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 Pat Armstrong

Pat Armstrong

Interaction and service designer

in designer, mac

Who are you, and what do you do?

Hi! My name's Pat. I'm an interaction and service designer.

Right now I'm the Interaction Design lead at Craig Walker, a new-ish design consultancy with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, and Singapore. We mostly do short design, prototyping, and research engagements for banks, technology companies, insurance companies, and government agencies.

Before this job, I had a background in digital design for arts organisations ("Mostly websites, mostly for museums"), which is a space I still love.

When I started this interview I was based in Melbourne, but it's taken me such an embarrassingly long time to finish it that I've since gotten married, had a baby, and moved back to Sydney.

What hardware do you use?

Pre-COVID I travelled a lot for work, so that's influenced most of the choices I've made here.

Computer & accessories: Right now I use one of the 2016 13" MacBook Pros (no touchbar). It's the smallest and lightest laptop I've ever owned, which is useful for travel, but it is also arguably the worst laptop I've ever owned - I've sent it back to Apple twice now for keyboard and display issues, and the fans now hit max RPM if you look at them the wrong way.

Since I spent most of my time on the road or working on client premises, I got comfortable working without external displays or many extra peripherals. Microsoft make this strange folding Bluetooth mouse(!!!) that I love - you can flatten it out and throw it into a laptop sleeve.

I'm onto my second pair of AirPods now, but still keep a pair of Bose QC20s in my cable bag — they do a much better job on noise cancellation (especially on planes), they work just fine when they're out of batteries, and they're much less flaky than Bluetooth for important calls.

Other than that, I have a 26,800mAh USB-C external battery pack (the biggest I could buy at the time), a portable 4G wifi hotspot (quicker than trying to get onto a client's network), and every imaginable display adapter for plugging into whatever TV / projector / external monitor you find in a conference room.

Stationery: My favourite notebook is a Muji one that they don't seem to make anymore — A5, 96 sheets, 5mm dot grid, and it has a lay-flat binding so when you open it, it stays put. I bought two boxes of them before they were discontinued and am slowly working my way through my stash.

I like pens that are cheap, reliable, smudgeproof, bleedproof, and easily available. The Sakura Pigma Micron 08 in black ticks all of these boxes, and I use Artline 210 Fineliners in a few different colours for low-fi prototyping.

I really want to like mechanical pencils, but have found them too expensive and fiddly in practice, so mostly use regular pencils for sketching (I have a box of Tombow MONO 100s that I am working my way through at the moment). I definitely do not need a Möbius+Ruppert solid brass pencil sharpener, but I am very glad that I have one.

Back when everyone worked in the office, we would use these huge 1.2m × 2.4m × 10mm foam boards to track project work. They're expensive, fragile, and massively unwieldily, but they are one of the work objects I miss the most now that everyone's working from home.

Luggage: A lot of my work travel was multi-stop trips booked at short notice, so I got pretty comfortable packing a bag the night before a trip. My usual bags are a Rimowa Topas 32L Multiwheel suitcase, and an Outlier Ultrahigh Rolltop backpack. I take a 62L Muji Polycarbonate Hard Case if I ever need to check luggage. The Rimowa is heavy, covered in stickers, and pretty beat up at this point. I should get it serviced, but it's been fun watching it get scratched and dinged over time. The Muji case has a pushbutton lock that stops it from rolling away; I wish every 4-wheel suitcase had the same thing.

Inside each of these is a whole stack of zippered mesh pouches (Muji Double Fastener Cases and Muji Gusset Cases) for organising stationery, workshop kits, computer cables, and the like.

For multi-day trips, I have a small kit of stuff to make hotel rooms feel a bit more like home: a small Lumio folding lamp (I don't like overhead lights), a UE ROLL 2 Bluetooth speaker, a pair of Muji travel slippers and a Porlex Mini II coffee grinder which fits neatly into an Aeropress.

…etc: A Nintendo Switch is not really a work item, but I mainly use mine on work trips, so I guess it belongs in this section.

Ditto Nalgene's 32oz Wide Mouth Tritan Water Bottle — not strictly a work item, but I use mine almost exclusively at work (and would legitimately forget to drink water if I didn't keep it in line-of-sight for most of the day).

At home: I was on parental leave during most of Australia's COVID lockdown periods, so my WFH setup is still pretty basic. I'll sit on the couch, at the kitchen table, or at a tiny folding desk in the corner of the bedroom, depending on which part of the house is quiet (or if I need nice lighting and an inoffensive background for a Zoom call).

Work has very kindly offered me an Aeron Chair from the office, but it feels like overkill in our tiny house. I did get an Elgato Key Light Air at some point in the last year, which was almost certainly overkill. I also have that Brother mono laser printer that everyone seemed to buy last year.

And what software?

I used to be a person who thought a lot about software, but my software stack is pretty vanilla these days, and getting more so by the year: Pre-COVID, our design project teams were mostly distributed anyway, so we picked a lot of our tools on the basis of their remote collaboration options — Google Docs, Google Drive, Figma, Slack. Like most people doing this sort of work, I spend a lot of time on Zoom and Miro these days.

Outside of work I use Notion a lot for life admin. I like the ideas it's built around a lot, but wish it was faster and worked better offline. I still do occasional web development in Sublime Text 3, and have a Markdown document open in iA Writer most of the time as a scratchpad during meetings and calls.

Lastly I'm sure I'm not pushing the limits of LaunchBar by any means, but I still feel like I'm working with one hand behind my back on any computer without it.

What would be your dream setup?

This tweet from Everest Pipkin has been banging around my head since I saw it at the start of the year:

thinking about how i have a kitchen knife that i am going to use for the rest of my life and how i can't say that about a single piece of electronics i own

Whenever anything I own breaks or wears out, I've been trying to replace it with a more durable, more considered version of the same thing that I expect to last a lot longer. I'd really like to be able to do that with computers, too, even if they're a lot more complex than kitchen knives.

Also, I'd like an orange Moccamaster and enough space on the kitchen bench for it.

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