My Minimalist Digital Workspace

Philip Kuo
Jul 15, 2020 · 7 min read

I am a computer science student with a passion for design and all things aesthetic. I am also a minimalist and love keeping things extremely simple. I thought it would be nice to document my current computer setup and share how I organize my digital workspace.

I do everything on my single MacBook Pro. While my life quite literally depends on this amazing machine, I keep my workflow simple. There are only a few app which I use and love.

Web Browser

I use Safari as my web browser. It is fast, elegant, and it keeps everything synced across Apple devices. On Safari, I have two extensions installed: AdGuard to block ads and Grammarly to help me write better.

In fact, I made the switch from Chrome because its design matches better with macOS — Chrome’s material design title bar feels cluttered and takes up too much screen space. Other things I love about Safari are

  • Continuity support across my Mac, iPhone, and iPad
  • Sign In with Apple and Apple Pay support
  • iCloud support for bookmarks, reading list, and etc. I especially love its password manager, which generates unique passwords for sites and keep them in sync across devices for sites and apps
  • Picture-in-Picture support, which allows videos to be played on top of other work. Tip: on YouTube, right-click twice to show option for this

However, I do use Chrome when doing web dev work, as it does have more extension options and has more helpful web inspection tools.

Music

I use Spotify for music and podcasts. Spotify’s Connect feature made it super easy to jump around all my devices, including Alexa, PS4, and smart TV. No other music platform provides this convenience.

It is pretty obvious that their macOS client is made with web technologies, which means it’s easy to hack since the front end code is not compiled before serving to the user. I used spicetify-cli (“the tool”) to inject custom CSS stylings to Spotify’s CEF core and made the app match better with macOS colors and design. Here are the steps I took to achieve the look.

In terminal, run these two commands to install and initialize the tool:

$ brew install khanhas/tap/spicetify-cli$ spicetify

Then, open the spicetify_data that’s created in the directory where you ran the commands. In config.ini, set current_theme = macOS and inject_css = 1, which tells the tool to inject our custom styles into Spotify. In the Themes folder, create another folder named macOS, then create a user.css file in it.

Finally, copy my CSS code from here and paste it in user.css. Save the file, then, in terminal, run:

$ spicetify backup apply enable-devtool

Voilà! Spotify should start up looking fresh!

Email

I don’t use Superhuman, HEY, Spark, or other fancy email apps. Instead, I have Gmail Desktop. It’s a simple open-source Gmail client that runs constantly in the background, which means email notifications get delivered in real-time.

I find Gmail powerful enough and has all the features I need. I also like that it delivers the same user experience across devices. Here are the features I love:

  • Accurate “Important” filter
  • Single-click unsubscribe button that works for almost all marketing emails
  • Snooze feature that works across devices
  • Schedule Send
  • Smart Compose that helps draft emails
  • Native Google experience that integrate with other Google Services, like Meet and Contacts

With these features I am able to brief though every personal email and reach Inbox Zero everyday.

Calendar

I use the calendar app that comes with macOS to organize all my events. I had it synced to Google Calendar and set the refresh interval to 1 minutes so updates are fetched constantly.

I used to use Fantastical but left since it switched to a subscription pricing model. In fact, I’ve discovered that I love the native app more as it’s got a way better notification system that says “in ___ minutes” dynamically according to current time. It also has more snooze options. Third party apps can’t have these due to macOS’ limitations.

Code Editor

Visual Studio Code is my code/text editor of choice since it’s fast, powerful, and insanely customizable. Almost all my development works are done within VS Code. The best thing about it is its huge library of extensions that help speed up the development workflow.

I customized it so that it matches with the colors and design of macOS. For the theme, I use macOS Modern, which has light and dark modes that match Xcode’s design language. For the font, I had it set as “SF Mono” with a line height of 16. For the icons, I use Material Icon Theme which provides a extensive range of icons for almost all file types.

Terminal

All developers need a kick ass terminal. For me, iTerm has been the winning choice without doubt. I customized it so that I can spend less time on the command line.

I use Zsh as my primary shell and had the Oh My Zsh framework installed alongside it, which provides even greater customization freedom and plugin support. One of the plugins I love is powerlevel10k — it makes the interface more enjoyable. I use the SF Mono Powerline font so that my terminal shows nerd-font icons with the beautiful SF Mono font. Other plugins I love are zsh-syntax-highlighting and zsh-autosuggestions, both drastically speed up my development workflow.

Design

Sketch is the only digital design software I use. I love that it is truly native to macOS and has outstanding performance. It also has Sketch Cloud sharing feature that enables me to easily share design specs and assets with developers.

Sketch has an extensive library of plugins which I find helpful. My favorites have been the Artboard Manager, Data Populator, and Unsplash. It also has official design libraries from companies like Apple that’s constantly updated, and it’s helped me greatly in designing apps that follow the Human Interface Guidelines. It works great with the SF Symbols app as well.

Screensaver

Currently, I use the JW.S® screensaver, which displays absolute gorgeous imageries from Jon Way Studio. The images are so stunningly beautiful, I had them displayed for up to 3 hours after 2 minutes of idle time when my Mac is connected to the monitor. I have it on for so long because I had the monitor beautifully mounted to the wall, so when the screensaver is in display, it’s like a framed picture that changes dynamically!

Other beautiful screensavers I enjoy are Aerial and Padbury Clock. There’s also the screensaver which I built that displays the same content as on my university’s Engineering campus bulletin boards — it helps me keep up with events news while at school.

Utilities

There are a few more utility apps I use to help me boost productivity. These are usually hidden away and can only be access by keyboard shortcuts. I try to use only open source apps for these so I know they are using my data the way it’s intended to be used.

  • KeepingYouAwake for preventing macOS from going to sleep for a set amount of time. Great for when in a presentation. It lives in the menu bar and is super simple.
  • Paste for keeping past clipboard history. I use it all the time, especially when developing. It’s not an open source app, but it’s the best clipboard manager I’ve found. Simple and beautiful.
  • Rectangle for quickly resizing windows. I only had three options enabled: centering window and aligning window left or right.
  • IINA for playing all types of media files. It is open source and just as powerful, if not more powerful, then VLC. It’s got great subtitle support and has a beautiful, minimal interface.

I have been actively pursuing a minimalist lifestyle for a few months now, eliminating the unnecessary and keeping only the essentials. Reducing clutter on my digital workspace has allowed me to become more productive and focus on what’s truly important. I sure hope this article was able to provide you with some new insights!

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Philip Kuo

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I craft stunning digital experiences.

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