Why Do Designers Use Macs?

Simon muses as to why designers seem to prefer Macs. Is it because Macs are cool, or are designers just simpleminded technophobes at heart?

Mac speakerI'm a designer, and I use a Mac. There, I've said it.

But why do I use one? All I need to do my job is Photoshop, a few browsers, and an HTML/CSS editor. All these things run on Windows very well, so why do so many creatives and designers in particular use Macs when there are lower-cost alternatives out there which run Windows?

In this article I'll attempt to look at why it is that designers are so wedded to their Macs, and what it is about the platform that draws creative types to use it so much.

I'm not trying to instigate a Mac vs PC discussion here, just to discuss why designers in particular seem to favour Macs.

History

First, a bit of personal history. When I was gainfully employed in my first web design job, I exclusively used Windows (NT, for the older people amongst us), and by and large, it was a pretty painless experience. I was still using a Mac at home, and now, in my current freelance incarnation, I'm still using a Mac in preference to a Windows machine.

These days, when I walk into a design studio, they're also all mostly using Macs. Sure there are a few Windows boxes lying around, and in my sphere of web design, these are usually used for testing. These studios, if pushed, could happily use Windows to turn out websites. But they don't. Why not? Are they just the ignorant remains of the old print design studios, where everyone really did use Macs exclusively? Back in the day, after all, if you wanted to do desktop publishing, there was only one choice - a Mac running PageMaker. I think that's certainly part of the puzzle, but there must be more to it than that.

The Brand

Designers like to think they're cool.

We can be vain and somewhat shallow, and we like to think that the choices we make regarding tools and products reflect our heightened awareness of the way things should work. After all, designers are employed to make things easier to use.

Apple are quintessentially cool, so at that level it makes some sense that the Apple brand is the platform of choice. Let's face it, Windows is not cool. Designers think of Windows as being the platform that the accounts people use. Sad but true.

It just works (for me)

In my experience, it's clear that Apple is a design-led company. It's true that the hardware is lovely, and designers like nice things, but it's deeper than that. From both a hardware and software perspective, Apple products are really well thought through, and designers really like this attention to detail. Using Apple gear is inspiring in its own right, and this gives designers a constant benchmark of quality and ease-of-use to work to.

Ben Huson, from London-based web design firm Camber, sums it up:

"Designers like design. Duh!"

In contrast, Microsoft feels like a technology-led company. Here's an example as to how that relates to the end-user experience.

Setting up a Wi-Fi connection on my dad's Vista laptop was an exercise in insane user interface design. It had essentially "forgotten" the home network, so I had to set it up again. In the "Connect to a Network" dialog I could see the network I wanted to connect to, but the "Connect" button was greyed out. After much to-ing and fro-ing about how to get to the settings for the network, I discovered I had to right-click on the network, and choose "Properties". Only then could I give it the password it so craved. Then I had to Okay that, highlight the network in the original dialog and click "Connect".

Conversely, on the Mac, you click on the Wi-Fi (Airport) icon in the top menu, select the network you want, it asks you for the password. Type it in and press Okay. That's it. No dialog boxes, no hidden settings you have to dig for, nothing.

We can take from this admittedly arbitrary example that Macs are focused on the user, where Windows seems to take the view that so long as something is possible in the end, that's just fine. That's not how designers' minds work. They want things to be simple, and user focused.

Further, designers don't care about computers. For them, it's all about the idea, and getting it out of their heads and onto the screen. Anything that gets in the way of that is a pointless annoyance. They don't want to tinker with settings — it's just not relevant to them. This may be a failing in the mindset, but I think it helps explain the continuing use of Macs in the creative industries.

Here's Charlie Piggins of Internet Work Ltd to ram that point home:

"I want to be greeted by the warm fuzzy goodness of a shiny apple and know that all the ugliness of the startup is happening out of sight. Macs hide the ugly truth."

Software

Traditionally, Windows users laugh at the lack of software available on the Mac. However, these days, whilst there's not the breadth there is on Windows, the software that does exist tends to be of a very high quality. Mac software tends to focus on one thing and do it very well. So, on a daily basis, for web design, I use:

  • Panic's Coda
  • MacRabbit's CSSEdit
  • Bare Bones' TextWrangler

All these apps are excellent — simple to use, well thought out, and elegant. They're also Mac-only. These apps feel like part of your Mac in a way that Dreamweaver never will. Homegrown Mac software, designed and built by the Mac community, has a polish that most Windows apps don't possess.

