It’s the holidays, which means list season continues. After a weekend designed to separate us from our money, I wanted to go in the other direction and share seven of my favorite things that cost zero dollars and zero cents.
Legendary designer Massimo Vignelli once said that designers only really need six typefaces: Garamond, Bodoni, Century Expanded, Futura, Times Roman, and Helvetica. While I think he’s more right than not, I certainly enjoy expanding that palette when possible. And Inter, designed by Rasmus Andersson, is one of the best possible free additions to your collection. Don’t take my word for it though, as it’s quickly become one of the most popular font families in the world – including usage by NASA.
Unsplash used to be a bit of a hidden gem, but they’ve done such an incredible job integrating their API into just about everything that you’ve likely heard of them already (or at least seen their images). Finding non-cliche stock images is every designer’s least favorite chore, and Unsplash is the best place to find photos that read as cool, not corny. You can’t rely on it for everything quite yet, but even when I’ve ponied up for the more expensive libraries over my career, I’ve still found myself augmenting those options with gems from Unsplash.
Maybe it’s a byproduct of getting older, but I don’t have much interest in most video games these days – except for computer games from the 90s and 00s. Building (and destroying) cities in SimCity 2000 was the highlight of our time in the middle school computer lab. I still remember grabbing the box for WarCraft 2 at Costco. And of course, the low-fi sound effects of Doom are burned deep into my brain. If you want to play all those games and more for free right in your browser, head on to Freebie Games and say goodbye to your productivity.
Speaking of images, my real secret source is a host of royalty-free archives from museums, libraries, and other institutions. The Met, the New York Public Library, the British Museum, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian, the Internet Archive, and others all have so much cool stuff it’s impossible to ever reach the end. Bonus: if you’re looking for images of NYC, you can now check out the 1940s tax record photos online here. (I once had to head down to the municipal archives building and check out some microfilm to see these photos.)
I’ve long sung the praises of Libby, but it’s just too good to exclude from this list. The value is simple: sign up with your library card and get tons of ebooks and audiobooks for free. You can even read them on your Kindle. It’s not overstating by too much to say that Libby is one of the best things in the world right now.
I know somebody who thought the little brown sparrows around NYC were just baby pigeons. And while at least I knew that that wasn’t the case, I’d be lying if I said I knew a lot more about birds. Enter Merlin, a free little app from Cornell Lab or Ornithology that helps you identify and log any feathered friends in your area with a few dead-simple tools. One warning: it gets addicting.
You might have seen their logos pre-installed on your smart TV and probably skipped right over them. Pluto TV, Tubi, Xumo, Freevee, Plex, the Roku Channel, and other channels are a relatively new breed of media known as FASTs, or free ad-supported streaming television. They’re just that – free stuff to watch, kind of like how TV used to be. I first found them interesting from a media business standpoint, but I’ve also found myself throwing them on in the background. (Pluto TV has not one, but two channels that just play Star Trek on an infinite loop.)
Next week: more lists!