Uses This

Interview

What do people use to get the job done?

Sara Hendren

Sara Hendren

Artist, design researcher, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm an artist, design researcher, and writer, and I teach design and disability studies for engineering students at Olin College. For the last few years I've been running a lab at Olin called the Adaptation and Ability Group. I also co-founded the Accessible Icon Project, designed ramps for skateboarders and wheelchair users in an ongoing project called Slope : Intercept, collected an archive called Engineering at Home, and I write and give talks. My job is actually changing as I compose this post: I'm taking a leave from teaching and will be running a 3-year initiative at Olin, funded by the Mellon Foundation, designed to bring more arts experiences to engineering faculty and students.

I'm also writing my first book and yes, that's a whimper of panic you're hearing in the middle distance. I'm feeling ridiculously lucky to be getting support for the writing as a fellow at New America and from a Public Scholar grant with the National Endowment for the Humanities.

I live with my husband and three children in Boston. I still like Twitter.

What hardware do you use?

In Jack Miles's parlance, I'm much more a hunter than a farmer, so the most important work I do is a slow-thinking and non-linear process. For hardware, like a lot of design folks, I live and die by notebooks and pens to capture immediately when I'm making connections. I'm literally never without this combination because I find my inner two-way tape is always running, especially in the grip of a big unwieldy project: formulating and synthesizing and outputting ideas at unexpected times and places.

I've been converted to the Bullet Journal for analog organizing and reminder lists, because even after using beautiful apps like TeuxDeux and OmniFocus, I've found I still remember things better when I physically write them down. I use a daily Pilot fountain pen the most, and other varieties for drawing and writing in a mix of Leuchturm and Moleskine and Rhodia notebooks, all sizes. Don't tell my students, but I can be bribed with any form of bound paper that I haven't yet met, usually over at Bob Slate Stationer in Harvard Square.

But the most important hardware for me is what carries the pen-notebook combination on walks, which is when I do my best thinking. When I sold my book, I bought myself this Kaweco Lilliput fountain pen and I use it with an XS Volant Journal, and those go together in either this Tube thing or a lightweight vest or a warmer version of the same in winter when I'm down by the Charles River. In short, I'm obsessed with pockets! Pockets, ideally on everything. The Kaweco and the tiny Volant otherwise live in this phone-case-wallet which isn't perfect but working for now. I also use a 13-inch MacBook Air and an iPhone 6S Plus.

Lastly: my husband and I figured out that having all five family members use the exact same Lunch Bots containers makes our mornings much easier. And I realized about a year ago that all three of my kids can now wear the same ankle socks that I do. Small streamlining victories! A few years back I would have listed my encyclopedic knowledge of little-kid hardware: cloth diapers, baby carriers, and strollers-for-cities. If you're in that stage, well -- high five, comrade. It gets easier.

And what software?

Being good at my job -- and a wiser person -- depends so much on my being intellectually omnivorous, and a pre-filtered, echo-chamber internet is my enemy. My long-ago professor and forever-mentor Alan Jacobs got me onto a system for collecting what I don't want to miss and discovering things I didn't know I needed: Newsblur for RSS and the glorious Reeder for consuming that content. I have collections for news and commentary and design, but I also have one called "Daily Thinkers" -- people who point me to things I'd never otherwise find on my own -- and a gathering of weird little ongoing blogs and Tumblrs that I categorize as "Serendipity/Confluence." I use Pinboard to organize longer reads, and I'm in and out of Instapaper as a backlog. I also like the low-key social functions of reading.am.

I'm using Scrivener for writing my book and Zotero for organizing research sources.

Bonus question that I'm gonna add here: What systems also support your getting things done?

Glad you asked! The Writers' Room of Boston is giving me a fanatically quiet, affordable place to co-work this year. But more profound than that: my kids attend a Title I public school, where there are structures in place that anticipate and plan for full-time working parents. We have high-quality after-school programs and summer camps run through the city, extra specialists in the building, small classroom numbers, and full-day inclusion services for our child who has significant support needs. Our public library system elected to eliminate late fees for children's books(!), so that keeps us swimming in great reading material at home. There's no quantifiable metric I could place on these systems for making our life work.

What would be your dream setup?

I've been eyeing this Punkt dumb phone for years, but what I want is this phone with a mapping function. And then I'd want all that to live in a wallet that had a perfect pen-holder down the inner fold. I'd keep my iPhone for all the scanning and photos and other conveniences, but I'd use the dumb phone more often and consolidate my internet browsing in my laptop or desktop. In the meantime, my car commute is getting whittled down to 1-2 days per week, so I'll be using Stitcher less often. But what I really want is to see services like Audm or SpokenLayer go fully mainstream, so I can easily line up written content online to consume as audio instead.