The Setup

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Dave Shea

Photo by Tom Coates.

Dave Shea

Designer, illustrator

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm Dave, I put food on the table as a freelance web and UI designer in Vancouver.

It's getting increasingly harder to pin down the the 'what do you do' question, but here's a quick attempt. I build things that scratch a creative itch. In 2003, I wanted the world to move to CSS based design, so I built the CSS Zen Garden. In 2007 and 2008 I wanted a web design conference in Vancouver so I helped put on Web Directions North. In 2007 I wanted to dip my toes back into illustration so I built a rather large icon family. In 2009 I wanted a 3D GPS mapping tool so I built Elevation.

What hardware do you use?

Over the past couple of years I've spent time bouncing around between shared co-working spaces, coffee shops, my home office, and various far-flung locales as I've travelled. I've gotten used to the tradeoffs that come along with portability: smaller screen sizes, trackpads, less memory and processing power. Around 2008 my setup had shrunk to a single MacBook Pro.

During a stint on crutches in April/May last year I managed to justify paying the MacBook Air premium for lighter weight and a smaller profile. It immediately became my portable machine and I chained the MBP to my desk. But instead of adding an external display, I recently decided the Apple cinema display price point makes the new iMac a better investment. So the MBP went to my wife and I'm back to two main systems that I work from.

My portable computer is a 1.6Ghz MacBook Air with 2GB RAM and a 120GB hard drive. I bought it a month prior to the 2009 refresh, when the premium for solid state drives was an unreasonable $700. I don't find the slower processor speed that limiting, but the bottleneck created by low RAM and a slow hard drive causes frequent slowdowns resulting in an overwhelming urge to fling it through the nearest window. Don't get me wrong; I absolutely love the form factor and have been spoiled against ever buying a larger portable in the future. I'm just waiting for Moore's Law to make this into a real computer.

My desktop computer is a brand new 27" i5 quad core iMac with 4GB RAM and a 1TB hard drive. Though plenty responsive, it's not as blindingly fast as I would have expected. But the screen. Oh my word, the screen. I have just shy of 4 megapixels of real estate on a brilliantly saturated high-contrast display that I just can't stop looking at. Viewing my DSLR photos on this screen feels like seeing them for the first time.

For input I still use just a mouse and keyboard, or a trackpad, or whatever's close at hand. I had a Wacom tablet once upon a time, but never quite felt like it made my life better. Hell, I've created entire icon sets in Illustrator using just a trackpad, I'm not fussy. To a point. Apple's mice have been utter garbage until the Magic Mouse, and honestly, it's only adequate at best. I still prefer mice with realistic ergonomics, clicky buttons and mechanical scrollwheels.

Backup-wise, I have a pair of mirrored LaCie 1TB backup drives that store everything I've ever done. They're stacked on top of a couple of older, lower capacity LaCie drives that will eventually become my photo backups when I run out of room. If that ever happens.

I still shoot with a 5 year old Canon 20D digital SLR which I'm not planning on upgrading until it falls apart. I did my research when I bought it, and decided it was all the camera I needed. Still is. I paired it with an average-quality 28-135mm lens as my main walkaround lens; that will eventually be replaced. I also have Canon's 10-22mm EF-S wide angle and 50mm f/1.8 prime lenses, both of which I love to death.

My phone is an unlocked 32GB iPhone 3GS, which replaced my first gen aluminum model. I'm not on the yearly upgrade train since I prefer to buy my phones contract-free, but the iPhone 4 will be replacing this one sometime soon.

And what software?

You know, I could come close to surviving on Apple, Adobe and Panic alone.

I'm currently on CS4 Design Premium edition, and will likely skip CS5. I always have Photoshop open, always. I use Illustrator frequently, and InDesign holds a permanent place in my dock. Otherwise the rest of the suite is useless clutter to me.

I code in Coda and transmit in Transmit. I have TextMate as well, but haven't managed to spend enough time with it to feel comfortable.

My primary browser is still Safari, largely because there's no 1Password plugin for Chrome yet. 1Password may be one of the most important pieces of software I've ever run. I store everything important in there; passwords, bank accounts, credit card info, software serial numbers, everything. It's my entire life, secure and easily accessible.

Rounding out the dock: iCal, multiple browsers and Parallels for testing, iTunes, Keynote, and Terminal, which I find myself using more and more over time. Lately I've been spending my free time dabbling with Processing, so it's in there as well.

If you're counting web apps, I'm a heavy GMail and DropBox user, light BaseCamp user. I had a MobileMe subscription, but I let it run out last month. Real time calendar and contact synching were the only parts I cared about, and while they were invaluable that alone wasn't worth the $109CDN/year.

On my iPhone, I have screens and screens of apps I never use. The home screen is the only one that counts, and it's the usual suspects: iPod, Calendar, Photos, Camera, Mail, Twitter, Maps, Calculator, Contacts, Notes, Phone, Messages, Safari, and Settings. The only even slightly-remarkable apps are the non-standard ones: WeatherEye (to replace the terrible Apple weather widget), 1Password (to make sure I can login to my accounts), Air Sharing (to store documents while travelling that I'd rather not incur roaming airtime charges to look up on Dropbox), and RunKeeper (which I use for GPS tracking my bike routes).

What would be your dream setup?

There are very few changes I might make. I'd obviously prefer more RAM and a solid state drive on my MacBook Air. Perhaps I'll some day invest in a better walkaround lens for my camera. I'm currently trying to decide whether I need an Android phone or an iPad to tinker with and test my work, though I can't say I actually need either. I suspect the iPad may win out eventually.

But that would just be gravy. I'm quite happy with what I have.

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