What I MakeUseOf – Jonathan Smiley, ZURB Partner & Design Lead
Tools are awesome – if you read MakeUseOf, you probably agree. But the latest isn’t always the greatest. Rather, the greatest is whatever helps you get the job done, saves time, and just plain works.
One good way to find those excellent tools is to see what an actual person uses in their daily life to get stuff done. Read on to see what Jonathan Smiley, a partner and a design lead at ZURB uses to get things done.
Who Are You & What Do You Do?
I’m Jonathan Smiley, a Design Lead and Partner at ZURB, a product design company in Campbell, CA. My wife is a former physics teacher and Apple employee, and we’re raising our daughter to be a huge geek like we are (I hope).
I grew up all over the place – my dad was an Air Force fighter pilot so I was born in Landstuhl, Germany and then moved around Europe and the US every few years until I went to college at Georgia Tech, then the University of Central Florida. I’ve worked for the U.S. Army (as a civilian), the Army Corps of Engineers, Apple, my own little consultancy and then a Fortune 100 financial services company before I came to ZURB, where I’ve been for coming up on 5 years.
At ZURB I wear…a lot of hats. I lead some of our many client projects (we have 4 team members who lead consulting projects, so each of us has from 3 to 6 projects at a time) and that entails all the client communication, leading work sessions, and working with our designers to produce deliverables covering anything from business strategy all the way to a product’s front-end code.
On top of that I created (with other members of the team) Foundation, an open-source responsive front-end framework for rapidly creating web apps and site, and I also work on our product suite which includes Notable and Solidify. I keep busy. I would say all these projects keep me up but it’s not ZURB doing that, it’s my 5 month old who doesn’t like to sleep very long.
Mostly, my job is to either directly design, or foster design, of digital products for ourselves and our clients. That means a lot of sketching, wireframing, testing, prototyping, building and coding as well as the ephemera surrounding it like emails, meetings, work sessions, calls, the works.
As You Go Through a Typical Day, What Hardware Do You Use & When?
My day-to-day is extraordinarily focused around my iPhone, a white 4S. It’s either in my pocket or next to me 24 hours a day, and I would imagine I check it or directly use it a couple hundred times a day and extending into the night. My day begins somewhere around 4 or 5 when my daughter wants to stop sleeping in her crib and wants to sleep on me instead, and my iPhone (or an iPad we have mounted next to the rocking chair) keeps me either entertained or somewhat productive until I get to work around 8.
My phone is actually what I use for most email even once I’m at the office, because I use an app called Mailbox (which has now been acquired by Dropbox ) to manage my email like a task list. Absolutely invaluable. I still write some longer emails on my laptop, but mostly it’s my phone.
At work in addition to my phone I have an iPad 3 that I use for sketching or presenting (we have TVs with connected AppleTVs for Airplay throughout our office) and then my main workhorse machine, a 15” Retina Macbook Pro, the high end of the first batch that came out in 2012. I have an external drive with a few virtual machines for Windows so I can test things, and I bootcamp to Windows 8 to play games in the evenings when I have time, but OS X is my usual system and I love it.
I was a huge proponent of the switch to high DPI displays for laptops and I jumped at the first chance to get a Mac with one, with the side effect of getting the thin form factor of the Retina MBP. I’ve managed to dent it and the thought of that makes me sad every time I think of it – I try and take eerily good care of my hardware because I think if I take care of it, it’ll take care of me. Sorry, MBP. My bad.
Above: the dent in Jonathan’s Macbook Pro.
Now that the software has all more or less caught up with the display I’ve become quite a snob about low-DPI devices and frankly I try not to use them. I’m sure that makes me a tech elitist but…well, yeah.
From time to time in our office I use our testing hardware which includes a variety of phones and tablets (Nokia Lumia 920, Galaxy S3, Surface Tablet, some older Android phones and tablets and some older Apple iPhones / iPod Touches) but that’s just to test or QA.
Above: The devices used for testing in the ZURB office.
Finally at home I have an Xbox 360 that I sadly don’t get to spend as much time with as I’d like but I still adore – easily the best controller ever made for a console – and an AppleTV for Hulu, Netflix, and any of the movies we ripped to an Mac Mini we use as a media server. Whew.
The only piece of hardware I want now is the Google Glass Explorer program model which I applied for. Fingers crossed.
What Software Tools Couldn’t You Live Without?
On my laptop:
Mail.app – as heretical as it may sound, I like the default Mail client. It works.
Chrome – best browser, hands down. Fast, light, great developer tools.
Messages – again, another native app, but it works with AIM, Y!, and Jabber which people in my office all use and bonus, it works with iMessages so I can get / send messages that normally go right to my phone. Very handy and doesn’t break my flow (much).
Tweetbot – the default Twitter app was never updated for Retina and frankly, sucks. I suppose once you have 1,500 employees and endless VC cash you stop caring if things, well, work. So, Tweetbot. It’s a bit overwrought but I use it to follow some saved searches and reply to things about ZURB.
Coda – for front-end code I prefer using Coda over SublimeText, Textmate, Espresso or others. Coda is reliable, it works well, and it manages my projects of which I have a LOT. I’d like if it could compile Sass as well but maybe in a future version.
Photoshop – this is the 800lb gorilla in my work, the app I use for any kind of visual design. I’ve yet to find a reasonable replacement for it though I do keep trying, and with a Creative Cloud membership it’s actually not that hard to manage / augment with other tools.
Github – I’ll use the command line if I have to but really, for simple code versioning, the Github native app can commit and sync just fine 99 times out of a 100 so it gets the job done. I try not to use it for anything complicated, because it can really screw up your repo.
Now, on my phone:
Mailbox – this is the greatest thing that’s happened to email in my memory. It lets you handle your mail like a task list, checking them off and removing them (archiving) when they’re done or deferring them with a Snooze feature. If I get an email and I know I’m going to handle it tomorrow, I simply swipe over and hit ‘tomorrow’ and it’ll pop right back up. Inbox Zero is super easy to get to with this and it keeps me focused / helps me not to forget important things. You’d have to pry it out of my cold dead hands, so I hope Dropbox doesn’t screw it up.
Alien Blue – okay this is for downtime. As an avid redditor , having an easy way to read Reddit is awesome when I’m stuck in a rocking chair for a few hours every night . If you’re a Redditor too (and even if you’re not) I’m definitely a fan of the common subreddits like /r/pics, /r/funny, and (heaven help me) /r/AdviceAnimals but on top of that I enjoy the less bitter posts on /r/atheism, a lot of the posts on /r/gaming as well as some of the more absurd subreddits like /r/ShittyAskScience.
Anything Else You’d Like To Add?
I’m a huge fan of hardware and software that improves our ubiquitous integration with technology – smartphones have done us a huge service at making us more productive, smarter, and honestly I would say more social (though we may have lost some of the in-person social graces we used to cultivate). I’m super excited about wearable tech like Google Glass and I’ll keep soaking up whatever I can in that space. Maybe that makes me strange, but I have almost no reservations about how technology is shaping our society. It’s all gonna be great.