What's your workstation setup like?

I just got a new laptop (MBP 16"), replacing an older iMac (21").

In general, I really like it so far, but it's been quite a few years since I've worked on a laptop, especially for type design. So I'm curious...

What's your workstation setup like? Right now, I've just got the laptop sitting on my desk (don't even have a mouse synced up yet). No external monitor and no stand. It honestly doesn't feel the most ergonomic or comfortable as the view is lower and I'm looking down on it (not to mention going from a non-retina to retina screen sharpness seems to be a bit of a strain for my eyes to adjust).

Do you use an external monitor if your main computer is a laptop? Perhaps a laptop stand and synced keyboard/mouse? I'm sure I'll be hooking up a mouse soon as that was my tool of choice for type design before.

I know there have been threads talking about fragments of this before. Any recommendations on other tools/accessories to help?


  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,157
    At home, I use a desktop computer with a large, high resolution screen (iMac 5K). I have a laptop, but mostly use it when travelling. If I'm using the laptop at home, it is on an adjustable stand beside the main computer. I hate touchpads, so always have a trackball or mouse to use with the laptop, even when travelling. Speaking of ergonomics, I hugely prefer a trackball to a mouse: much less repetitive strain on the rotator cuff.
  • Depends how much time you are drawing. I'm mainly a developer and a little left handed in font drawing. But I got a Wacom tablet with approximately 10x12" working surface.

    For small changes of historic fonts working with mouse, FontForge or BirdFont is good enough, but for more work on fonts I would use the tablet and sooner or later purchase FontLab or Glyphs.app.

    I have a 15" MBP now 2 (or 3?) years old and use a 24" external screen. Because the lid of the MBP is always open ~120 degrees it's deformed, i. e. doesn't close any more completely, leaving a small gap of a few millimeters. Thus I would suggest to use a notebook stand from the early beginning. For me mostly typing it would be better to use an external keyboard with big keys (not the flat ones from Apple), and with a standard layout. The Apple layout is completely idiotic and inconvenient for programmers.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,087
    I keep my laptop closed while operating, most of the time. It drives external pieces. I keep it slightly elevated for better airflow, as I am slightly nervous about overheating from closed operation.
    - three 4K monitors, two 24" and one central 28"
    - external keyboard (Unicomp! Basically a tank in keyboard form. I should decide who to leave it to in my will.)
    - old Microsoft wheel mouse, worn smooth from years of use.

    The laptop is a Macbook, but none of the other pieces are Apple-made.
  • Adam JagoszAdam Jagosz Posts: 663
    (Off topic) By synching up a mouse, do you mean this? :)
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 213
    Re: mouse syncing... so far just meant I don't have any type of mouse connected to it yet (just using the touchpad as I get setup currently :)
  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,782
    5k iMac on a sitting/standing desk with a pair of very loud speakers. Kensington Expert Mouse trackball. My reading/writing desk is bigger and piled with books and magazines I'll never read. Both desks have glass tops, I refuse to touch particle board and plastic veneers.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,349
    edited March 2020
    iMac Pro (5k display), Apple extended wireless keyboard, standard Apple wireless mouse. Happily, I have no strain or discomfort issues with this mouse. I've tried using graphic tablets and Cintiq screens, but I haven't found them to be a good fit for me, at least for working in font editors. I do use them sometimes for Photoshop and similar apps.

    I have a standard-height desk with an Aeron chair. My watch reminds me to get up at least once an hour, which probably helps. Proper height relationship of the chair and desk can address some kinds of stress issues. At one time, years ago, I was getting some kind of RSI because my chair was either too low or too high (I don't remember which now).

    I find that a high-res (Retina) screen is fantastic for type design. I don't need to make nearly as many printouts as I used to to check things like kerning and spacing. A large high-res display is even better.

    I used to use multiple displays when I was working mainly in FontLab 5.x since it had a lot of windows to manage. I typically put one or more preview windows on a second display. A single display is all I seem to need for Glyphs because of its single-window UI.

    I also have a 13" MacBook Pro that I mostly use on-the-go and as a backup. I used to routinely get 15" models, but at some point I realized that portability was the main reason for having it, so I got the smaller one and am very happy with that decision. If it was my only machine, I might go with the larger model. I have a 4k display that I use with it at home, but for things other than type design. I could probably get by without it, but I'm glad I have it since, at the moment, my iMac Pro is in the shop.

    If I do any type design on the 13", I usually use a mouse rather than the trackpad. I like the trackpad for most other things, but it's not ideal for fiddling with Béziers.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,087
    I can do type design on the trackpad, but I way prefer a mouse for the long haul.
  • K PeaseK Pease Posts: 107
    edited March 2020
    I elevate my monitor on a shelf or box behind my laptop so that it is exactly above my open laptop screen. I do work on the bigger monitor and keep distractions such as web browsing on the laptop screen. This means I have better posture when I'm working.
    I use a wired USB mouse and keyboard, so whenever Windows messes up Bluetooth it can only affect my headphones.
    If you do any work at all involving color, it is very helpful to be able to drag it between the two screens for comparison. In my experience, laptop screens skew so blue they can't be corrected to match a proper monitor, but it may also be where your finished work is mostly seen.
  • - 2018 Mac Book Air
    - Thinkpad T480

    I link both of them using Synergy. This gives me access to Win, Linux and Mac without the need to boot up virtual machines. They all share the same hard disk.

