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Q&A with Stephen Hay

“Designer who codes” | Mobile/multi-platform design

I'm Stephen Hay. For lack of a better term, I'm a web designer, though “designer who codes” and “design strategist” might also describe what I do, which in essence is helping clients define and realize designs for their web projects. I do this through my own firm, Zero Interface. A lot of my work involves helping clients with mobile/multi-platform design concerns. I'm also a speaker and author. My first book, Responsive Design Workflow, examines a non-traditional, content-based approach to designing responsively.

I talk about things like design and CSS at various conferences around the world, I'm co-author of the Dutch guidelines for website quality and accessibility, and I blog as if blogging were a scarce resource (a few times a year) at I'm @stephenhay on Twitter, where my tweet activity can tell you a lot about my workload at any given time.

I'm always learning. I enjoy too many things, but that's better than too few.


Being involved with multi-platform design means that I'm not afraid of devices, so my household has quite a few. My main work machine is a 13" 2009 MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard—yeah, I know, but I tend to stick with what works for me—and a couple of Windows virtual machines for testing and bookkeeping purposes. I did run Debian Linux on a Mac for a while, and my next machine will probably run Ubuntu.

My second most important machine is my phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4, in white. Yes, white. I also use a Samsung Galaxy Tab and do much of my reading on my Kindle Fire. For testing I have various other devices lying around. I also test on our Samsung SmartTV.

I use a small Wacom Bamboo tablet, a Wacom Bamboo stylus for sketching on devices, a Samson Go Mic for audio/video chat and a brandless headset that cost me about €3. When not out and about, I use a Ergo-Q220 Notebook Stand and an external Apple Extended Keyboard.


My main machine has Alfred installed, plus f.lux, Caffeine and ShiftIt. I've got a lot of other stuff installed, but I use the following most frequently:

  • Terminal: iTerm (I also recently started using tmux and love it)
  • Coding/writing: vim (formerly MacVim but lessening Snow Leopard support saddens me and made me move to the console)
  • Documentation/style guides and design mockups: Dexy
  • Tasks, project management: Todoist (I practically live in this and vim)
  • Chrome is currently my main browsing/development browser, but I also use Opera quite a bit and have a few others for testing.
  • Time tracking: Freckle
  • RSS: River2
  • Image editing: GIMP
  • Vector drawing: Inkscape
  • Mail: Thunderbird (but I was a happy mutt user for years)
  • File storage and sharing: Dropbox and SpiderOak
  • Backups: Carbon Copy Cloner (Time Machine messed up twice—no third chances)
  • Skype and Google Hangouts for chat
  • Keynote for presentations
  • LaTeX for invoices and proposals
  • Password management: an encrypted text file
  • LibreOffice for those annoying moments when I have to open a Word, Excel or PowerPoint file
  • TwitVim for Twitter (Twicca on my phone)

I also use git, Sass, and a whole slew of other command line applications.

My other devices mainly have browsers, a few games and some utility apps installed.

Dream setup

I dislike vendor lock-in, and also the fact that I have a completely capable system that is quickly being made obsolete by declining support from software developers, while newer versions of the OS ideally require a new machine. It might be good business, but I appreciate more opportunity to make my own decisions about what I want to use and when. I've been gradually moving more toward open source and/or free-as-in-freedom software. I'd love to move to a free (or relatively “more” free) OS, provided I could continue my work without spending a bunch of time configuring stuff I know nothing about and dealing with obscure hardware/driver issues. Ubuntu seems a good first step in the right direction, though if I could manage to get the right hardware setup, I'd love to just go back to Debian.


I read a lot. A lot a lot. This morning, for the first time, I saw this quote by Groucho Marx:

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read

That's as creative as it is funny.

Though many things inspire me (talented and super-smart people, my partner and my kids, art, design, music, good books), I don't have one source of inspiration for my work. I've found that completely immersing myself in information about a problem and then letting it go completely for a short time (days) ensures that when I return to it, my mind has had a chance to come up with some decent starting points.

I've also found that looking outside one's own area of expertise is an excellent source of inspiration. And simply living a life outside of your work is absolute fuel for creativity.