Graphic design is very labor intensive. It gets physical. Shoulders, arms and hands take a real beating. I know we appear to be just sitting there but there are some challenges to graphic design work. First, we usually work on two large monitors, and that’s a hefty scroll from one end of the left monitor to the other side of the right monitor. At 3 a.m. after 16 straight hours of moving that cursor from the Illustrator tools palette to the Adobe Bridge preview window it’s like crossing the English Channel. I’m convinced the cursor gets heavier.
Then there’s the four million mouse clicks a day. We don’t just type in a graphic, we pull it together from several locations on our computer’s desktop. We’re always drawing shapes of some kind, or text boxes and then moving them around in tiny, tedious little increments … click and drag, click and drag … with an iron grip on a mouse or stylus. We use virtual brushes and pens, and grab “anchors” and carefully adjust them to fix a Bezier curve. We zoom in and out, scroll up and down, right click, middle click and left click our way to artistic fame and fortune. We sit hunkered down and barely moving anything but hands and arms because those increments of mouse movement are tiny! Try moving your cursor 1 point. See! After awhile, you begin to ache.
Not to get too personal, but my hands hurt when I work too long. Really hurt—with two kinds of arthritis and probably some other “syndrome” that I’ve inflicted on myself because I don’t know when to quit and relax. But, I manage to keep myself comfortable (and productive) with some simple input devices or “ergonomic” fixes that I’ve used for years. Folks have asked me to share my “system” for keeping myself relatively pain free while I work long hours—thus, this post. I’m at my computer most of the time. I love what I do and I live in Middle-of-Nowhere, Tennessee. So, between social media and Adobe Illustrator, I’m a happy computer user. But it took some figuring out and some trial and error with my work environment to achieve this state of graphics bliss.
I’ve used the same desk for my two 30″ Dell monitors and various and sundry input devices (I have eight of them–listed below) since 2002. It’s one of those Ikea honkers in three parts linked together in an “L” shape. The surface is about 35 square feet. I’ve also moved five times in the last three years so it has some mileage on it. I always set it up exactly the same way so that everything is in it’s designated place and I don’t need to learn a new routine. I just took a good look at my desk and realize that there are some fingernail gouges on the edges …. hmmm. Must have been another long-forgotten “graphics emergency”—you know how I feel about those! In front of the desk is a relatively inexpensive office chair. I don’t go crazy spending a lot of money on them. It’s a chair. I remove the arms so that I don’t just sit and lean on them all day and make my elbows and shoulders hurt. I’ve learned.
Anyway, I’m very tuned in to my ergonomics while I’m working. I don’t force my hands to continue using the mouse if they’re getting sore, I switch to the trackball, or use the tablet—or better yet, my left hand. My Dad taught himself to use a mouse with either hand, that impressed me. I’m too clumsy. I have my game controller* sitting at my left hand and configured to give me some mouse clicks. That way I can give my right hand a rest for awhile. I’ve moved a ton of mouse functions over to the left side of my pile of input devices. My gaming keyboard is programmable and the left-most buttons are for “back” and “next” in a browser. I’ve programmed macros in my applications and use the game controller to open a document or copy and paste—all with my left hand. So I’ve learned to adapt my work environment to my personal needs. You get really good at using all of the devices—when they’re always in the same spot … It’s like driving a car. You know where the gas and the brake pedals are and don’t have to look to use them. So my desktop is pretty much covered with peripherals and input devices all within arm’s reach.
On my desk you’ll find … moving from left to right:
- My 17″ Asus laptop (she’s not really a peripheral, but she’ll be offended if I don’t mention her) we call her “Big Dude” because I can barely lift her but she has a huge screen. She was purchased used and she’s done a good job! She doesn’t travel any further than from my studio to my living room. (The benefit of retirement is that you don’t really have to do graphics away from your studio. You just wait ’til you get home.)
- One of my two printers, an old HP Photosmart that’s about ready to give up the ghost. What is that noise it makes!?
- And, of course, Giggles 2 … my Dell XPS computer. Giggles 1 was retired and now serves as a … er … server at my daughter’s house.
- My X-keys XK-24 USB Keypad—which I use for a mess of text macros. I program the date each morning and that’s it for that—I name every folder with a date first … corporate procedure leftover, I guess. I have sentences and responses that I repeat throughout my day all programmed in. How many times a day do you type, “Thanks!”? … or “Dude!” (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)
- My Razer game controller—for Illustrator and Photoshop actions and shortcut keys. Also good for Windows shortcuts. It takes a lot of pressure off of my right hand. And it looks cool because it lights up bright blue. You could land planes.
- My Logitech G105 programmable gaming keyboard. No it’s not wireless. I can’t work with a wireless keyboard … I keep moving it “over there” for some reason and it’s never handy. I spend enough time searching for my wireless mouse.
- My Kensington Expert Mouse trackball. I’ve used a Kensington trackball since my first computer. I like that I don’t grip it like the mouse, but just rest my hand on it. It’s programmable too, so I can “chord” with it and use that for click and drag.
- My Microsoft wireless, haptic feedback mouse. I love this mouse! It scrolls beautifully and vibrates while scrolling. And it’s all one piece with a strip that you can program for different clicks.
- And last, but not least, my Intuous 4 Pen Tablet and stylus. (I know I should upgrade!) but I don’t actually draw. There are times when I need to control my brushes or pens and I use this. I do end up with some writer’s cramp if I use it too long.
So just as in the 80’s when I had to learn to use my drawing board with an adjustable drafting chair to keep from killing my back … I’ve learned to set up my computer and work environment to cause the least amount of strain and give me the most options for using either hand for hundreds of routine tasks. It’s saved my hands, I’m sure. And after 35 years in the industry (21 on computers) I’m still going strong. Ooooo! I just had an 80’s flashback! I miss my BK High-tops, stonewashed jeans and Edie Brickell! … can I get an “Amen!”?
**I don’t actually play games with all of my gaming devices. I work in Adobe Illustrator, that’s entertaining enough.