Of course, the big guns run very happily on the Mac. The Adobe Creative Suite is nearly entirely cross-platform (although on the Mac it feels alien, clunky and slow), and Microsoft Office works on the Mac just fine.

So why do designers use Macs?

What can we take from all this? We can either assume that designers are cool-hunting, arrogant technophobes, and are so emotionally stunted as to be made whole only by a shiny new MacBook, or it just may be the case that designers really do have a heightened sense of what makes for a good computing experience.

I know which answer I prefer, but what do you think? Post your response below!

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Responses to this article

20 most recent responses (oldest first):

04-Nov-09 17:19
Mr Hicks, there's no need to be so defensive =)

I do say that PCs should work just as well, given the parity of software in the creative industries. I was just wondering why designers appear drawn to macs.

I think it's easy to to dismiss it as "snobbery", but I also think such accusations are lazy. Designers are not as a rule snobs by any means, so what is it that draws them to the platform?

Feel and interface are important to designers. I'm not talking about an office worker, most of whom in my experience couldn't give a monkeys what's in front of them, or indeed about their job.

Maybe designers just care more about their work and have higher standards. Tools for the job.

Simon
06-Nov-09 18:04
I once had to work with a lead designer at a rather large computer corp (who will remain nameless) and he was a right snob. In his head, everything he did was wonderful and everyone else's work was crap or insignificant.

Ironically he was using Windows.

Most designers are lovely though
11-Dec-09 11:31
I began my design career using Macs exclusively... back when it was a necessity due to PostScript fonts and whatnot. As time passed and I began to focus on Web/Interactive Design, I gradually (and reluctantly) switched over to the PC platform out of necessity (and the PostScript thing became a non-issue).

About a year ago, I interviewed for a job at one of the big marketing/interactive agencies in the area. When I pulled my PC laptop out to connect to their projector and show my portfolio, the CEO actually snickered a bit and said "You ever use a Mac?" I relayed the above history to him, and he said "Oh, it's no big deal, I've just never met a designer who uses a PC."

I didn't ultimately get the job (no surprise), but a couple months later won an AMA award for "Best Web Site of 2009." Go figure *shrug*

[Edited by webmaestro on 11-Dec-09 11:31]
13-Dec-09 21:51
Great story webmaestro - and congratulations on the web award.

Do you ever get tempted to move back to a Mac, or have you come to love (or at least accept) the PC way of things?

Matt
14-Dec-09 03:23
Hi webmaestro,

Sounds like you met a mac snob! Webdesigners are more disposed to use PCs than print types I think - less of a legacy maybe.

Could we see the site that won the award please? It's always great to see good work!

Simon
14-Dec-09 13:40
Matt:

Yep, I always missed the Mac platform/OS, and frequented the local Apple store for years. In August '09, I transitioned to a new job, and in our department it's all-Mac. They outfitted me with a shiny, new Mac Pro and 24" Cinema Display. However, I still use PC's at home, since I've already invested so much in that regard.

Simon:

Sadly, I used to BE one of those Mac snobs too. I was quite the "Mac evangelist" up until I made the switch to PC.

As is often the case, the award-winning site has since been modified by the client (they left our agency a few months after the site launched, as part of an internal reorganization). However, you can see a couple of the original screenshots by scrolling down to "AmazingMail" in my online portfolio, here: http://www.bobbygdavis.com/portfolio.html (it was the "Corporate Site" that won)

If you visit the current live site www.amazingmail.com , just know that it's the result of THEIR tinkering--not quite what we originally designed/launched.

[Edited by webmaestro on 14-Dec-09 13:43]
15-Dec-09 04:56
Nothing to do with snobbery. Choice only. I can understand this thinking though as I agree many old school Mac users who are pure mac saw a lot of MS games. They act superior now Mac are back on top. On top does not mean I infer better than.

I do both coding (js, jquery, coldfusion, jsp) and design (all adobe cs and css) on OSX. I very rarely use windows. Why? Choice nothing else guys. I have used both platforms I prefer Macs as they make my life easier, but YMMV.

