The Setup


What do people use to get stuff done?

Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Sara Wachter-Boettcher

Content strategy and UX consultant

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a consultant running a content strategy and UX company in Philadelphia. I also lead a lot of in-house content workshops, speak at conferences, and write books - Content Everywhere and Design for Real Life (with Eric Meyer).

What hardware do you use?

Until recently, I was using a 2013 MacBook Air, but I was spending all my time waiting on the spinning wheel of death. So now I'm using my husband's more powerful 13-inch MacBook Pro from a couple years ago while I decide whether to get another Air or move to a Pro. I travel a lot for work, so I'm trying to find the balance between performance and weight.

The Logitech R400 presentation clicker is always in my bag, along with a couple random dongles, some sticky notes, and some sharpies. Never know when you'll have to run a workshop!

When I'm at home, I plug into a second monitor - it's big, basic, and from Costco. I probably bought it the same day I bought a five-pound bag of raw almonds and a 500-count bottle of ibuprofen. Much more exciting than the monitor, in my opinion, is my desk. Hardwood is hardware, right? Last year, my husband and I bought a Philly rowhouse with gorgeous third-floor office space, and I got what I call my “life desk”: it's this stunning American Modern piece made by Copeland Furniture in Vermont. It's solid walnut and it's set up for me to look out onto our roof deck while I work. I feel extremely lucky to work in this space.

And what software?

I spend a lot of time in Keynote for presentations, and Pages for client-facing documents that need a hint of polish without too much effort. Since I don't do high-fidelity design work, I usually stick to super basic programs like Omnigraffle for things like visual content models, sitemaps, and user flows. I also use a fair number of spreadsheets for auditing or modeling content. I'll happily use Google Sheets, Excel, or Numbers, though - it all depends whom I'm collaborating with. If a big corporation all uses Microsoft Office, well, that's fine! I don't get hung up on it.

My preferred writing software is Byword, which handles Markdown really nicely. It's great for publishing anything that has to make it to the web. For book-writing, though, I'll admit that I usually end up back in Microsoft Word, because it can handle things like merging feedback from a bunch of reviewers - and because it's a preference for many publishers.

I love Evernote for keeping client meeting notes (I make a folder per client), book interview notes, random ideas, grocery lists, packing lists, and basically anything else.

Like everyone in tech, I'm also entirely Slack-dependent: I use it for work projects, as well as professional-ish groups (like the Content + UX Slack) and, um, not at all professional groups (like Pizza Club, which is exactly what it sounds like).

This isn't precisely software, but I moved to T-Mobile a while back, which means I get free data and cheap calling globally. It's a bit slower internationally, but it's really helpful to get off a plane in London or Munich and not have to worry about roaming charges or SIM cards. (Unless I'm on vacation - then I kinda wish my phone was still a brick.)

What would be your dream setup?

You know, I don't hang out thinking about my setup much, to be honest. The first year after I quit my last job, I worked at our tiny dinette on a laptop with no external monitor. Years two through four, I worked at the least-comfortable IKEA desk in the world, paired with the least-comfortable IKEA chair in the world. I still had no external monitor.

Even now, I'll work sitting up in bed with a lap desk from Target, or at the kitchen counter. I love working in a field where my setup can be minimal, and I can still get to work.

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