Aaron Mahnke’s Sweet Mac Setup

Who are, what do you do, etc…?

My name is Aaron Mahnke. I’m a freelance graphic designer in the Boston area. I work under the banner of Wet Frog Studios, focusing on identity and brand design, though I do a ton of print design and even a bit of web design as well. I blog sometimes at aaronmahnke.com, and share resources for freelancers on my other site, abetterfreelancer.com.

What is your current setup?

Aaron Mahnke's Mac Setup

Aaron Mahnke's Mac Setup

Aaron Mahnke's Mac Setup

My desktop computer is a 27-inch 2.66 GHz Quad-Core i5 iMac with 4GB of RAM. I recently made the switch from the wired Apple aluminum keyboard to the bluetooth version in order to allow my Bamboo Fun (1st gen, medium size) tablet to sit closer to the center of my iMac, eliminating some unnecessary strain on my right shoulder. I’ve found that the mouse that came with the Bamboo tablet is perfect for my work style, and I can easily switch to the pen when needed.

I have a secondary work station set up beside my red reading chair that consists of a newer 2.4 GHz i5 MacBook Pro (also 4GB of RAM) and a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display. I use it mostly as a hub for three Western Digital 1TB MyBook external hard drives that contain years of video production work, as well as an external Sony DVD burner for churning out multiple copies of client work while I read in the red chair.

When I’m mobile I rely on my iPhone 4 and a 32GB 3G iPad to keep me connected and creating. The iPhone is my main device for task capture (via the Things app), RSS feeds (via Reeder) and reading (via Kindle, iBooks and Instapaper). I rarely use it as a phone, though during the work day it’s docked beside my iMac with a pair of Apple in-ear headphones connected and ready.

The iPad is a fantastic work device for me. I keep it naked at home, but it travels in a DoDoCase outside the house. It goes to every meeting with me, and I rely on a combination of SimpleNote and Penultimate for capturing the information I need. I rely heavily on the Photos app to hold my logo design portfolio and digital samples of my print design work. And the Dropbox app is the perfect tool for presenting potential clients with my logo design service information, my contract and glimpses of in-progress work.

Why this rig?

Power and flexibility are my driving motivations, honestly. I put my iMac to work every day, sometimes running Illustrator, Final Cut Pro, VMWare Fusion and a handful of smaller applications all at the same time. I am in this eternal struggle between wanting to be parked at a desk with extreme power and screen space, and being able to pick up and work from anywhere, so this setup allows me to live with a foot in each world for now.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

The first piece of software I always tell people about is Dropbox. I have a 50GB account to hold all my design projects, which means I can work whether I’m at my desk or using my laptop away from home. The natural back-up that Dropbox brings to the table also helps me sleep easy knowing my clients’ work is always safe.

The applications I launch every day when I sit down at my desk would be Mail.app, Things, Illustrator, Numbers and Billings. On occasion I have to launch Pages, Keynote, Final Cut. Other applications are always running, though, like Notational Velocity, Yojimbo, MailActOn, 1Password, Littlesnapper and Tweetie. I have a few Fluid instances for things like Basecamp and Rdio, but prefer Propane for Campfire chats. And finally, my menu bar plays host to Droplr, which I use a few times a week at most.

How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

I’ve tried my best to surround myself with tools that help me get the job done faster. I take notes in Notational Velocity, which is connected with SimpleNote, so that I never have to save, rename, or move the files again. I keep inspiration logged in Yojimbo and Littlesnapper, both of which sync across my computers. And I try my best to master hot keys to save time and effort.

Creativity is all about reducing the distance from inspiration to retention. I might not be able to react to a moment of inspiration right away, but if I can capture it properly (via screenshot, dragging into Yojimbo, or typing the idea out) I can come back to it when I’m ready. This isn’t multitasking, though. This is all about knowing your tools and having a solid system.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

Honestly, the Apple ecosystem is getting really close to perfect for my needs. I would love to upgrade the RAM in both computers someday soon, and a SSD in the MacBook Pro would be next on my list after that. I can dream about better app syncing between the Mac and iOS devices, but Dropbox really gets the job done for me. My only other “fantasy device” would be a big fat Drobo, but I think that’s because I’m an external storage junkie.

More Sweet Setups

Aaron’s setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

Aaron Mahnke’s Sweet Mac Setup