Any professional worth his salt will likely agree that hardware and software are simply the tools we use, and what really matters is what we create with them. I agree with this in principle, I really do. It’s just that my deeply geeky side objects and feels that actually using the right tools with the right workflow matters just as much, and their performance impacts yours.
A core specialty here at We Love Digital is User Experience Performance and, as such, we all understand the value of measuring, analysing and effecting small changes that add up to a significant overall impact. So, naturally, I felt compelled to draw a bit of a parallel and make the case for better tools and more efficient workflows, perhaps we’ll call it Creative Performance.
It all starts with hardware, that’s the foundation you build upon and it needs to be solid. And yes, you can achieve the same results regardless of whether your CPU boasts eight cores or two, if you use a single monitor instead of three, or if, for some reason, you ignore the game-changing benefits of Solid State Drives over HDDs. That’s like choosing to walk when you can drive – perfectly fine and commendable around town, but not so much if we’re talking long distance. And, as a creative, you rarely need to do quick, easy tasks but rather have to consistently produce top quality work throughout your career. It’s not a sprint but rather a marathon and it helps having an advantage.
“The form of computers has never been important, with speed and performance being the only things that mattered.”
– Sir Jonathan Paul Ive
Quite obviously, a faster machine will save you time. But more importantly, it improves your creative experience. It makes it easier, more enjoyable, and helps you keep focused on the task at hand. It’s not fun having to wait for your computer to collaborate – when things take too long or you need to switch windows so much that it erodes your concentration.
Of course, all this comes at a price, and getting the latest and greatest at any cost could be quite wasteful and unnecessary. There has to be a balance so a good rule of thumb is to upgrade when the machine starts slowing you down.
Even more important than hardware is the software layer, where you can potentially make the most gains. Of course, software choice can be a bit of a personal thing and that’s great, it keeps things flexible. The choice of platform, OS, creative tools and utilities can have quite an impact on productivity and forms the base for your workflow, making it quite critical in my opinion. Yes, you can certainly design high def mockups in free, open source software such as Gimp. But is it really worth the extra time and complication as opposed to industry standards like Photoshop, Illustrator or Sketch? Not likely.
To illustrate my point I’ll use one of my favourite pieces of software as an example. It’s a file manager called Total Commander and it’s really close to my heart. It’s the first thing I install on a new machine and the first thing I open up every morning. And I’ve been doing so for the past 20 years since it’s launch, so I’ve had time to form an opinion. No need to use a mouse, it’s keyboard only heaven and it’s got shortcuts for pretty much everything. Some of the features include split screen, command line input, quick search filtering, a mass rename tool, ftp access, clever archiving, tabs and many, many others.
Mastering all these can make one extremely quick at menial tasks with the average observer not quite able to follow along. I would estimate it helps save between 10-30 minutes each day depending on the type of workload I need to do, compared to, let’s say, the default OS file manager.
Sure, 15 minutes on average doesn’t sound like much and if I were a normal person I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be too bothered about it. Sadly I’m not, I exhibit an obsession with time and a tendency to scale each inefficiency up. So for me, those 15 minutes equal an hour a week, 4 hours a month and 48 hours a year. That’s a full weeks worth, if you’re not a workaholic!
“I don’t tolerate anything that runs slowly. Whether it be a phone, tablet or computer, it has to run at optimum speed.”
– Joe Trohman
I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that workflow optimisation can really pay off in the long term and, just as with user experience design, small changes and improvements add together to make a massive difference that can be passed on to the client. I agree that pure reliance on tools for producing good work is nonsense and there’s good reason why it’s frowned upon. But being wise in choosing and using tools is just good practice.