A few points as to why I choose to use OSX over Win:

OSX is simpler...it makes it easier therefore to handle design projects. It is has many features there for design as in the dark days of OSX apple survived from designers. These are subtle and too much to go into here.

I NEVER pirate software OSX has better ethics, I feel that is true. So there is not as much annoying protection. You won't find many mac users stealing software. Win is stuck with mad protection to try to stop stealing.

OSX is based on BSD (you all know this right?)...we can run all our server stuff here and save a Linux/BSD install. This is a HUGE deal guys - bigger than many think. I deploy to unix like most of you...I cut out the win hassle here. Yep I know about VM's but it is faster working native still. I can have on my OSX development box a Unix server and software almost the same as my unix deployment server. Much faster and I cut out the hassle of differences win needs to develop on. Ofc if you deploy to MS you would be the opposite. As a developer you should learn BSD/Linux/Unix and how it works. You can play on OSX just pop up the terminal and away you go.

There is software parity now. I don't think this is a reason why I use Macs.

There is also the very weird thing that designers are into imagery...Macs are sold better for imagery than any other PC. And I don't think gamer PCs with lights flashing are cool...I am 30 and I work for a living with my computer I don't play games on my computer...those lights and mad shapes just annoy me. Macs look cool in my office and impress clients....silly but all marketing/imagery selling is silly but it works.

Look as I have said to win users. Chill I know there is hype. But your on a platform that can do everything OSX can do. If you like it stick. Your not going to get much better here for your design/coding work.

However if you like OSX just jump in. It is not hard.

There are issues regarding if you have built up win software licensing etc. That makes it hard to move and throw that away. I can't leave Apple as I have so much software on upgrade steams here I would lose to go win. Or if you like to tinker in a machine yourself. You work with MS technologies and like them. There is many reasons not to move your OS.

Must go work to do...if you want any more info on Macs post away...good question this...but at the end of the day I and many designers can do the same work on either platform if we had to. So back to what I said at the start - choice nothing else there is no magic reason.
15-Dec-09 05:21
@ webmaestro

Good stuff! They haven't destroyed it too badly - I've seen a lot worse!


@michaelkav

Fair points all. My advice is always that if it has to make you money, stick with what you know.
15-Dec-09 05:41
Yep that is true...too many technology wars going on...we have to accept we can't learn it all...choose and stick with it...even car mechanics now are specific to a make...it is just the way choice is going not just in our industry but all.

I get asked all the time which technology is better. Please tell me I need to know I need to be sure and confident I am doing it right. Ever get this from your padawans?

My simple answer is if it does the same job none...very few projects benefit from different technologies that can do the same being used over each other unless the project has very large specific goals one technology is known to excel at...but day to day bog standard projects...none are better...it is the skill of the product user that matters not the product...you will find good and bad win/osx users out there.

Funny world no matter your OS stick with what your good at that makes you money and don't get crazy to try and learn it all. I tried that and you end up never sleeping and having no family time. So be careful you don't end up doing that...we have all been there...and I strongly say not to try it...think twice before adding a technology to your skills...you may be better just improving what you know already.
15-Dec-09 05:43
@ webmaestro

Congratulations on the award. In my book I'd say your client hasn't 'destroyed' it! There are some clients I know that have done much worse to their website!!
15-Dec-09 05:45
Absolutely. I think that the thing top realise is that it doesn't matter what OS you use, so long as your ideas and execution are great.

Personally, I have Macs because I can fix them, and understand them (a bit, anyway). Other than that I could work on Windows quite happily (and have done).

Simon
15-Dec-09 06:02
@michaelkav

Thanks for your advice to "stick with what you're good at that makes you money and don't get crazy to try and learn it all." In the past I used to think it was good to know "everything" and that really took its toll on my time, health, family and social life... but now I know better!
15-Dec-09 06:17
I've pretty much given up on learning it all too. Nowadays I try to just do a few things well.

I would like to learn Aftereffects though, but sadly I don't really have the time.

Simon
18-Dec-09 04:56
Hi all, this is an IT guy( i mean, who had experience of using mac & pc for 10 years) and then talking:

I've used Xserve (yeah baby, its for industrial purposes. + networking), Mac Pro + all mac stuff. and have used windows '95, xp, 2000NT, Vista. (thank life/god for such an opportunity.)

Designers: straight and simple: they are happy to spend, but not good at taking risks.

