Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Mike Essl
Photo by Awol Erizku.

Mike Essl

Graphic designer, educator, Mr. T memorabilia collector

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Mike Essl. I am a graphic designer, educator, and Mr. T memorabilia collector. My main gig is working in New York for the School of Art at The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, as a full-time, tenured, Associate Professor in Graphic Design. I also have a freelance graphic design practice and for the past 10 years I've designed books for Abrams ComicArts, Chronicle Books, Rizzoli, and Titan Books. Most recently I designed the Fables Encyclopedia for DC Comics. Right now I'm on sabbatical from Cooper Union and working as a designer at Mule Design in San Francisco.

When I'm not trying to earn a living, I'm usually working on one of my side projects. I run Mr. T and Me with my friend Greg Rivera. I cohost Issues, a comic book podcast, with Ed Casey. I also collaborate with Robb Irrgang under the name Nerduo. Sometimes we make cool t-shirts like The Battle.

What hardware do you use?

At home I rock an iMac 27-inch, Mid 2011 with 8GB of RAM and a 250GB SSD. Connected to that is an Apple Cinema Display 23-inch in the portrait orientation and about 10TBs of external Firewire 800 drives. The iMac and the Cinema Display sit on Humanscale monitor arms that are connected to an original GeekDesk. I use an Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad because Adobe InDesign stylesheet key commands ARE THE DEVIL and require a real number pad. I use an Apple Magic Mouse and a large Wacom tablet for illustration work. (This is the set up circa 2011, but it hasn't changed much since then.)

On the road I use a MacBook Air (11-inch, Mid 2012). I adore this tiny thing after downgrading from a 15-inch Powerbook. I also use a 64GB iPhone 5S and an iPad Mini 2.

And what software?

When I'm designing books I live in InDesign. My portrait 23-inch comes in handy for tracking a manuscript in Microsoft Word while I make edits in InDesign. There is also just enough room to keep most of the InDesign palettes open with a VLC window playing my favorite TV show Supernatural. Screenshot here.

Adobe Bridge is useful for sorting and previewing a pile of images. (Though I might be the only designer I know that uses Bridge.) Usually I figure out the flow of a book in Bridge before I jump into InDesign. I also use Name Mangler to help rename the image files that come from publishers.

I use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator all day long. I use Photoshop to fix up images in the books but also use it to design web sites. I use Illustrator for freelance illustration projects, logo and icon design gigs, and custom typography. The best days are Illustrator days. Occasionally I'll jump into Adobe After Effects to make videos for web projects.

Font management is handled by FontExplorer X Pro. I like to use sets for each job and for each typographic style. Everyone is telling me to use the Finder for this, but that seems like too much work.

If we record Issues at home I use a RĂ˜DE Podcaster with Skype and an app called Call Recorder. If we record in the studio we use Apple's GarageBand. Show notes are written in BBEdit. I use an AppleScript to open a new browser tab (Safari, kind of hate Chrome.) and search Google for each item in the notes. Then I use another script to get the URL and title from each page and format it in Markdown. (The scripts are cut and paste jobs though, I'm terrible at Applescript.) I preview the output of the script in Marked. On the iPad, Chunky is my comic reader of choice, but I also use comiXology and Marvel Unlimited. On my Mac, I use ComicBookLover.

My web design set up is old school and in desperate need of modernization. I'm still using MAMP Pro and BBEdit to write and test all my code. Right now I'm looking at CodeKit and finally learning Sass. I upload everything using Transmit.

For watching TV, I either watch files locally using VLC or I use Plex to watch shows off my server. Occasionally I need to convert videos and for that I use Permute or HandBrake if things get serious.

Dropbox keeps both machines in sync. I also backup my family photos to Dropbox and use it daily for its newish screenshot sharing feature.

At the system level I run Little Snitch to monitor my network traffic and I use RCDefaultApp to assign URLs to specific applications, like ftp:// or vnc://. I use Fantastical to manage my calendar. Soulver is great for quick back-of-the-envelope style math and I use the iPhone version of Soulver to keep track of my freelance hours.

What would be your dream setup?

To be honest this is my dream set up. I would love a newer iMac with a larger retina screen. And something like this for Photoshop would be great. It would also be nice if this dream set up wasn't as hot as my current iMac. I've been sweating the entire time I've been typing this.