Tools of My Trade

The apps and other things I use most often

A photo of my desk - read on below to learn what's on it.

On my desk

At home, I’m using a Jarvis Standing Desk with a Bamboo top with a handmade monitor shelf. On top of that shelf is my 27" Retina 5K iMac (3.2 GHz Intel Core i5 with 16GB of RAM) with Bose Companion 3 Series II speakers and controller (the subwoofer sits on the floor beside my desk). The Sphero BB-8 droid sits to the right with my headphones (Bose AE2) on a Gather headphone stand to the left.

The rest of the Gather sits below to hold my pens, stamps, chapstick, and other stuff. Under the shelf, I have a bunch of external hard drives of varying sizes (for Time Machine, Plex, and additional manual backups) plugged into an Anker 10-port USB hub. I also have a Pioneer Slim External Blu Ray Drive that I use for opening and burning CDs, DVDs, and Blu Ray discs. I keep a Work/Play II notebook and a Panobook on hand for jotting down ideas and sketching concepts.

To the right on my desk is an Ikea HEKTAR Work Lamp. I’m using a wired Apple keyboard because I use the number pad a lot and haven’t gotten around to getting the newer extended wireless keyboard yet. My mouse is a Logitech MX Master on top of the Ugmonk Leather Mousepad XL.

Software

My main creative tools

The Sketch app icon - a yellow gemstone

Sketch is my go-to app for UI design as well as vector illustration. I also use this to create many of my UX artifacts like user journeys, personas, and flows. The UX Compendium was a direct descendant of the many artifacts I’ve created in Sketch and a tool I use regularly for my own work.

The Coda app icon - a green leaf

Coda has long been my favorite development tool of choice, though I’ve been thinking about trying Visual Studio Code for whatever my next personal development project will be.

The Ulysses app icon - a pen pointing upwards with butterfly wings to either side

Ulysses is my preferred app for both long-form writing and collecting notes. I currently use Byword for temporary writing and drafts, but I’m thinking about giving Drafts a try when I have some time to re-establish habits.

Other creative tools

The Affinity Photo app icon - purple and pink shutter

Affinity Photo is what I’m currently experimenting with as a Photoshop replacement since I cancelled my Adobe Creative Cloud account.

The xScope app icon - an X with a screen in its central axis showing crosshairs

xScope is like a handy Swiss Army knife for design, with tools for measuring, checking colors, looking at pixels up close, manipulating text, and even mirroring my screen to my iOS devices.

The ImageOptim app icon - a cross between a printer and a vice

ImageOptim is how I compress every single image I post on the web anywhere. It’s super fast and easy — just drag and drop the images onto it and it compresses them.

The GIPHY Capture app icon - a simple geometric rectangle with a corner folded over on top of another rectangle

GIPHY Capture is my preferred tool for recording simple screen interactions and animations, or just making funny gifs from videos. (I’m still trying to figure out what tool to replace Photoshop for editing gifs.)

Productivity tools

The Things app icon - an inbox full of paper with a big check mark on top

Things is where all my work to be done gets catalogued. I keep work tasks, ideas for blog posts, features for current projects, future product ideas, and household chores here.

The Alfred app icon - a bowler hat with a magnifying glass

Alfred opens my apps, finds my files, and runs quick calculations. It can do so much more, and one of these days I’m going to dive into the advanced features.

The 1Password app icon - a fancy-looking lock

1Password stores nearly all of my passwords and a bunch of other sensitive data. I’ve started using it as my two-factor authentication tool of choice as well.

The Dropbox app icon - an open cardboard box

Dropbox is where I keep files that I want to sync between different devices regularly for now. That may change to iCloud some day, but it’s Dropbox for now.

The Fantastical app icon - a calendar

Fantastical is a much better interface to my calendar than either the built-in Mac calendar OR Outlook. I also use this on my iPhone and iPad. Flexibits (the makers of Fantastical) also make a great app for managing and viewing contacts called Cardhop that’s quite lovely and nice, too.

The Rocket app icon - a rocket ship

Rocket is a better way to find and paste emoji than the built-in keyboard tool that has to be enabled from your system preferences. It works similarly to the emoji completion in Slack where you type a colon and the emoji name.

On the web

  • Craft CMS is my CMS of choice for several sites including this one and UXcellence. I love how well it works for various kinds of content and how easy it is to build templates for it. I’d love to build more sites using Craft.
  • Digital Ocean hosts all of my sites. I have a couple different droplets hosting a whole bunch of different sites for myself, my wife, and various side projects.
  • InVision is what I use to create and share interactive prototypes from static mockups.
  • Hover is my domain registrar of choice. They include privacy by default and have reasonable prices without a scammy checkout process.
  • Pinboard is where I keep bookmarks of resources, articles, and useful web tools, going back to 2004 (I imported them from Delicious at some point).
  • Basecamp is how I communicate with the rest of the editorial team at A List Apart.
  • Mailchimp is what I’m currently using to send out the UXcellence monthly newsletter. It’s fine for now, but I’m not in love with it.
  • Airtable is a relatively new addition to my web tools. I’m using it to prep content for each month’s newsletter and to keep track of what I’ve used before so I don’t have repeats.
  • IFTTT is what I’m using to automate tweets when my RSS feeds update. I’m also toying around with other things to do with it.

Hardware

  • At work, I use a 2015 15" MacBook Pro 2.2 GHz Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM. It’s nearly always plugged into a 27" Apple Thunderbolt Display that, while non-retina, is still a pretty great monitor.
  • At home, I use a 27" Retina 5K iMac 3.2 GHz Intel Core i5 with 16GB of RAM.
  • On the go and around the house, I use a 512MB 12.9" 2018 iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and the handy Smart Keyboard Folio. It’s like my personal laptop for writing, drawing, and reading.
  • Finally, I have a 256GB Space Grey iPhone Xs.