Tools & Resources I Use Every Day as a Designer – Part One: Hardware

Tools & Resources I Use Every Day as a Designer – Part One: Hardware

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Jacob Cass Office

I’m always fascinated to see where and how other people work and today I wanted to share my personal set up, focusing on the tools & resources I use every day as a designer. Part one is focused on the hardware and part two, is on the software & apps I can’t live without.

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Also see my top online design resources & deals!

Update October 2016: Although I wrote this in 2011, I’ve updated the list to reflect my latest tech.


The main weapon of choice for all my design & browsing is the Macbook Pro 13″ (3 GHz Intel Core i7, 16GB DDR Ram, 500 GB.)

I used to use a Macbook Air 11″ on the road but since 2015 have just kept to the MBP 13″.

When not traveling, I hook up my MBP to my Samsung UD970 31.5″ and place the MBP on a Pole Notebook Holder so I can make use of the two screens. Pretty handy as you can rotate and move the screen as needed. Color accuracy is huge on this monitor!

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My iPhone is rarely out of sight and is probably used the most out of all my hardware. My most used apps are all the main social apps. The iPhone is also used as my calendar, alarm clock, email center, site monitor, music player, etc. It’s a smart phone indeed.

I’ve had this mouse for a few years now and still love it. It was previously called Logitech MX Revolution but since undergoing a few refinements is now called MX Master Mouse. Why do I love it? It has a neat ‘infinite scroll’ feature and is extremely comfortable in my large hands. The Apple Magic Mouse gives me cramps.

Nothing too fancy but it does everything you need in an office; prints, scans and copies. This is quite old now so I would not recommend buying this model. See here for more top printers for graphic designers.

These headphones gets you in the zone by canceling out all outside noise, especially useful on airplanes.

An external hard drive that automatically backs up my files each night using Time Machine. It also stores the majority of my media files. The first thing I’d take in a house fire. I use Dropbox for cloud storage too.

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A neat graphics tablet for easy maneuvering in Photoshop.

  • Desk + Drawers + Chair + Lamp + Mousepad

The desk draws are the most handy, hiding away all the clutter (pens, notebooks, graphics tablet, the Mac Air, etc.) and the slim nature of the desk forces me to keep the top of the desk clean.

  • Name Plate

A gift given to me before leaving for NYC. Comes in handy when you forget your name 😉

Office Inspiration

I sit on a Herman Miller Aeron chair.

Software & Online Tools I Use as a Designer

See the software I use here.

What are some of your favourite designer hardware tools? Please feel free to share your set up too!

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41 thoughts on “Tools & Resources I Use Every Day as a Designer – Part One: Hardware”

  1. Great post Jacob,

    Always interesting to see what other creatives are using for their work and your setup looks great.

    As much as I’d love to have the entire ‘Mac family’ of products, they’re just too expensive for me at the moment so a PC setup will have to do for now.

    Must make a mental note “A clutter free desk keeps a clutter free mind!”

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I am a recent convert to the 2-monitor method and I’ll never go back! also, my Wacom tablet comes in handy from time to time. Not as much as I thought it would when I bought it, but it has its uses.

  3. I pretty much have everything, except the Air and iPhone. I much prefer having an iPad with me. Sure, I have a mobile, but the iPad is my weapon of choice when going light.

    I do have to say that your chair is too high? It should be a bit lower :p

    I have always thought that you ought to buy a chair that is more expensive than your hardware. The reason, your back. At 20 something you are young and everything but give it a few months/years and if you sit on a bad chair, your back will resent.

  4. Hey Jacob,

    That work space looks pretty cool. I agree, the chair is fantastic. I need an amazing desk. There aren’t innovative (and ergonomic) desk designs/ideas. That’s what I want.

  5. Jason,
    Clutter free works for me too… just the essentials. Obviously in that pic the Mac Air is just for display, usually it is in my draw.

    I have been using 2 for a while, it helps a lot for web design when you have wireframes or documents to follow.

    I prefer the air as it can run the CS on the road, otherwise the iPad would been a good option too.

    As for the height of the chair, it must be the photo because it’s at a perfect level, bar from it fitting under the desk.

  6. iMac, Samsung Laser printer. Wacom tablet. IKEA desk (Vika Amon/Vika Alex) and a white leather exec chair, and a view when I look up from my desk. It may well be my favourite place to work in the world, ever.

  7. At my workplace I use a 27″ iMac with a 24″ secondary screen.

    My boss bought these arm supports for the secondary monitors.

    They make the monitor float over the desk so it gives a lot of space under it to keep documents. It’s great when you need the extra space and have no drawers. And you can even rotate the monitor for a vertical screen (programmers love it).

    The only downside is that you need a table thick enougth to hold the weight when attaching it.

  8. Thanks so much for sharing your set-up! It is fascinating to see where people work. I can highly recommend the Herman Miller Aeron chair… I have had one for over 5 years, well worth the investment. I also had to switch over to a vertical joystick type mouse when having wrist/RSI problems several years ago… It literally eliminated the pain immediately and saved my career.

  9. Great Post Jacob.

    But let me know few things, What would you like to say about collection of hardware/tools and operating system, does they effect on designers design?

  10. before I start… you need http://www.kbcovers.com.

    Get a few cheap KeyBoards , stick different layouts on them.

    This is where I feel smug , for spending less and CREATING more…

    I use a self built Corei7 2600k.
    16GB ram
    be quiet psu + cpu-cooler
    2x 1TB Western Digital HDD.

