Brendan Dawes
The Art of Form and Code

Zeroing The Desk

I'm writing this piece after delivering the final, definitely final, absolutely final iteration of a new project for a client over the weekend. The temptation now is to immediately jump fully into one of the other projects I have on, firing up Sublime and jamming away on the code until I beat it into a form that I may find acceptable.

Yet I don’t do that.

Instead I take a moment — usually a day — and zero the desk

Before I got into this design thing I did various things to try and earn money: a news photographer for local news agency, drilling holes in fibreglass for electronic circuits and trying to make it in the rave scene with a record contract under the name "Vitamin Beat". Part of that time trying to figure what the hell I wanted to do was enrolling in a sound engineering course in Manchester. During my time there (in which Graham Massey from the yet formed 808 State was one of the students) there was a working technique that would end up sticking with me. After a recording session on one of those large mixing desks, after you've twiddled countless knobs and push around many faders you do something called zeroing the desk. This is were you turn every control and push every fader back to zero, so that when the next engineer comes in he or she isn't going to jump out of their seat when a large sub-bass whacks them straight in the face and possibly blows something up. It's a polite thing to do for your fellow sound engineer.

This idea of zeroing the desk is something I've carried forward from those days trying to make it as a sound engineer, but instead of turning faders back to zero I go through various routines at the end of a project as a moment of punctuation — a pause before getting stuck into the next thing. Here's a few of those things.

File Naming

For a long time my file naming convention was never consistent. Now though I use this convention:


If however there's any files that I've not named in this way I take some time to rename them, using a utility called A Better Finder Rename.

In addition to making sure files are named correctly I also use ABFR to add the width and height to any images. All this helps to aid finding files at a later date.

A Better Finder Rename


I'm a big fan of tagging and so when all the files are done and dusted I take time to tag every single file that was part of a project. This includes tagging the client name together with the name of the project. I get quite specific, for instance tagging files that were the final delivered output with delivery or even describing things such as circles or iterations This allows me to easily find things at a later date such as those delivered files for client X or finding all the iterations that went into a project. I've found the best way to search tags on the Mac is with Ironic Software's Leap.


I use Basecamp for all my projects and I love how you can download a HTML indexed archive of your entire project. It's a brilliant way to get a complete history of a project. When I've got that I then transfer everything, including source files to my archive hard drive, which is backed up locally and more importantly off-site via Backblaze. Running projects are of course backed up constantly too!

Cleaning Up

I often find at the end of a project I'll have notes stuck up around my desk (though I highly recommend those restaurant check-on grab tab things — really handy) so take a moment to clear away any no-longer needed bits of paper and then do the same for your computer and maybe even restart it if it's never been switched off for a few months. It all adds to this feeling of closure and pausing before the next piece of work.


Finally I will then play about with other things, taking my mind off the job I've just done or am about to do and do something else, be that away from the computer or on it. Indulging myself for a while with so called trivialities.

Pausing, giving yourself moments to breathe between projects is really important and I hope this idea of zeroing the desk is something you will find useful.

[This piece was originally written for The Human in The Machine]