Work inspiration with Ben MacGowan

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Ben MacGowan

Lead UI Engineer for the digital agency Creative Jar

My name is Ben MacGowan and amongst many things, I am the Lead UI Engineer for the digital agency, Creative Jar. This creates the opportunity for me to build and enhance the user interfaces across a range of websites through cutting-edge front-end technologies, and as a result better our user's experiences.

I am a strong believer in building not only usable and beautiful interfaces, but ones which are future friendly and of the highest quality. This has seen me talk at conferences and organise a regular free event for designers and developers, Breaking Borders to share knowledge and push the industry forward.


I am a minimalist at heart, and believe in a clean house results in a clean mind. To that end, there is very little that appears on my desk both at the office and at home.

My main machine is a 17" 2010 MacBook Pro with a 21" Samsung external monitor. This set up allows for me to have the power for a lot of development work and the portability when at events.

Mobiles and tablets are a valuable tool in any front-end developer's arsenal. That is why you will find a cabinet not too far from my desk which contains a number of devices to allow me to test my work.

As often as I can, I like to try and get away from my main machine. Therefore any article writing, reading and email I try to complete on my iPad.

My office space at home is often where I do a lot of my mind-mapping, planning and thinking about processes, writings, talks and the like. A lot of this could be done digitally, but my preference is to see this work in physical format. Therefore I have a large whiteboard behind my desk which allows me to do this.

Anything for smaller notes and portable mind-mapping, I do in my favourite notebooks: A5 Leuchtturm1917 Notebooks with squared pages.


There are a number of apps which are crucial to my workflow and launched every time I turn on my computer.

  • Outlook for Mac and Airmail for emails
  • Tweebot for keeping up with Twitter and sharing resources
  • Google Chrome for browsing and initial development
  • Alfred for easy access to my programmes. I have also found this handy for doing quick maths e.g. responsive calculations and copying the result to clipboard
  • F.lux to aid my eyes through a long day of looking at a computer screen
  • iA Writer for focused writing
  • Keynote for presentation preparation
  • TotalTerminal for quick access to Terminal
  • LittleIpsum for quick access to generated LoremIpsum
  • Wunderlist for task management and planning my day

For my core development workflow;

  • Adobe Photoshop CS4
  • VMWare Fusion with Windows 8 virtual machine
  • Visual Studio 2012 for .NET projects
  • Transmit for FTP
  • CoRD for remote desktop requirements
  • Coda 2 is my code-editor of choice
  • Mixture is a valuable front-end development tool. I use this mainly for file processing (minification of JS, Sass compilation and image optimisation) and multi-device testing, however it has many more functions. Would thoroughly recommend checking it out.

Dream setup

I am pretty close to my dream setup already. However, I would love to upgrade to a 13" MacBook Air to allow better portability (a 17" laptop isn't the lightest of hardware) and why not throw in a 27" Thunderbolt Display for bigger working space.


Meditation has been a great tool for inspiration. Clearing the mind of tasks yet to complete, what to cook for dinner or how fix that 1px display bug in IE7. Giving yourself the space to think is something that should not be underestimated.

Looking at other industries and making parallels has always been a great source of inspiration and a driver for a lot of my beliefs. Though what we create are all 1's and 0's, why cannot we take inspiration from the physical world; in design, process and work ethic?