Apple products + people who release apple applications, in their world.. nothing comes for free

Windows products + people releasing win applications are available for free or relatively cheap.

Seen/experienced both worlds and can say one thing... its just the people who use those products are morons.

The producers share/copy/implement ideas with just 1 or 2 added benefits. but, worthless consumers wage a war against each other.

Seriously our brains are so f***ed up, that we can't accept two humans in two different skin colors...

I'd suggest, lets master our brain. We are slaves to it now-a-days!
19-Dec-09 07:31
I found it hard to accept a mac in two different colours circa 2000.

Simon
08-Sep-11 12:43
Very good conversation...

I think it comes down to one thing, a designer is usually a designer and that's all they care about. They don't want to have to worry about if their computer works or if it doesn't. They don't want to take the time to gain knowledge about what they are using and how it works. They just want to log on and do what they need to do, so they are happy to pay through the teeth for apple to take everything out of their hands and handle it for them.

However, once in a while you come across a good designer that also has a passion for technology and knows the ins and outs of a computer..mac or PC...and has the knowledge to build a machine that makes an apple look like a turtle for just a fraction of the cost. This person also knows how to keep a system clean and running top notch and never has to call in an IT to fix something that is just an extension of his or her own brain and fingertips. And as for design and aesthetic purposes....YOUR a Designer! don't you like to design things your way? or at least have the ability too? My windows 7 machine looks nothing like what windows looks like by default or behaves that way. Because I have control...not Apple...not Microsoft...me!
Just for an experiment, I brought in my laptop which I completely customized to look operate and feel like mac osx and my teacher thought for sure i had installed moc osx or was running parallels on it and was dumb founded when he found out it was just win7..lol. I don't keep it this way of course..that's just silly..lol..i keep it the way i want it to operate.

mac doesn't even make a system that has the specs i run or am looking for, the only option is to buy a tower with way more than I need for 10 times the price that i don't have as much control over. really though, why does a designer need a server cpu in their tower? so apple can get rich? its unnecessary.

so why do i also use a mac for design? because in the end it's not about high specs or more for the money, it's about being a team player. if thats what the whole team uses then I'm gonna use it too. you don't want to stand out like a sore thumb, or be discriminated against. you just want to do your job. Although i'm constantly wanting to stand up and say.." ITS BECAUSE MY LAPTOP IS BLACK ISN'T IT?"....lmao..just kidding.. but really though. do what you want on your time and what they want on theirs. life will be much easier and more peaceful that way. and you'll get much further.

[Edited by Duane on 08-Sep-11 12:51]
28-Mar-12 11:18
I'm a designer and developer and I use Mac for personal, Windows for work (because I have to).

I do prefer Mac over Windows but I don't think everyone who feels like I do should be tossed in the Mac snob bin. (Why isn't there a Windows snob bin?) Windows came to the forefront first and still owns the majority of the market so there's that. I like my Mac because my work flow is more efficient, and oh ya no viruses. No tinkering with Norton or Kapersky pop ups all day while I'm working on a design.

Most everyone I know who hates on Mac has never truly given it a chance. I admit when I first made the switch I was out of sorts for a week, but after that no looking back. If you or someone you know is a Mac hater there IS hope. Besides, your PC will most likely crash by the time you get back from the Apple store anyways ; )

[Edited by knj836 on 28-Mar-12 12:50]
Cee
31-Mar-15 02:00
Sorry to rain on your parade, but your wrong, there are 16.7 million reasons why.

The reason Macs are in every studio is because macs were 32-bit and could deal with colour (even though my first work Mac had a Black or white monitor, and I mean black or white, not even greyscale!). Also type was so bad on microsoft no one would have considered using a microsoft box.

We had Mucrosoft as a client and they demanded that we do their ads on PCs, as the IT manager for the studio at that time, I explained why it wasn't technically possible and they shut up PDQ.

It's mostly legacy, and the fact the LittleSofties don't understand that dealing with files running into the terrabytes needs a machine with fast ports and modern subsystems. If I had a euro for every littlesoftie I have had to kick out of my studios for being stupid I'd buy Greece and Spain for fun!
30-May-16 03:32
Macs are cool! I agree to that!
PreciousJephson
31-May-16 03:06
I used it for years and I only experienced minor problems. I guess there is no reason for me switching to other products.

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