episode 9: This is Where I Design


  • The 4th of July weekend is the height of summer, at least here in the States, and this time everyone has a bit more relaxed episode to go with the mellow summer attitude. Troy, Sandy and Nolan are talking about their design studios, typical work schedule, novelties they have gathered for inspiration and of course presentation design. You are invited into their studios for a chat and tour!


Let’s talk about where you spend most of your time when working. Describe your desk

  • Troy: Ikea curved desk system with lots of desktop space, 24″ dual monitors, Microsoft keyboard/mouse, Logitech web cam, Herman Miller Aeron mesh chair. Everything has a place but I still always have a few piles of stuff.
  • Nolan: I am still in transition after moving to our new home almost a year and a half ago. I have the plans for a beautiful built-in hardwood slab desk, I’ve got the carpenter and lumberyard picked out, just need to pull the trigger and make it happen… and haul it up through a window to my third floor office. I’m currently a temporary long table that is in the same place my eventual real desk will be, facing a window to my backyard. I have a Humanscale Freedom chair, 5K iMac with a second older iMac being used as a 2nd monitor, wired Apple keyboard (hate the wireless ones), Intuos tablet, a few printers under my desk, podcasting mic on a boom, and USB hub with lots plugged into it.
  • Sandy: I have a traditional transitional desk with hutch and return in antique black. I need the desktop clear, so I have tons of storage and a drawer for my keyboard. It also has hidden power outlets and USB ports which are perfect because I hate to have wires showing. I also have a Herman Miller mesh chair which is still one of the best purchases I’ve ever made.


Beyond the desk, what is your work space like?

  • Nolan: My office is the full 3rd floor of our home, and most of the it is orange and white. Usually, I have a dog and 2 cats somewhere, often on a small gray couch at one end of the room, my racing bike is on a trainer in the winter. On the walls I have a large print of Minard’s famous Napoleon graphic on one side of my desk, a cartoon trashing PowerPoint on the other, a vintage sideshow poster, and painting by my mother. Because it is a finished attic there is not too much wall space because most are angled in.
  • Sandy: I need to surround myself with beautiful things to be inspired. One thing I really enjoy in my office is original art pieces we have purchased from local artists during my travels. Having spent a lot of time in corporate offices, I’ve designed my office to feel more like a part of my home.
  • Troy: I like to feel the space is personalized. So while we have the super clean lines of the Ikea desks and cabinets, there is lots of cabinet storage, and lots of toys, tchotchkes, show lanyards and name badges, Microsoft MVP award certificates, and more for an organized clutter feel.


Do you have any special lighting? How is your work area and desk illuminated?

  • Nolan: Overhead recessed.
  • Troy: Overhead recessed lighting with LED 100 watt super bright white bulbs. Also, both the design studio and my home office have nice big windows. I like a bright area, but no glare on the screens – kind of the exact opposite of my work space when I am on the road backstage in the dark.
  • Sandy: Single overhead light with built in accent lighting in my desk.


What are a few fun novelty items you see when sitting in front of the computer?

  • Nolan: A small collection of Japanese mascot charms and juggling balls.
  • Sandy: A framed gift from a friend that supposedly says “PowerPoint” in Chinese, a framed prayer, a marble obelisk, a magic eight ball and a giant close pin. I also have a framed photo of my husband and me standing with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background.
  • Troy: I probably have more toys than work/tech items. Partially because they are fun, but really because when you have the world’s largest toy maker, Mattel toys as a client for over a decade, you end up with a lot of fun toys. I can easily be distracted by what some would say is a large collection of collector Hot Wheels cars, a BB-8 iPhone remote robot, crocheted little monsters from my wife and lots more.


What is your typical work day schedule?

  • Nolan: Get up about 7, see my wife off, hop on my bike for 1/2 hour or an hour or go to the gym to swim, then get to work. I usually manage to take breaks in the middle of the day to mow the lawn, go for a run or take the dog to the dog park. Some people insist on steady work hours, but I much prefer to be able to be flexible, choosing to work in the evening or on weekends or whenever so that I can do what I need to during the day.
  • Sandy: When I’m not traveling, it’s typically an 8 – 5 work day. Since I travel a lot,  it’s important that I spend time with my husband in the evenings. I usually put in a few hours over the weekend. I have a project leader that helps me keep within that time frame by taking on admin responsibilities and managing subcontractors.
  • Troy: I hate to say it, but a day has 24 hours and my work schedule can involve any of those hours. My ideal day is up to see my girls off to school at 7:00am, breakfast and little house things, into the office around 9:00am to work with the design team on active projects. Then, home around 4:00pm to enjoy the afternoon sun and time with my wife, kids and dog. I am usually on the computer in the evenings reviewing projects, returning emails and organizing projects for the next day, asleep around midnight.


