Uses This

A collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.

A picture of Cyd Harrell

Cyd Harrell

Civic technology consultant

in mac, researcher

Who are you, and what do you do?

I'm a civic technology consultant, new book author this past September and sometimes Twitter poet. I spend most of my time helping government agencies make better use of technology to serve the public. I also put time into mentoring people in the UX field who are trying to get over the hump from mid-career to senior. And I give conference talks and write for publications, or just for Medium.

What hardware do you use?

Like most knowledge workers, I've been WFH since last March - in working out the space between myself, my husband who also works from home, and my daughter who's doing remote high school, I got the kitchen island. So I use a Flexispot Standup Desk Converter to make that work. On it I've got a 13-inch MacBook Pro and a 27-inch LG monitor. I also have a Blue Snowball mic for podcasts or recording, but I mostly use the internal mic for day to day video chats.

Probably the most important piece of hardware I have is my Widex Evoke 440 hearing aids - I have early age-related hearing loss, and I couldn't do my job as a user researcher, listening to people, without that help. They're really high tech, rechargeable, and with some AI features that allow me to turn on a "party mode" in a noisy room where I want to hear a close conversation, for example. I also use reading glasses with blue light filtering - I like the Caddis Bixby model - so that means there's a ton going on around my ears. Before the pandemic when I was only in headphones a few hours a day, I loved the UrbanEars Plattan headphones, but 6 or 7 hours a day of hearing aids, reading glasses, and headphones meant I needed a new model. Noise canceling and hearing aids can interact oddly, so my choice is the Philips SHP9500 open-backed over-ear set. Luckily, for actual phone calls, I can stream directly from my iPhone 8 (I like solid, last-gen phones) to the HAs.

And what software?

I live in Chrome, G Suite, Office 365, and a myriad of video conference apps depending on what I'm doing. I like to set up each project in its own Chrome tab-set, with email, Slack, calendar, and key docs or folders associated with that project. So I have a "personal" tabset with my personal email, group chats family Slack, the local coronavirus dataset, Twitter, and whatever tabs I open from news or recreational reading, then a "main gig" one with Outlook, Teams, MSFT Cal, and a whole bunch of documents. You get a few stray Figma, Miro and Mural tabs in there too. Then I have another side project with its own calendar, Slack, and set of Gdocs and Office 365 tabs (that one's a mixed, group project). And a big set for my writing, speaking, and personal research. The Great Suspender is a fantastic Chrome extension that lets me get away with having 2-300 tabs open most days.

A whole lot of what I do is meet with people, so I use Zoom, Teams, and Meet pretty constantly, but for user research I prefer Whereby - easiest for participants to set up and really easy in-browser recording and playback of sessions.

When I was working on my self-published book, I also used Adobe Acrobat Pro (the book designers sent me paperback page files exported from InDesign), Amazon Kindle Create, and Calibre for .epub creation.

What would be your dream setup?

I'd love to have a real standing desk with more space, and the thing I'd most like for software would be real support for the tab-set organizing scheme. I never want to get all of my Slack messages in one place, for example, so I use it only in-browser as part of my tab-sets. I want to be able to be logged in to multiple Google (or Office 365) accounts, and keep my work separated by project. and I'd love the rest of my tech to work more in concert with my hearing tech - if my computer could stream to the HAs and have seamless handoff with the phone, that would be amazing.

Uses This is supported by ZSA, makers of the Moonlander, ErgoDox EZ and Planck EZ keyboards. They also publish an awesome newsletter.