The Bulb Culture Evolution:

Which Monitor Setup Is Right for You?

Eric McKee
November 6, 2019

Three 24” screens or One 43” 4k screen?

The Debate

Nick and Eric have very different preferences when it comes to how they work. After several discussions in the office, they decided to collaborate and share their thoughts and opinions on using three 24" screens or one 43" 4k screen. This definitely isn't the end of the debate and we're all curious to see how these trends continue to evolve.

Three 24" Screens

Nick loves his 3 monitor setup, and shares insights on why you might also like it.

Nick: As a Web Developer, DevOps Engineer, and System Architect, I juggle a few different hats on a day-to-day basis. Often, it’s required to context switch and jump to different tasks, while still referencing running processes continuing on the side. The data and controls I need to view simultaneously are dynamic and can change depending on the current task.

Within a web development workflow, I have the following open:

  1. Code Editor (Visual Studio Code)
  1. Terminal session running Docker, the backend web server, the frontend server, and a terminal space for running commands
  1. A browser window with the developer tools open to display the webpage currently being developed (And stack overflow)
  1. A database connection tool to run queries and see my data.

For me, it's crucial to a smooth development process to be able to write code and see the result without moving windows. Essentially everything I’ve listed above needs to be in view at the same time, except for the database tool. However, even when that tool is necessary, I still need to reference my code. It's cumbersome to balance all of these on a single screen, and even worse on a single laptop screen.

I’ve configured my workspace with three screens and utilize the macOS “spaces” to individually specify what’s displaying on each screen. I also deploy a variety of tools and techniques while working.

Tools & Tactics:

  • I use Spectacle for macOS to send windows to specific screens or parts of a screen very easily.
  • Using my Mighty Mouse, I can use a two-finger swipe to switch between spaces, and with spectacle, I can use keyboard shortcuts such as Option + Command + arrow to pin a window to a specific half of the screen.
  • When I'm working, I spin up my regular workflow, code on one screen, the browser on another, and terminal on the third.
  • Then I flick to a second workspace on my terminal screen and place the database tool there, then when database access is required, I flick over to the secondary space, while still being able to reference my code and the browser. All my needs are met.
  • I’ll also find myself needing to have a Windows VM running, multiple Remote Desktop connections, Slack, and countless other tools running at the same time.

I'm imagining a simplified scenario, and it’s usually never that easy, but those tools and techniques have become very useful parts of my daily workflow. By individually controlling the space on each screen using the three-monitor setup, I can configure my countless tools in any combination that I currently need them.

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One 43" 4k Screen

Eric believes the future is a single monitor experience, and dives into why.

Eric: A screen is a window into another world, providing endless possibilities. Most days I find myself in front of several screens including a small mobile screen, a watch screen, a laptop screen, and TV screens. A screen is a necessary device that can greatly improve productivity and focus in the work place. As a design and creative strategist, my work is comprised of reviewing campaign creative documents, communicating with team members, and creating large design assets. I wanted something that would give me the ability to view a complete website or app user flow end-to-end.

This is where the 43” 4k scale provides the vertical pixel height that enables me to achieve a holistic view, helping me to see things I might not when scrolling around. With a large 4k screen it's important to manage space with purpose.  To achieve this I have several zones setup. These zones allow me to move windows around seamlessly, to minimize window and context switching.

Below is an animated screen shot of the zones, and window snapping.  

Software

  • Magnet is a window management app that allows users to configured to keyboard shortcuts, allowing me to quickly snap windows in arrangements that best support my workflows.  
  • Mac OS Mojave Mission Control for navigating spaces and open windows

Hardware

Conclusion

It's interesting for us to reflect on the reasons why we've chosen different toolset and setups, as well as, how that influences our techniques and workflows.Although we currently land on different sides, we’re excited about the future of workplace screen productivity. Over the next few years we expect to see the introduction of Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) to significantly impact the way we interact with screens. We also look forward to the continued office debates!

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