The workspace

February 26 2020

Over the past year, I have completely replaced my desk. At some point last summer, I realized that my entire office was designed based on assumptions I made ten years ago about the way I work — when I was still a university student.

This is what my workspace looked like in 2014:

An image of a desk with a large monitor on it.

After my wife and I got married a year later, everything about the setup changed. This is what the desk looked like by 2018:

Image of a large white desk with a computer on it

Apart from the desk itself (and its enormous size), the core philosophy of this setup hadn’t changed much. I plugged a laptop into the nicest monitor I could afford, on a second-hand desk gifted to me by my parents or my wife.

This was a workspace I designed when I was in university. Back then, I had to go to classes, or visit clients, every day of the week. Portability was of the utmost concern. The workspace itself was an afterthought.

This is my workspace today:

Image of a desk with an iMac on it.

Obviously, a few things have changed.

The desk

The centrepiece of every workspace is the desk. I’ve wanted a sit/stand desk for nearly five years now (I even mentioned it when I shared my setup with The Sweet Setup in 2018). After years of research, I settled on a Husky sit/stand worktable from Home Depot1. It’s supposed to be a carpentry workbench, but it’s exactly what I wanted for my work.

This desk can hold up to 300 pounds. It’s remarkably stable at max height, and its maximum height is a good standing height for me. The manual crank is smooth and solid, and after several months, shows no signs of giving out. We added a half-decent cable management system to the desk, so you don’t have to see all the different pieces of the setup. Finally, I added a custom keyboard tray with parts from Amazon and this IKEA shelf2. What more could you ask for?

You could ask for casters. Putting wheels on a desk probably sounds ridiculous, but I’ve quickly come to depend on this. A couple times every month, I end up doing small product shoots in my apartment. It’s very useful to roll the desk out of the way and make more space in my office3.

I was particularly inspired by Jeff Sheldon’s post about his desktop stand, so I built something similar. It’s a lovely accent piece, and it stands 2” above the desk, which is just high enough to stow some notebooks, archive and backup drives, and my iPad Pro.

A desk stand with an iPad below it

As a creative professional, your workspace should be no different from a master carpenter’s workshop. It should put everything you need within arm’s reach. It should be easy to use, but specifically customized to your liking. It should be as big as it needs to be, but not too big, lest it gets unwieldy.

But mostly, a creative workspace should be reliable. No matter what situation the creative professional finds herself in, she should be able to rely on her workspace to get her through it.

That’s what this desk has become for me. It’s a place of solace — a place where, no matter how hard the work gets, I can be comfortable and productive. The desk lets me work how and where I want to work, and when it’s time to get down to business, it gets out of my way.

A picture of the whole office setup.

The computer

The same is true of the computer. Some time in the last year, I realized I had the wrong computer setup for me. I was tired of hearing my laptop fans spin up anytime I compiled any intensive code, opened Lightroom, or started adding a lot of layers in Photoshop.

After experimenting with the 16” MacBook Pro, I finally gave in. I returned the laptop and ordered a base spec iMac Pro with 2tb of storage.

I love this machine. It’s whisper quiet (I have no idea what the fans sound like), it never fails, and the keyboard always works. (In fact, as time goes on, the keyboard is getting more broken in, and becoming even nicer to type on.)

There’s not much to say about the iMac Pro that hasn’t already been said by smarter and more cogent people. It’s the best Mac for people who need power, but don’t require the amount of power the Mac Pro provides. That’s certainly been true in my usage.

To put it simply, the computer is a lot like the desk: it’s reliable, powerful, and does everything I need it to do.

The best kind of technology is the kind you don’t really think about — the sort of technology that just works. More or less, that’s been the iMac Pro for me.

I like tools that are unobtrusive. I like tools that get out of the way and let me work without restrictions on my creativity. If you put me at this desk with a cup of coffee, I’m a pretty happy guy.

  1. Credit where credit is due: Tyler Stalman and Jonathan Morrison came up with it first.
  2. I’m not totally sold on the keyboard tray. If I position the keyboard tray at the right height, the iMac is too high. If I remove my iMac stand from the desk to compensate, the iMac isn’t high enough when I’m standing. Like everything in life, the keyboard tray is a compromise. I’m not sure it’s the right one for me.
  3. Also, my office doesn’t have any windows. On nice days, I like to roll the desk to the living room and enjoy some sunlight.
Tools