    I spend most of my days in the terminal so my setup is very simple. I used to use external monitors but I realised I hate multitasking so I just use a laptop screen.
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 271
    edited March 2020
    I don't use any Apple products, they are fairly good but hideously overpriced for what you get and definately not worth the money in my opinion.
    My setup is a Windows 10 PC which I built from parts I bought.  It is a gaming PC which has a powerful processor, graphics card and a lot of memory.  It is very comfortable to use.  There are two large monitors an ancient Cherry mechanical keyboard, a Trust gaming mouse ( GTX 4155 ) which is just the right shape for my hand and is the most ergonomic mouse I have ever used, it lives on a very oversized mousepad.  There is a graphics tablet which lives behind the left monitor and comes out onto the mousepad when needed.

    Just to the left of the keyboard is the latest iteration of my USB Navigator project which has many customisable keys, rollers and a knob all of which can be programmed to do different things in different programs without having to switch profiles manually, it is all automatic.

    For graphic design I use Inkscape, Serif Page Plus and Scribus.  For font design I use Font Creator by High Logic.
    I find my setup to be very ergonomic and comfortable to use.

  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 271
    edited March 2020
    I have been thinking about what makes a good workstation.
    These are my opinions so feel free to disagree.  This is all pretty obvious stuff.

    You should have an adequately powerful computer to run the software you want to run.
    The area should be well lit.
    There should be at least two monitors, the difference between one and two is game changing, the difference between two and three is underwhelming.  The resolution should be such that the individual pixels are not noticable during normal use.  More than that is nice but not essential.
    The main monitor should be directly in front of you in your normal sitting position, you should not have to turn to look at it.  For example if you have a laptop with a small screen driving a big monitor to one side and you are using the big monitor as the main monitor this would not be a good workstation in my opinion.  The middle of the main monitor should be directly in front of your eyes at such a distance that you can touch it with your fingertips with your arm out straight.  Although I have my monitors lower than this because I am looking through the lower half of my bifocal glasses, this is comfortable for me.
    The keyboard and pointing device (mouse or trackball) should be comfortable to use and if you are using a mouse then the mouse should have a large mousemat (few constraints on it's movement).
    A nice addition although not essential is a programmable keypad so that all the most used keyboard shortcuts are together in the same place.
    And finally probably the most important thing of all, a chair which is adjustable to your needs and which you are comfortable sitting in for long periods of time.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,349
    @Paul Miller  You say having two monitors is game changing. How so? How do you use the second one?

    I've gone back and forth between one and two monitors since the '80s, but eventually decided that one large (~29"), high-res monitor is my favorite setup. It's simpler to manage and takes up less space on my desk. I can only look at one monitor at a time anyway. Even when I connect my laptop to a display, I close the lid so I just have one screen.

    I'm sure it depends a lot on what software you use and what you use the second monitor for. I used to use it for things like my email or chat apps, to do lists, things like that. I ultimately found this to be distracting and unnecessary. My current practice is to hide anything I'm not actively using to stay focussed. A single monitor works well for that.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,157
    I also favour a single, large monitor, but I am interested to know why Paul considers 'the difference between one and two is game changing', and what other people who use multiple monitors like about it.
  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 271
    edited March 2020
    The largest monitor I have is 24" corner to corner.  Maybe one day I will get a bigger monitor.
    The way I use them is to have the main program window full screen in the main monitor and all the dialog boxes in the second monitor.
    When designing fonts with Font Creator having all the dialog boxes open on top of the window pane where I'm editing cuts down on the available space and clutters things up.  But they are useful to keep open rather than having to re-open them when needed.
    When editing fonts I usually also have InfoQube open on the second monitor just to note down ideas, to-do lists and lists of information I might want to refer to, it doesn't have to do much just remind me of my plan or what side bearing I used for a similar character.
    Inkscape also has lots of dialog boxes which it is useful to keep open but you don't want them on the main editing window.
    Also using InfoQube I commonly have it open in the second monitor with the document of interest open in a full screen document pane on the main monitor.
    Mainly I have something open in the main monitor whilst having something else I want to refer to or make notes in on the second monitor.

  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,371
    This thread is starting to read like a muscle car club ;-)

  • Paul MillerPaul Miller Posts: 271
    edited March 2020
    The original poster asked what people's workstation setups were.  The subsequent posts were just clarifications and followups.
    I will be quiet.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,087
    edited March 2020
    @""Paul Miller", I think the explanation of WHY you have what you do, and what the breakpoints are for benefits, is super useful!

