My friend Jas recently went freelance after working full-time for years. As she started to work on setting up a home office, all of a sudden she felt overwhelmed, so much stuff out there and she wasn't quite sure on what to invest on. Jas, reached out asking about how I was set up and If I could make some recommendations; she also urged me to write this on a blog post, because as she put it. "would be helpful to a lot of people out there". So here you go:
Like most design problems, setting up your work station comes down to a series of questions. As you answer each one, you will end up with a final design, a.k.a. solution! The big questions to ask are:
What are you doing?
How are you doing it?
When are you doing it? and finally,
Where are you doing it?
Let me give you an example. I work on a variety of projects: Magazine redesigns, brand work, digital work and logo development. I work at my home studio, at some point I also had an actual studio space, and on site with clients. I can't be lugging a huge desktop computer around. What I need is a high perfomance laptop that I can easily plug into TVs for presentations, or monitors in different locations. So if you are moving a lot, invest on a laptop with high processing power and max out the memory.
I have had my Macbook Pro 15" 2.8 GHZ Intel Core i7 laptop since 2015. And this thing still runs like a charm. I tend to update my computer every 3 years. So this is probably in its last year, until I buy a new one, and use this as my back-up-computer or reformat it and give it to my mother.
If I were to buy a laptop now I'd probably get a Macbook Pro, 15" 3.1 Ghx quad-core i7 processor with 1 TB SSD storage. If you are feeling spendy boost it up to 2TB, but I don't think I'd need it. I am not doing a lot of video editing/motion graphics or working with HUGE photoshop files that would require that much memory. This right now would be a $3,399.00 investment without Apple Care, and yes, you should ALWAYS get Apple Care.
I have a 27-inch widescreen glossy LED backlit cinema display as my main monitor, and an older Apple Cinema Display that has more of a matte finish as my second monitor. I love these older monitors for print work, because nothing will ever look as amazing printed as it does in your Glossy backlit retina display. The duller quality of the old mac monitors are great for photo retouching, and just working on print work. ( without buying a super expensive photo monitor, which by the way, I find it useless if you're not calibrated to the printer settings).
So, at home I am working with 3 displays ( the laptop on a laptop stand, the retina cinema display and the older mac cinema display ). If you are starting out, get yourself one nice big display to start off, and see if you need another one. For digital work, I like having multiple displays so I can test the work in different browsers. 3 displays allows me to have one open in each screen at the same time. It's also really helpful to have your email screen up on the smaller laptop screen as your work, so you don't miss important client emails.
Because I do a lot of print work, (still!) I have a 11x17 color laser printer. If you are working with small type you have to be able to print and look at it. If your main concern is type, you could work with a black and white printer to begin with and see how that goes. I like printing in color, so I can get a sense for the whole design. After much research on printers I have to say I was very overwhelmed, but my buddy Carl de Torres recommended I try the laser printer he had just purchased for his office and was working a lot better than his previous ones. Carl has run a studio for over 10 years, so I trusted his recommendation. I have had the HP Color LaserJet Professional CP5225dn Printer for over 4 years and it works great for me. He's a big boy, very large and very heavy so make sure to measure your space before purchasing it.
I rarely scan final art. most of my work is digital, so scans are mostly used for sketches that will be digitized. For that I like the nimble CanoScan Lide 120. It was 60 bucks on amazon and it works great for what I use it for.
Other important things: BACK UP! You need to constantly back up your work. One, for safety, but to also keep your laptop working well. As you complete your work, back it up. Then back it up again, and again. I work with various Lacie Hard Drives. I buy the 4TB ones. I have one for my portfolio, one for works in progress, and some times I get dedicated ones to really large projects. I also have a dropbox business account, where I put all my work in progress work. I also have a time machine and a Seagate 1TB Hard drive that the time machine automatically backs up my desktop to everyday.
Other helpful gadgets
Apple's Ipad pro (with the pen) is also an amazing addition to your pro set up. It's a great tool to share your portfolio and for client presentations, It's also a sketch tool and drawing pad.
I resisted getting an apple watch for a while, but have to say, it can be very helpful to keep an eye on your email and calendar while in meetings without being rude. I also have a 13" Macbook laptop that I bring with me on getaways and weekend trips. They are easy to bring, and if a client needs something, or I feel the need to do something on a project I can do it without much trouble.
For email, I use gmail pro account. Apple is great for your personal family email, but for business, get yourself a gmail account! As you are sharing google docs with clients and other collaborators, your life will be a lot easier if you have a gmail account. It also easier to access everywhere and you will rarely run into problems with your email. It has some cost associated with it, but it's low, about $5 dollars a month per account.
For my website I use Squarespace, and I customize it to my needs so it doesn't feel so templated and generic. I am not a huge fan of wordpress, never was. I find their CMS annoying and hard to use ( needless to say, ugly!). It is possible they updated since then, but the last time I checked which was probably a bit over 5 years ago, it was still as I remembered. Some day maybe I will get the patience to built a website for myself, but Squarespace is a great starting place, and the cms is super easy and intuitive. It's also pretty affordable. But I recommend you try a few things out and do what's best for you. The most important thing is to have a web presence, so people can easily find you. Be good about updating your portfolio with new information, and don't add a "news" or blog session to your website that you don't plan to keep up. If after the second post you don't touch it for weeks, just remove it.
Of course, this is not gospel, it's just how I do it. I hope this is helpful. If you aren't on the move as much as I am, I would recommend getting a robust desktop + less powered up laptop to use around the house and meetings. but that's a topic for another post.