Five tools for creating sharp-looking apps

A drab app is likely to be an overlooked app. Here are few tools that can add some visual punch to your applications.

Applications keep looking better and better. Thanks to things like mobile app stores and the Web, people are spending less time considering various applications -- and appearance is playing a bigger role in the decision-making process. If your apps look bland, these five products and services will help you spruce them up.

Note: This article is also available as a photo gallery.

1: Axialis IconWorkshop

Axialis IconWorkshop lets you make attractive icons for your applications. Over the years, icons have become even more important, as they now represent a big part of the "elevator pitch" of applications in mobile marketplaces. IconWorkshop is a great tool for working with icons.

2: Microsoft Expression Studio

Two tools in Microsoft Expression Studio are important for the .NET developers out there, Blend and Design. Blend produces XAML for your WPF, Silverlight, WP7, and Windows 8 applications that goes far beyond the basic controls.

Design is geared toward making great vector graphics, which you can save in a variety of formats, including XAML. The two together are key tools for great-looking .NET applications.

3: Adobe Kuler

Adobe Kuler is a tool for creating and sharing color schemes. Working with color schemes may not seem terribly tough, but most programming tools really do not do a good job of letting you easily experiment and see the colors next to each other. Kuler is free to use and has a large community of folks putting up their own color combinations.

4: Typekit

The Web has been waiting for Typekit since Day 1, a good way to use nonstandard fonts without resorting to embedding images of text. Thanks to the latest CSS3 specs, Typekit lets you use fonts for your Web apps without violating the licenses of those fonts, in a fashion that is fast and seamless. If you are ready to unleash your apps' design potential, Typekit is where it is at!

5: iStockphoto

iStockphoto is one of my favorite Web sites, because it has amazingly good search to help me find just the right graphical goodies for my Web apps. It isn't just photos either. You'll find clip art, vector graphics, animations, and more. The quality ranges from top-shelf professional images to hand drawn items. If you need to jazz up your apps, iStockPhoto is a great place to start looking for inspiration and content.