    I sit about 4-6" further away than you (10-15 cm), just that much beyond arm’s length. But then again, my central monitor is a 30.5" 4K screen, so it is effectively about the same, I think.

    I agree wholeheartedly about the monitor configuration. I suspect that the benefits of multiple monitors and a second (or even a third) depend a bit on:
    - what your primary tool(s) are. FontLab 7 has a lot of panels, so at least a second monitor is Very Nice.
    - how frequently and how thoroughly you task-switch. Having more screens helps me do somewhat more frequent, but briefer, interruptions. I don’t do so many 2-to-4-hour-straight stretches. I keep the other stuff on another screen.
    - how well you use your OS’s tools for virtualizing different workspaces

    I have never gotten into the virtual workspaces stuff very well. I prefer to use actual screens. I am sure that is part of the reason I have gone to three physical monitors. My brain seems to like this. (Yet, yes I am also perfectly comfortable with 4 or more dimensions of variable font design space. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )

    Of course, since type, text and vectors are the core of my work, I don’t need most of my screens to be terribly GOOD monitors, other than bright and crisp. Color management is rarely important for my work—only one of them is seriously color-managed, etc.
    • 3 × Dell’s U2718Q. Typical configuration is left: docs & notes, center: editor, right: terminal and validation programs (OTM, etc.).
    • PC with AMD’s 3950X and 64GB of memory.
    I know a SWE uses 8 monitors in his office, but they are all 1080p, so I have more pixels than him :smile: .
  • [Deleted User][Deleted User] Posts: 0
    edited March 2020
    The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,732
    I try to make things last. My computer/monitor and keyboard (Apple) are from 2014, and my tablet-with-stylus (Wacom), c.2001. Scanner and laser printer are c.2010. Chair (Aeron) and desk (Ikea) are c.1994.

    The most recent improvement to hardware, of any significance for me as a type designer, was the introduction of high-res screens (“Retina”) in 2014.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,371
    I think James is just joking
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,371
    I have all old Mac stuff, vintage 2011
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 213
    Just got a laptop stand and paired the Apple wireless keyboard from my old iMac and Logitech mouse to it. Already feels more comfortable overall and the stand seems pretty solid and provides a good height. Will have to spend more time with the setup though, but for now, it feels more doable for when I'm working longer stretches at a desk. Haven't really done any type design on the 16" screen yet, so will have to see.
  • I also favour a single, large monitor, but I am interested to know why Paul considers 'the difference between one and two is game changing', and what other people who use multiple monitors like about it.
    I started using multiple monitors in the early 1990s. When people started working at DEC's Cambridge Research Lab (CRL), they'd often start saying they didn't need two monitors and then quite liked them, shortly afterwards. When I was there, at one point, I had 6 displays in my office spread across three computers. Though, at least a couple of those were used more as information displays, being able to glance at the current state of visualization.

    For me, it was often useful to have reference information on one monitor while I worked on another. So, I sometimes treat it as the paper reference next to me or for output testing, now. Or, as at CRL, to have some information that I might want to be able to glance at without changing things around. For a while, at Tellme, I had one display in landscape and one in portrait mode. Looking at documents and code were nice on the portrait side.

    Higher resolution displays help make it easier to use a single display, since providing more screen real estate is often the purpose of multiple displays. Using virtual displays/spaces, one can work around using a small space yet still having the equivalent of that space. We did have some of that—virtual spaces—with some window managers on the X Window System in the early 1990s.

    When I started working without an office, often sitting at a café, I switched to using a 13" MacBook Pro with Spaces for different projects sitting on top of a Rain Design mStand. At home, I'll still have a second lower resolution display. The 13" Retina display is still too small. Multiple displays (really, more screen real estate) is also useful for the music and recording side.
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 213
    edited March 2020
    The bit of time I've spent on this new retina 16" MBP, I've found that my eyes seem to be getting strained or fatigued quicker for some reason (switching from a non-retina 21" iMac). Anyone else run into this?

    A brief search yields that there is a small segment experiencing negative effects. It almost feels like my eyes are very slightly crossed and seeing a reflection (which having a glossy screen is to be expected to some degree), making it hard to focus in.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,349
    I would guess that it's due more to the glossy screen than the resolution. Maybe position the screen relative to lights, etc. to minimize reflections?
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 213
    Thanks for the feedback Mark. I've had it in a few different in environments so far, and will see if I can make some more adjustments to help reduce reflections, etc. Maybe will just take some time to get used to... 
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 2,087
    I hate glossy. Matte for me. If I have complete control over the ambient lighting (as in my office), I could make a glossy screen work OK, but I still prefer matte. But the entire point of a laptop is mobility/flexibility, so I don’t want that screen to be glossy.

    I might feel differently if color management and accurate/bright color was a critical part of my work. But those things are not as important to me as optical comfort. Death to reflectivity!  :P
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 213
    Thomas, yes, so far I'm struggling with this in a similar fashion. IIRC, Apple used to have the option to choose a matte or glossy screen laptop (because I think I had a matte one years ago).
Sign In or Register to comment.