Uses This

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A picture of Joan Westenberg

Joan Westenberg

Writer, designer (Studio Shelf)

in designer, mac, writer

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m a contemporary writer, designer and creative director. I'm the founder of a branding, PR and advertising firm called Studio Self where I work mostly with tech companies, tech enabled brands and startups to tell their story and communicate with the audience, and I also run the self-care and wellbeing community Tiny Spells.

As a writer, I’ve appeared in The SF Chronicle, Wired, The AFR, The Observer, ABC, Junkee, SBS, Crikey and over 40+ publications. My regular work, blog and podcast can be found on Pizza Party, where I talk about creativity, culture and technology. I’m also the creator of, an open-source workplace inclusion hack, and the author of the book #DIY, a manifesto for indie creativity.

What hardware do you use?

I’ve been a tech nerd since I was a kid, so I’m always experimenting with different setups. At the moment, I work primarily on an 11 inch iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil, and I run it with an external monitor, an Apple Magic Trackpad 2 and a mechanical keyboard. The iPad’s new cursor support has been a game changer, and it’s actually an incredibly powerful device with some of the sleekest software you’ll find.

When I need to run something a little more desktop-like, I have a 13 inch 2019 MacBook Pro on my desk as well that I normally access through my iPad via the Screens app, on the external monitor. For the most part, it runs my media server, I use it for more in-depth web design and Adobe work, and occasionally I bring it out for more complex video editing.

I use an iPhone 11 Pro Max as my daily driver, but I also keep a Nokia 8110 redux as the hotline for my agency - I know if that phone rings, it’s for crisis comms and emergencies only, and I can drop everything for a retainer client if needed.

I’m a huge fan of Field Notes for my note taking, and I always have one of their smaller notebooks in my pocket or my bag when I leave the house. I use physical diaries and planners as much as possible, so there’s a stack of them floating around my studio. I exclusively use the Pentel Fude Touch Brush Sign pen.

For audio, I use Apple’s AirPods Pro when I’m out and about or doing phone calls, but I have a pair of Nura headphones for really listening to stuff.

And what software?

My go-to app for getting anything done is Things 3 on iOS and Mac. It’s a beautiful, simple, extremely powerful to-do list app and everything I work on starts and ends in it. The integration with Apple’s Reminders is fantastic, and it lets me add to my list via voice when I’m on the go. Outside of that, I flick between Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo and the Adobe Creative Cloud for design work, but sketches and drawing happen in Procreate. I used to use Evernote a lot, but these days I’ve actually started choosing to use the default Apple apps for simplicity’s sake, and Notes is kind of a beautiful solution.

I use Apple’s mail, calendar and Voice Memos apps. All my agency’s work happens in the iWork suite, and I prefer Keynote to any other presentation software. I use a mix of Safari’s Reading List and Instapaper for saving articles to read later, and I use Reeder 4 as my RSS reader of choice. Trello is always running in the background as a project management tool to coordinate contractors, freelancers and clients, but it’s more just to serve as the collaborative version of my active lists and tasks in Things 3.

Most of this software is the setup I’ve used for around 5 years now, and it just works for me.

What would be your dream setup?

Honestly I think I’m pretty close to it! I keep thinking I’d love to have a minimalist phone like the Punkt MP02 as an alternative to the distractions of my iPhone, but I don’t think I’d actually use it in practice - I more want to be the kind of person who says they do…

It would be amazing to have a System76 Linux desktop for tech projects, and I’ve often thought about setting money aside for an iMac, but I don’t need either of those things, and they won’t help me to get more done than I already do now. If I had an absolute dream list? Maybe one of Apple’s Pro displays, an actual Apple-made mechanical keyboard, and better iPad functionality for external monitor support. But none of that is going to happen any time soon.

I’d also like a better supply of Pop Tarts but that’s not entirely practical here in Australia...

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