The Setup

Interview

What do people use to get stuff done?

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Dan Hill

Dan Hill

Designer, CEO (Fabrica)

Posted

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Dan Hill. I'm CEO of Fabrica, a somewhat unique communications research centre based in Treviso, Italy. It's part of the Benetton Group. I call myself a designer and urbanist, in the absence of anything better. The context of my design work is variously the Internet, cities and buildings, organisations and culture, and sometimes all of those things at once. I currently am shuttling back and forth between Treviso and Helsinki.

Before Fabrica, I've worked for Sitra, Arup, Monocle, the BBC and others, all hovering around design, media and cities.

What hardware do you use?

Macbook Air 13" and a large iMac for the office. Before that, Macbook Airs, Macbooks, Macbook Pros etc. Sometimes I've been forced to use a PC too. Every medium to big business I've been in (BBC, Arup, Sitra) I've had to lead a campaign to introduce Macs, and everywhere I've managed to do it, thus far. It's always a massive struggle, but worth fighting for. I should be on some kind of retainer from Apple, I really should. (This is actually a long-term war of attrition in terms of destroying IT departments altogether; they are no longer necessary, and generally obstructive.)

iPhone and iPad, like (almost) everyone else in this business. Not the latest of either model, as it happens. Over the years, have picked up multiple iPads (which are slowly being distributed about the family.)

At home

  • The very fine String System shelving, with small desk component jutting out the middle of it.

  • Fake Eames chair bought in Australia (must get a real one)

  • Notebooks by a Japanese artist/graphic designer called Fumio Tachinbana, picked up at a shop ("Common") in Helsinki run by a Japanese couple who live on my street. Also, by About Blank notebook, designed by Seoung-ho Lee, a Korean designer also here in Helsinki. These are supported by a slew of Field Notes and Moleskins, and random scraps of paper.

  • Pencils. By Field Notes. And also still working through a free batch given away in Beijing creative industries cluster launch event.

  • Fukasawa biros, also from Common. Cheap and good.

  • Olympus PEN-EP1, though increasingly am not carrying it (hence have my eye on a Sony RX-100. At Sitra, we also had a Canon 5D in the office, with Rœde microphones. I have a very old pair of Sennheiser headphones from DJing days - yes, that old - the earpieces are now held together with sellotape. At Fabrica, we have a bunch of stuff I haven't even seen yet.

  • Genelec speakers, connected to the Macbook. Designed by Harry Koskinen. Lovely sound, appealing idiosyncratic form. Heavy duty feel (i.e. heavy)

  • Richard Sapper Tizio lamp. A beauty, picked up in a second hand shop in Sydney. Perhaps one of my favorite objects, mainly due to its contradictions i.e. awkward AND elegant. A simple richness of character that few other products approach.

  • Bags. Ally Cappelino satchel/briefcase. A rather tied old Porter bag. Has good compartments, though a zip with big gold teeth that wrecks the lighter documents. Black leather Bill Amberg bag which is the exact size of a 13" Macbook. Outlier Minimal Backpack, which is super-strong and super-light. For traveling, a Porter weekend bag or a small blue Rimowa suitcase.

At the studio

I have an office at Fabrica, which is the first office I've had in two decades of professional work (I've previously always been in open-plan/studio environments.) I'm currently remodeling it a bit to make it more workshop-like. There was some Scarpa furniture in there (I think) which I've moved on. Aeron chair. Fabrica's design department are knocking up some desks, tables and shelves made by. Also Mac Mini with TV etc. And then I hope to be able to increasingly work across the campus, in our various studio spaces too.

And what software?

Adobe Creative Suite CS5 and CS6. I tend to reach for Photoshop for design work; it reflects my background as a web/graphic designer, I guess. In recent years, I've been using InDesign for vector drawing as well as layout i.e. inappropriately. But I find Illustrator doesn't come that naturally to me. I have to work at it a bit. I've used Adobe products for what seems like decades, and have a love/hate relationship with them, like everyone else I suppose. They're so complex and overwrought, but I know how Photoshop behaves, how it will tend to think and act. It's an old acqaintance that I argue with constantly.

What's odd is switching to a Finnish keyboard, which has switched the physical location of many of the shortcuts I'm used to. I'm rewiring the muscle memory, with variable success. But then I've always believed that shortcuts were not something to worry about - it's good to be slowed down; buys you time to think. Besides, I'm now on an Italian layout keyboard, which is different again.

  • iA Writer and Scrivener. Scrivener I use under sufferance. I do find it quite difficult, but it was useful for writing more book-like things. I often start writing in IA Writer on the Mac and drift across to Scrivener.

  • Things, by Cultured Code. Pretty good to-do list manager, running across several computers, iPads and iPhones and keeping things in sync. I often use it for notes to self, which then move to iA Writer etc. So I might drop in a to-do like "New Hanseatic League" or something, and then move that to another platform. Which is not really a to-do, but Things is a good place to dump spare thoughts, as well as organize tasks.

  • Keynote. Never Powerpoint; in fact, my presentations are hundreds of increasingly short videos - more like moving photographs, actually (which I suppose is the definition of video anyway, eh) - with one or two big words overlaid.

  • Microsoft Word and Excel, if I absolutely have to. Pages and Numbers if I can get away with it.

  • Kindle I use a fair bit now. I still buy physical books, when there's a reason to be physical (monographs etc., or some quality in physicality) but many books are now destined for Kindle.

  • Quicktime Pro is what I use for basic video at the moment (trimming and pasting together.) I've used Premiere and Final Cut Pro in the past but often don't have the need for their power. Might get back into it though.

  • VLC for playback.

  • uTorrent to "understand the nature of contemporary media distribution."

  • Spotify.

  • Omnigraffle (though I appear to be using it less and less for anything 'final'; more useful in real-time, in meetings, diagramming with people live, as it's so fast and easy to do basic layout work. I used to 'hack' its intended use quite a lot, using it to make multi-page PDFs, really working against the grain of it. I use InDesign for that now.)

  • Aperture (which is not great, but OK.)

  • Twitter / Path / Facebook / Flickr / Pinterest / Instagram etc. etc. Again, like everyone else. Tweetdeck for posting across multiple accounts.

  • Given my first degree was Computer Science, I now do almost absolutely no coding: I've fooled around in Processing occasionally, but got nowhere fast. I don't think I ever will now, but we'll see.

  • Skype (increasingly actually). Sometimes FaceTime.

  • Typepad for the blog (which is not great, but Wordpress is a little overwrought (like Ride of the Valkyries overwrought.)

  • Dropbox to share files across multiple projects, people, friends, as well as a kind of cache for to shuttle things on and off the laptop.

  • Backblaze for backup (now across four machines; must simplify)

  • Basecamp for coordinating projects.

  • Outlook now I'm at Fabrica. Often use Sparrow for Gmail.

  • Alfred for quick file search etc.

What would be your dream setup?

I'm lucky to almost have it, actually. Perhaps a large screen at home too, in a study. Other than that, I'm not far off. I'd like all that hardware and software to get better, sure, but in terms of what's out there, I'm pretty happy. I tend to think more in terms of spaces than tools, when it comes to "dreams", thinking more of architecture, furniture, scenarios.

I often end up working in all kinds of spaces - in fact cafes and trains are probably the most productive spaces, so it's odd to focus on designing particular spaces, but I'd love to get home and office and studio working together better than the do. The cloud is beginning to be a reality, from a workflow point of view, and that enables a fluidity which is very appealing.