    Fanless Radeon gpu card
    Two 32″ monitors.

    M-Audio sound card
    Sennheiser cans
    Yamaha ns-10’s
    Yamaha amp

    various usb/midi controllers for Faders / knobs /buttons ( you can control practically ANY software from them if you set it up right)

    Couple of keyboards with custom shortcuts.
    Until you have this.. you will never know what you are missing.
    Using midi controllers is 10x that. You need to try it.

  11. I think the set up is cool. I wouldn’t have thought of the Macbook Pro/Macbook Air combo. I currently use the original Macbook Pro 15 inch. I have two monitors, but my second on is a 16-17inch (maybe). I might look into getting one eventually, because I lug that 15 inch all over the place. Do you notice any difference when using the CS programs on the Macbook Air?

  12. DP,
    It may be for some but I travel a lot, and take what I need depending on the situation. Also, the 11″ Air isn’t great for web design as the screen is too small.

    Sounds quite similar minus the view (I get 9th Ave of NY).

    I looked into having one of those types but wasn’t suited to this particular space.

    Yeah, they have the Aeron here at work, probably what I will get in the short future. Have you tried a Wacom?

    Computers and OS’s are merely tools. You may like the article ‘Who needs skills? We have software!

    Those covers could come in useful I guess but they would take a lot of getting used too. Thanks for sharing your set up!

    They both serve different purposes but for bang I would go MBP. If you travel a lot, then the Air.

    Not at all, minus the smaller screen. This said, I don’t do a lot of heavy design work on the Air.

    I use all Macs but there shouldn’t be much of a problem nowadays.

  13. Looks like you have some decent set up for your home office.
    Looks like we have similar taste as I am looking to get Herman Miller Aeron chair as well. 🙂

  14. Very neat! similar to mine, except that I use PC 😛 Do you think that is a must to have a Mac if you work as designer? I mean, if there is a difference that you can comment about this brand (Apple Mac). You started using PC, a Dell? Sorry to many questions!


  15. Looks good, you have most of the essentials covered with your hardward choices. Can’t wait to see your software choices.

  16. I like your setup a lot, I myself am I Mac man as well. I use my Macbook pro for most if not all of my design work, with a two nice thunderbolt displays, and I recently got a macbook air just for tooling around on the internet.

  17. Nice tools. I made the switch from PC to Mac last December, and the only regret I have is not switching to Mac sooner!
    BTW, thanks for all the helpful design articles 🙂

    • Diana,
      I as a PC guy for about 10 years and about 2 years ago changed to Mac, they both are just tools and both work equally as fine for design, but in terms of aesthetics, I prefer Mac.

      @Fab Rice
      Yes of course, I actually use a Moleskine notebook and a dotgrid book for logo design. Pen is a .4 black felt tip most of the time.

  18. Since i don’t want to start a mac vs. pc flamewar, my opinion first: i prefer a pc, for me it works better (in terms of configurability/extensibility), but to do work macs work just as fine, so no “mac is shit” here, every system has it’s advantages and disadvantages =)

    My config (as ui-designer and web-developer):
    Self-built pc with:
    – 2600k
    – 16 gb ram
    – 80 gb ssdf (wich sometimes creates trouble, i guess the mlc technology for home-use is not as evolved like classic hdd’s, but it’s as fast as hell)
    – 1tb swap disk
    – 2x 24inch screens (the best investment i made for webdevelopment, its a dream having 2 equal screens, inside one opened the browser, in the other komodo edit)
    – antec case (nice hdd slots!)
    – Win7

  19. Jacob, Didn’t realize you’d switched to Mac. As a former PC power-user, I was amazed at the productivity gains I experienced just based on how it handles files across the whole OS (esp. dragging icon from title bar or right-clicking icon in title bar). Maybe in your software article you can mention if there are any features on Mac (or PC!) that significantly improve your ability to work efficiently? (PC example: renaming and moving files within a program’s save-as/open dialog box.)

    Nottingham, I work in a very mixed environment with loads of people’s files coming through on both platforms (in a print shop). The biggest compatibility issues I see are:
    1) ms-office, which is often just as bad going mac-to-mac or pc-to-pc—Adobe programs are very good at platform cross-compatibility these days,
    2) differences with how they communicate with printers,
    3) network sharing/discovery, and
    4) Fonts—once again usually pc-to-mac, but increasingly rare—it’s much more common for someone to forget to package their fonts than it is to actually have an incompatible font!

  20. Jonathan,
    To be honest I think the more time spent with either machine, the quicker you become. I was super fast on PC when I was using that and with the transition to the Mac became slow, but now with more practice, I am probably faster on the Mac. The tablet has also helped that when designing too.

    Thanks for responding to Nottingham too, you obviously have more experience with dealing with Mac / PC compatibilities.

  21. Hey Jacob, It’s really cool to see your work place. I like your 27″ cinema display as I’ve never seen such kind of monitor before. I would like to know why don’t you use windows? Any special reason?

  22. Jacob,

    Great setup!

    I was a PC person until 2006. I agree, computers are just tools.

    Any thoughts on SSD in your near future?

  23. Jacob,

    You inspire me and as a freelancer I appreciate the help/guidance you provide. I admire your work so keep doing what you’re doing and continue to take it to the next level.

    On December 13th I stumbled across this post and told my friend “I’ll get there. 2012 is my year!” So as it stands today, I would like to share my personal set up > http://me.lt/0D3Yn.

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