What Would You Take to a Desert Island?

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We have an ongoing discussion here at ZURB: if you were going to be trapped on a desert island, what ten ingredients would you want to have? Put another way, what could you eat for the rest of your life? In an effort to be as minimal as possible I went with cows, wheat and raspberries: that covers milk, cheese, bread, steak and...well berries. Everything else would just be a bonus.

In that same vein: what if you could only have five tools to design with? If your entire design career from now forward could only include five tools, what would they be?


Of course. Paper is an incredibly versatile design tool. You can sketch on it to create fast, clear wireframes. You can prototype interactions with it, or show how to use a complex tool. Failing all of that, you can make awesome paper figures...you are stuck on a desert island, after all.


Sharpies and paper go together like...well, like Sharpies and paper. They're made for each other. At ZURB we love designing with a stack of ZURB sketch paper and a fistful of Sharpies. Sharpies let you get your thoughts down in quick, broad strokes that keep you from getting hung up on the details.

If I can cheat a little I'd bring sharpies as well as a sharpie pen, highlighter and letraset grey marker – my preferred set of sketching tools. If I can't cheat then standard Sharpies will do just fine.


Alright granted, the rest of these assume I have a computer but hey – ZURB post, ZURB rules. If it helps we can pretend we're stranded on a desert island with a computer built in.

Photoshop may be clichA' but it's an incredibly powerful tool for designers. Here at ZURB we use it for our visual designs, both for our clients as well as our internal tools. We've used Photoshop to dress up printed reports we deliver (like site audits) as well as to create most of the individual graphical elements we use in implementation.


Coda is a great web design IDE by Panic. It has a polished (though not perfect) UI, supports site synchronization and SVN integration and is a pretty good text editor to boot. Coda stays open on my machine pretty much all day every day with a few different sites open. Don't give Dreamweaver the time of day if you can get your hands on Coda.


Okay, maybe this isn't a design tool but at ZURB we need our music to keep going through the day. Jeremy had a post about this not long ago. Whether it's Mark cranking anything from Michael Jackson to Lonely Island or Ryan's bizarre electronica or my half-punk, half-german metal playlists we've got music playing just about every minute we're here. You won't catch me on a desert island designing without some tunes.

That's my list. You're heading off to a desert island – what tools are you gonna take?

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It has 9 comments.

Jeremy (ZURB) says

Great post. I love this idea. As a designer I would gladly trade Email for Photoshop (otherwise who are you designer for but yourself?) and a Camera for Coda (to take pictures of my sketches and send them to people).

For food I would join you in your cows and wheat (for bread), while adding an egg-laying fowl, mixed greens (that counts right?), cacao (chocolate), grapes (wine!), hops (beer and decorative), onions, lemons (watch out for scurvy), and avocados!

Jonathan (ZURB) says

@Jeremy I suppose I was assuming communication would be handled by convenient bottles...sure the feedback takes longer but it's a deserted island, figure I could relax for a while between iterations ;)

And yeah, I forgot eggs! Toss 'chickens' on my list. Bonus: nuggets.

Tor Løvskogen Bollingmo (ZURB) says

Pen, paper, ink and music. Oranges, beer, fresh water, cows, chickens and greens.

I wouldn't need pixel perfect digital stuff, just paper and a pen to write and draw.

Mark (ZURB) says

Man, I'm so hooked on this here Internet thing that I just couldn't do without it. It's almost sad that I can't go a day without my iPhone or MBP.

Regular Desert Island:
  1. Brita water filter pack (pitcher with filter refills) for all that non-filtered island water
  2. Swiss army knife for just about everything
  3. Spare pair of clothing because every time you see an islander, his clothes are torn to hell
  4. One of those twirling garden center seed depots from Wal Mart with seeds for everything you'll ever need to grow (wheat included)
  5. A pregnant (with twins) cow so that when she gives birth and her calves grow up, I can eat them, too.
My Desert Island of Awesome Nerdery

For the tools that I just can't live without... ever.

  1. A fully loaded MacBook Pro (because, duh, you can't use Coda or iTunes without it)
  2. A satellite internet connector doodad to Twitter about all my random island doings
  3. iPhone for all those important calls I'll need to make while tapping away to some Tap Tap Revenge 2
  4. Sketchbook with a Sharpie stuck in the binding (yeah, I'm cheating)
  5. An Ikea desk with a chair because designing in the sand is a pain in the arse.

And that's that!

Dan (ZURB) says

Textmate/Git > Coda/SVN :)

And stuck on a desert island? Pretty sure I'd try to hang myself like Tom Hanks.

Dan (ZURB) says

Also: The picture of the island for this post looks awfully lush. Looks like the island from Lost... I'm just saying :)

Jonathan (ZURB) says

@Dan Couple guys in the office were bugging me about that island picture, so we looked it up - apparently 'Desert Island' just means one devoid of civilization, not necessarily sandy and barren. Strange but true! (so hush, you :)

Opencarter (ZURB) says

I'd prefer to bring a girl, to be honest. Am I allowed? =)

friedeburgerhuette online dating in friedeburgerhuette (ZURB) says

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