Outside the work schedule, what are you doing this summer?

  • Nolan: We just finished a Northeast road trip for my wife’s birthday, including Niagara Falls. I’m not traveling much in July as I’m training for the NYC Triathlon, then in Minneapolis for a training program and I may have a quick trip or two to check off more baseball stadiums; I have 5 left.
  • Troy: As a family, we do 2 things each summer. First we head to the beach for a few weeks of camping in our trailer. Second, we started this I think 6 years ago, we spend a week in a different city being a tourists as a family; although this summer the plan is Seattle and Vancouver our kids schedules are making it difficult to confirm.
  • Sandy: I’ll be traveling to Boston over the 4th with my two youngest to see friends who will be in the states from Germany, Montana to see my parents and siblings, Nebraska to see my oldest and her family.


Favorite summer time food?

  • Sandy: Jeff grills the best steaks and chicken ever. We have a patio surrounded by woods. It’s like our own little state park.
  • Troy: Outdoor grilled anything. I really enjoy our outdoor kitchen, and the flavors of grilled fresh vegetables, steak or flat bread are perfect summer time foods.
  • Nolan: We do grill a lot. Grilled bread is my wife’s favorite.


What brand is your computer? Is it a laptop or desktop?

  • Nolan: 27″ 5K iMac, + an older 27″ iMac as a second screen, Macbook Air, Surface Book.
  • Sandy: 34-inch diagonal curved HP Envy all-in-one desktop PC and a Surface Book. I use my Surface Book for all meetings — including these podcasts and for traveling. It’s my favorite laptop — ever. I also have a Macbook Pro. I use that mostly, and ironically, to run PowerPoint 2010 on a virtual machine.
  • Troy: I use a laptop as my main production computer. It is a Lenovo W530 with a docking station. It clicks in when at the studio or home office and stays closed. It’s like working at a desktop computer with dual monitors, full size keyboard, mouse, Wacom tablet, great speakers, webcam and stuff. A number of our designers use the same system, and on all we removed the CDROM and replaced that bay with a 1TB data hard drive. I also use a Microsoft Surface regularly.


Do you use a tablet?

  • Troy: Yes, an iPad mini 4 but I do not use it a lot.
  • Sandy: Every once in a while, I use the tablet component of my Surface Book for work. I access my iPad mini and Samsung Galaxy Note 5 throughout the day for communications and social media.
  • Nolan: I occasionally use my iPad Air to show my portfolio in client meetings. But I mostly mount it on a tripod and watch Netflix or HBO while riding my bike indoors.


Pro Tips

  • Troy: iPad duet 2nd monitor. Two monitors is the best setup when designing a presentation project.
  • Sandy: Personal OneDrive. While I have a OneDrive for Business, I find the Personal version to be much easier to use. It’s indispensable for travel. And since I operate my business virtually, my Project Leader and business partner have instant access to all Presentation Wiz activity.
  • Nolan: Excel tables in PPT via paste as Microsoft Workbook object to retain Excel functionality.


Tech Tips

 Instead of our standard “Tech Tips,” we are making this our summer episode. What is a recommended outdoor, summer item?

  • Sandy: Gel stain for metal garage doors. I’ve researched it for three years and finally ended up staining our garage doors. I’m not kidding — they look like wood. We were able to do a 3-car garage in a weekend for less than $100.
  • Troy: For me, it is a toss-up between my mountain bike and my outdoor kitchen and grill. We are just finishing a major backyard landscaping redo this summer so I am going with the grill. That is where I am going to spend a lot of time with family and friends.
  • Nolan: Costco string lights & Consol Solar Jars. Glass mason jars with a special top that has a solar cell on top and LED lights on the inside, along with a mechanism for magnetically turning the light on or off. I saw them in Africa on safari, they’re entirely made in South Africa by a small collective of locals.



  • Microsoft purchased LinkedIn.
  • Microsoft released Server 2016 and a new SharePoint IOS app.
  •  The Presentation Guild is growing and has a number of great webinars for members, including Inspired by Design, featuring Julie Terberg and hosted by our own Nolan Haims.


Resources from this Episode: 

Freelance Transformation Podcast

Consol Solar Jar

Costco Outdoor String Lights

PowerPoint new text highlighting feature

Duet Display; dual screen with ipad

Add Excel tables into PowerPoint (by Glenna Shaw)

View and edit PowerPoint files direct in DropBox


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