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A picture of Christopher Clark

Christopher Clark

UI designer (Square)

in designer, mac, usability

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Chris Clark, though literally everybody calls me Clarko because we hit peak Christopher when I was a kid. Disambiguation is key.

Originally from Perth, Western Australia, I work as a designer for Square in San Francisco, which probably outs me as a Photoshop Stockholm Syndrome sufferer and interminable nitpicker. I'm also a partner at Black Pixel.

What hardware do you use?

A huge part of my job - sketching and wire-framing software interfaces - I do with pen and paper. I never got the hang of carrying a notepad or Moleskine, and to be honest I prefer pages I can spread around the table and make a mess of, so I use regular ol' printer paper and a clipboard to keeps things tidy between doodle sessions. (Fun fact: it's actually the VoodooPad clipboard, borrowed from my housemate Brad Ellis, who worked on the icon many years ago).

The other part of my job involves a Mac Pro that's maxed out in practically every way it can be. Given the size of the Photoshop documents we sling around, the multi-gigabyte Keynote files, and the 4K video, all those excess cores and RAM turn out to be pretty helpful. When I need quiet (which is all the time, because I'm obscenely easy to distract) I wear Bose QuietComfort 15s.

At home I use a fridge-mounted iPad to watch music videos while I cook breakfast, and an iPhone for almost everything else. It turns out my actual day-to-day computing needs outside work are very modest, but I keep a Mac mini in my closet for printing, for capturing the hundreds of hours of camcorder footage I found in my parents' shed, and generally acting as a shoebox for digital photos, video, and ripped CDs. I'm sure I could keep all this crap in the cloud, but I'm still old fashioned enough to believe I need a local copy. And a backup on a Time Capsule. And an offsite backup on an encrypted external drive at the office.

Back when I was working from home full time I bought a GeekDesk because I couldn't sit comfortably for more than a few hours at a time. My bones are made out of cheese curds maybe. In any case the little Staples chair I owned made me ornery, and the standing desk made me happy. Of course there's also evidence that sitting all day is really bad for you, and chairs are near the top of the list of things that are hard to appraise in-store and even harder to return once you've rubbed your butt all over them (third on the list behind beds and underpants) so standing was great.

But now at Square I sit on a black Steelcase Think. The office has plenty of standing-height tables, but I actually like this chair. My Fitbit and Aria scale keep me from being too sedentary by giving me a daily activity goal and a leaderboard to compete with friends. I'm amazed how well it works; motivation comes from weird places.

I also carry a teeny USB drive (encrypted, natch) and a Utili-Key cutting/screwing/bottle-opening tool at all times. I use neither on a daily basis, but they're so useful in a pinch that I can't sacrifice either from my keychain. I'm astounded nobody in airport security notices the Utili-Key even though I'm one of those Opt-Out people, and a foreigner, so I get an extra pat-down every time I travel.

And what software?

Photoshop, OmniGraffle, and Keynote are almost industry standard for software design at this point, at least on Apple platforms. So although I spend an inordinate amount of time in each, and love and hate each of them separately in their special ways, there's not much I can say about them that hasn't been said.

I'm a recent convert to Flint for a lot of my semi-real-time communication. Various teams at Square have used Campfire for group chat for a while, and while Propane is the desktop client of choice among the Engineers, I like Flint's narrow-window approach. It feels more like group SMS and less like IRC.

Then there's Things. I only recently started using to-do lists for literally everything, even though I've used them in some form for years. Cloud sync helps. It's so valuable to write something down as soon as you think of it (water the plants, order Cards Against Humanity for your brother's birthday, watch that Kim Kardashian/Ray J thing everyone always talks about...) and then you either do it willingly or ignore it willfully. Either way you don't forget it.

I've also been beta testing a wonderful app named Napkin from my friends Chris Parrish and Guy English. I think I've heard them bill it as a "visual communication tool", and that's apt. I think different people will find different uses for it, but for me it's been wonderful for adding production notes to mockups, redlining screenshots before attaching them to a bug report, and all that stuff designers have to do to work effectively with software engineers so that our nitpicking is clearly communicated. Napkin is one of those apps you can use productively right out of the box, but rewards continued use with a lot of nice shortcuts to common functions.

It's kinda great that out of this golden age of consumer apps is born a host of tools for the people whose job is to build those apps.

What would be your dream setup?

I think it's pretty much there already. Computers and phones and tablets and internet connections are just ridiculously good. Of course they'll still get better, but I don't notice their shortcomings now as much as I did when I was running a 75 MHz CPU and a 28.8 Kbps modem. Weirdly what I wish would improve is input.

I'm really horrible with typing. I taught myself how to touch-type out of necessity while hanging out in IRC channels as a kid. My typing style is far from ideal: I over-reach with my left hand to keys that would be easily reached with the right, I hold modifier keys with the wrong fingers... it's messy. So when I tried ergonomic split keyboards many years ago I gave up because they straight-up broke my ability to type: when I over-reached with my left hand I hit nothing but air.

I like the idea of ergonomic keyboards, but I'm happy to prioritize familiarity and proficiency over comfort. I'd love a split keyboard with redundant keys that work as training wheels. It'd also be nice if it didn't look like a tank, didn't cost hundreds of dollars, and was hand-delivered by a gang of underwear models. And a pony. And a SeƱor Sisig California burrito.

I'm also big fan of the Magic Trackpad. Tap to click and three finger drag mean you don't have to physically push the trackpad, which is kind of tedious (first world problems), but I always end up using a mouse because trackpads aren't that precise. When you're making marquee selections in Photoshop it's really annoying to overshoot by a pixel, then undershoot by a pixel, only to give up and zoom way in so the pixels are bigger hit targets. I could fantasize about higher-resolution sensors in the trackpad, or having the hands of a surgeon, but at some point I'd be trying to slide my finger over a fraction of a fraction a millimeter of glass. That seems silly.

I'd love it if the OS had a spring-loaded mode where your finger movements counted for a quarter of the actual mouse movement. Kind of like how the iOS video player gives you variable-speed scrubbing. If I could hold down the Function and Option keys to slow-mo my mouse, I think that'd be pretty neat.