The Setup

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

Rob Giampietro

Rob Giampietro

Designer (Project Projects), writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a principal at Project Projects, a design studio in New York. I teach at RISD, and I write about design and other things that race through my brain at Lined & Unlined and volley ideas at The Mavenist with Frank Chimero. Otherwise, I try to keep busy and out of trouble. I routinely have too many emails and not enough slices of pizza.

What hardware do you use?

I've always used a single notebook at a time (currently: Moleskine Cahier Large Ruled Notebook Kraft Brown). Ideas get kind of messed up in there together so they can cross-pollinate. Usually I inscribe the start and end dates inside the front cover. In the same way, I like having a single computer at a time (currently: 13" MacBook Air). Everyone says this, but it's the best laptop I've ever owned. I particularly love the SD slot, and bring a Lexar Pro 128GB SD Card with me everywhere I go. It's kind of a digital junk drawer with presentations I've given, movies to watch, image archives to share with students, etc. I have a bunch of G-Drive Minis and use them for a variety of on-site and offsite backups. Because the Air's HD is small, it's easy to backup and sync to the cloud with Dropbox. Fantastic and lightweight in every way.

We have an iPad at the studio for testing things, and it's undeniably impressive, but it hasn't quite worked its way into my daily life yet. I just bring the Air with me on the road. I have a Kindle Touch, but I prefer to read the Kindle app on my iPhone 4S, where a lot of reading does get done (see also: Instapaper). I don't use Siri so much, but the 4S's camera is stunning and fast, a huge improvement over my aged 3GS. I take all kinds of visual notes that way. When I go on a trip or celebrate a special occasion and want to play photographer, I followed my friend Craig Mod's advice and picked up a Lumix GF-1. Music on the road happens on Bose MIE2is; in the office, it happens on a pair of QuietComfort 15s. Open plan offices require noise-cancelling headphones, IMHO.

I use 3-4 Bigso Stockholm Letter Boxes (Graphite) each year for the beautiful papers I want to keep, and I use a Fujitsu Scan Snap S1500M for the ones I want to shred. I cut cable and got an Apple TV, which I love. Other hardware includes a paper copy of The New York Times, which arrives at my doorstep, and a Uniform Wares 150 Series Rose Gold Wristwatch, which came as a gift. The paper allows me to unwind offline on the weekends, while the watch allows me to check the time discreetly during meetings and attempt to look like a grown-up.

And what software?

Fluid runs a lot of the things in my dock, including Google Apps for work, Gmail for life, Google Calendar, Basecamp, and lesser-used things like Pandora and Tumblr. I also wish it played a little nicer with 1Password, which is otherwise also fantastic. Hopefully people are working on this.

I do my browsing in Chrome with a side of Safari, and I monitor feeds in Google Reader. A friend and I recently swapped feed subscriptions and pruned each others' reading lists. He shared the idea of downloading NetNewsWire for all my "Saturday" feeds, cooking and style blogs and the like -- I followed his advice and now enjoy my Saturday morning blog-a-palooza, it's like a bonus section of the weekend paper. We do something similar with "internet hour" on Monday nights with the Apple TV, watching Vimeo and YouTube clips that have piled up during the week. Time-shifting: it's the future.

I still use TextEdit, but I'm using IA Writer more and more as well. I usually write with two windows open. On the left are notes, free writing, research, fragments, and loose section outlines; on the right is the current polished draft. I pull things in and out, back and forth, and this setup has worked for me for years. Windows stay organized with Divvy. I almost always write in Markdown (thank you Mr. Gruber). I love that it's supported by Tumblr, where I share a lot of my writing when it's finished. I also use Brett Terpstra's Marked to convert Markdown documents and QL Markdown for finding the right file on my desktop.

Rdio has the best streaming music experience anywhere, and it helps keep my data footprint a little lighter. It's also encouraged me to start exploring a lot more classical music. Pro tip: I have a playlist called "Mobile Queue" that syncs albums to my phone by default and doesn't auto-remove them once they're played. More time-shifting. Rdio streams to my Airport Express using Airfoil.

Alfred and QuickCal pop up now and then in useful ways. Hazel shuttles endless PDFs around, renaming and filing them in the proper places. Automator helps a ton with batch processing as well, as does IFTTT on the web. Code happens in Coda, everything else happens mostly in InDesign. We even do wireframes and pixel-perfect web layouts in InDesign using points for pixels (72dpi = 72ppi) because the typographic controls, libraries, object styles, and multi-page configurations are so easy there. Fonts get managed with FontExplorerX and noodled with using Glyphs. Pinboard keeps my link library organized and Otlet's Shelf keeps my book library organized.

On the iPhone, it's much of the same, but I pass time on Svpply, tweet sporadically with Tweetbot, jockey email with Sparrow, listen to brainy chatter on Instacast (current household nickname: "Podcast"), and kill the occasional 15 minutes with the addictively simple UFO on Tape. Buy it now.

What would be your dream setup?

I already feel like I live in the future, so I'm not sure what more I could possibly want; in fact, the older I get, the more actively I want less rather than more, with the exception of time.

But I'm sure they'll think of something. Driverless cars sound pretty stellar to me, like a train with a bespoke destination. Let's hope they're sustainably-powered to boot. (Maybe laptops, mobile phones, and data centers too?)

More pragmatically, I don't have big dreams, but I do have a few wishes. Apple just granted one by allowing open tabs on one device to be seen by another. It may just make me switch back to Safari as my primary browser. Now if they could just return Preview's full-screen view to its simpler, single-page, pre-Lion state I'd be all set.

I wish photo management could be a lot simpler -- I'm unsatisfied with my local and cloud-based options, so my current method involves making folders by year and folders of photos with event titles nested within those. Photos come from many sources (iPhone, GF-1, friends) and it's nice to have them organized by event and then favorited, tagged, and captioned within that structure -- I currently use Spotlight comments and Automator for this. Not robust. If something better existed on the iPad as an app, I'd use it all the time. It'd be like a photo-organizing game that linked with Dropbox. This would rock for portfolio organization and presentation as well.

I wish it were easier to plot a bunch of place-based links on a map. For example, I'd love to take my "Austin" tag on Pinboard and plot it automatically in Google Maps. And then I'd like to get a phone alert to attractions on my list while I'm running around town, or output simple itineraries by neighborhood if I've got free time. But I bet at some point the internet will find a way to make this happen, because to me it seems like a no-brainer.

There seem to be more and more apps that take what you've already discovered and expose you to it again. Things that tell you what you were doing a year ago and all that. When something isn't useful it can easily become clutter, but these kinds of things reintroduce us to an earlier interest or passion. It would be nice to have more of this. You bookmark a recipe, and months later it arrives in your inbox as a suggestion for dinner. Sounds delightful -- as long as I still get to cook.

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