I’m a firm believer that practicality trumps aesthetics when push comes to shove. If you have to make a decision between form and function, go for function – because pretty is probably not going to cut it.
With that in mind I thought it might be useful to present my work space and what tools I use to do my design / writing. I’ll also include links to some of the products I really enjoy using or rely on heavily (or both).
As I said earlier, I’m a practical kind of guy, a practical guy that values a jam-packed tool belt. I like to think I have the right tool for (nearly) every job. At the very least I’ve got enough stuff to jerry-rig something together to complete the work decently. As you can tell by the photo – there’s a bunch of stuff crammed into the corner of my desk. But let me start there – with the desk.
Sure a desk might not seem all that important. It’s a flat surface that all your stuff sits on. Let’s pump the brakes right there though. All of your stuff sits on this seemingly mundane piece of wood / metal / plastic / whatever else desks are made of. The truth is I could probably ramble on about desks (and office furniture) for a while here. For whatever reason I’m obsessed with well designed desks and chairs. Just ask my wife when we’re at Ikea and I bee line for the office section. In fact that’s where my desk comes from. It’s a three-piece Galant system that features an L-shaped corner. I like it because it’s got a massive, flat surface area that I can just scatter all of my stuff on. Which, for me, is awesome because I tend to sprawl when my creative juices get flowing. The width of the table also gives me plenty of options for storage. As an example I’ve installed extra drawers. Right now I’m toying around with the idea of covering a portion of it in Whiteboard paint so I can have a handy spot to draft up some fast ideas. If I ever decide to pull the trigger on that I’ll be sure to document it for you.
Moving on, or rather down, what you can’t see in the photo is the computer I’m using to create all of this work. It’s a Mac Pro (Mid 2010) I bought new a few years ago. Truth be told, six years might seem like a lot for a computer but this guy has been a workhorse for me and I haven’t really had much reason to upgrade it yet (other than drooling over new equipment). If you want the exact specs it’s an 8-core 2.4GHz Intel Xeon with 16GB 1066 MHz DDR3 EEC and two ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB video cards. When I got it it was definitely one of the big boys on the block. Even today it’s still strong enough to handle just about anything Adobe or Apple pro apps can throw at it.
As for the two most obvious things on my desk, I’m currently using two Asus 24-inch 1080p LED displays. One’s a bit older than the other and includes a webcam. The camera almost never gets used for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s crap 2) Most of my video broadcasting needs are handled via my iPhone. I will say these may be the first things I work on updating in the near future. I’ve definitely found 48 inches to be more than ample a workspace but I’d like to get into something with a bit more color precision and IPS functionality. Speaking of monitors though, you’ll also see my iPad Air front and center. I use an app called Duet that lets me connect my iPad as extra screen. I’ve really found this useful as I can throw secondary tasks that I don’t need to interact with frequently but still need to keep an eye on. For example I can put render windows here and see them running in the background. Or I can put my Messages and Mail apps here and stay on top of communication. I’ll also mention here that I’ve started setting my phone up on a stand as well. I like to have it ready-to-go in portrait mode in case I need to do a quick live test of something in iOS. It’s also pretty neat to be able to just have my phone in my field-of-vision without having to crane my neck drastically in any direction. To hold up the phone this way I’m using a JOBY suction stand.
My keyboard / mouse setup is pretty simple as well, with maybe one or two teensy exceptions. As you can see I’m just using Apple’s wireless keyboard. I’m a big fan of Bluetooth connections and this one is by far the one I’m most comfortable with. I know a lot of folks (especially fellow gamers) really prefer a chunkier, mechanical keyboard but I’m okay with the basic scissor latch design and the form factor is tidy and small. For my mouse I had to ditch the Apple option though. I’ve never really liked the one-button design they’ve used over the years, it just causes too much grief when I’m trying to be precise. And don’t get me started about how it works as a gaming mouse. In either case, I’ve always used a third-party mouse. My most recent version has been the Razer Mamba wireless mouse. All told, I like it but I’ve got a couple gripes: the scroll wheel doesn’t include side-to-side scrolling and the battery life isn’t super great. Beyond these things it’s a very precise, fast, stylish mouse.
Now here’s where things get a little weird. On the right of my keyboard is a gaming device called the Belkin n52te. This guy is basically a dinosaur now but I just can’t bring myself to throw it away. It allows me map any key to any of it’s 20+ keys so I can customize it to work with any software. It’s basically a fast way for my left-hand to jump through shortcuts and macros. While it’s main purpose is for gaming, I’ve found it very helpful for things like Illustrator and Photoshop where I can map different tools to different keys – I barely every have to lift my hands. There are definitely newer ones with more features out there, but this one so far has been able to do everything I’ve asked of it. I will say I may not have much of a choice here soon though as Mac support for this device ceased circa OS X 10.7. I’ve had to get into my Bootcamp partition to make any changes to the keycaps I’ve created for it.
Razor actually bought out the rights to create the spiritual successors to this device – you can find those here: Orbweaver.
Finally let’s close with some extra tools I just enjoy using. In the photo you’ll see a set of headphones slung over the monitors. These are a pair of Astro A38 Bluetooth headphones. Not only are these wireless but because they use Bluetooth I don’t need some unsightly receiver taking up a precious USB port. More awesomely the A38’s include noise cancellation and a built-in microphone.
Not exactly on my desk but easily viewable from it is yet another monitor (a 32″ HDTV) with my Apple TV 3rd generation connected. Of course, I use this to binge watch NetflixHuluHBOYouTube, but it also gives me an opportunity to share what’s on my screen with clients. Using Airplay and the Apple TV I can screen share and have clients easily view what’s going on without having to crowd behind my desk or turn my screen back and forth.
The newest addition to the workstation is a Behringer Xenix 302 USB audio interface. I got this to help mix audio from several lavaliere microphones specifically for the Cat Bear podcast. It’s a pretty slick five-channel mixer that includes phantom power in case we need to hook up beefier mics. What I like most about having it though is it’s super small and portable in case we need to do something off-site. It comes with an adapter to plug into a standard wall outlet but most laptops can power it via USB as well.
No desk with be complete with out some actual writing implements. I’ll usually have a stack of plain white paper that I use to quickly sketch out concepts or diagram ideas. I always keep a good pencil nearby at all times. I really appreciate using a mechanical drafting pencil. They are very precise and sturdy. My current one is from Staedtler Mars Technico leadholder with 2.0 mm lead.
So that my friends is how I’ve optimized my designer’s cockpit. It’s a very functional with an emphasis on screen real estate. I hope you found something useful here that helps you in your our creative projects.
Love it? Hate It? Think I’m missing something vital for a designer leave your thoughts below.