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Aaron Mahnke’s Sweet Mac setup

Every week we try to post a new interview with someone about what software they use on their Mac, iPhone, or iPad. We do these interviews because not only are they fun, but a glimpse into what tools someone uses and how they use those tools can spark our imagination and give us an idea or insight into how we can do things better.

New setup interviews are posted every Monday; follow us on RSS or Twitter to stay up to date.


Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Aaron Mahnke. I’m a freelance designer specializing in logos and icons, as well as app and website UI design. In my spare time, I write fiction, and have a number of novels available in most of the major ebook stores online. I blog occasionally on my personal site. I also make paper productivity tools that I sell online. Yes, paper. Sorry.

I work from home in the Boston area, where I live with my wife and two little girls. We live about 5 miles from the Atlantic and I can smell salt water from my office window. I love reading, writing, and playing games with friends. Recently, I’ve become addicted to Magic: The Gathering, and play that at the local game shop any chance I get. I’m a nerd, and I’m proud of it.

What is your current setup?

Currently, I run my business on a 2013 27″ iMac, 3.4 GHz, i7 with 32 GB (that’s not a typo) of RAM. I like RAM. I’m still running Mac OS 10.8 because I’m lazy and I hate upgrading my work machine. I’m always afraid some key element of my workflow will break. That iMac sits on top of a stack of Ikea Expedit bookshelves that act as a makeshift standing desk. In another corner, I have a standard desk that holds an aging 23″ Cinema Display that sometimes plays host to my laptop. Laptop, you say?

Mahnke’s iMac

Sometimes I leave the office, and when I do, I carry a 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina display with me in my antique InCase messenger bag (the bag I bought to carry my very first Mac, a 12″ PowerBook G4). It’s the 2.7 GHz i7 model with 16 GB of RAM. I enjoy the SSD for performance and durability, but man, I wish it was cheaper to get more storage in these things. Other than that, it’s been an amazing laptop, and the Retina display makes working on large InDesign spreads easy as pie.

Mahnke’s MacBook Pro

For mobile, I have a black iPad mini with Retina display, and that’s usually docked in an Everdock beside my iMac while I work, acting like a mini-dashboard for notifications and tasks. And of course, I have an iPhone (5S, black, 32 GB) in my front right pocket at all times.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

I mostly use Illustrator and InDesign, though I occasionally jump into Photoshop for web work. I really prefer working with vector shapes, and that’s the best way to do icon and logo design. Secondary design tools would include Preview, Pixelmator, and TextEdit.

I use an assortment of “support” apps to communicate and share files with clients. Dropbox is my file storage and sync app of choice, and I use a small app called Dropzone to share files with my clients. Drop a file into it, and it puts it in my Public folder and copies the public link to my clipboard. I use it daily. My menu bar plays host to 1Password, Droplr, Backblaze, Arq, Fantastical and Emcee for iTunes (so I can tell what song is playing).

I’m a huge fan of Evernote, so I use that for client notes and tons of personal categories. I frequently take pictures of my notebook and add those to Evernote for safe-keeping, and do most of my blog writing in there as well. For social, I use Tweetbot for Twitter, iMessages for chats with friends, and iWork (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) for all my “office” needs. I work a lot, though, and social doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. All work and no play does indeed make Aaron a lonely boy.

I run my life from OmniFocus, and can’t imagine not having it on my Mac (and iOS devices) to throw new tasks into as they pop up. And believe it or not, I’m one of those people who loves Mail.app. It might be the added functionality that the MailActOn plugin adds, but I have nothing to complain about with this app. I do all of my client communication right from there.

For my fiction writing, I plan everything out in Evernote and then write the manuscripts in Scrivener. It’s the ideal app for building a book and then exporting it to the various formats that are needed to self-publish across the board.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

I think I’m slowly becoming a fan of using just one machine, so I think my ideal setup would involve a Thunderbolt display for my office and a newer version of my retina MBP to use in and out of the office. I think storage would have to improve though. A 500 GB SSD would be perfect, but it would need to be affordable.

I work from my home office 80% of the time, but I do enjoy getting out and working in different spaces. Being able to just open up the laptop and pick up where I left off would be perfect. My reasons for having the large, powerful iMac are starting to become fewer and fewer. Outside of that change, though, I think my setup fits my needs perfectly, and I’d honestly not change much else. Would a new Mac Pro be nice? Sure, but I can’t justify it.

In the end, all I really need is a device to run the suite of Adobe apps for client work, and something to pound out words for my novels. Everything else is fair game for the iPad and iPhone, which continue to blow me away with their power and functionality. I carry a super-computer in my pocket.

My 10-year old self is incredibly jealous.


There are more Sweet Setup interviews right here.