project. I also like that I can publish it instantly to the Web, so that my clients can see it.

A 30-day trial is available at


BootCD does one simple thing and does it well. It allows me to create an Emergency bootable CD that gives me access to my Dock, Desktop, and even a selection of Applications (of my choice). God forbid you ever need it, but it is great to know it is there. I recently had to use it to repair an install that had gone bad. I was able to verify that my data was safe, and then did a fast backup to an external drive before starting over. The best feature is it's free.

You can find it at

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