Hi, I’m Meng To, author of Design+Code and world traveler. AMA!

Again me.
How many bags do you carry around?

In my first year, I took only a carry-on + backpack thinking I’d save a bunch of money. If you can do that, that’s great! I soon realized that it was too constraining and that Airlines always have a way to make you pay somehow. Plus, some of them give you a free checked luggage.

This year, I bring a big luggage + carry-on. Get a 4-wheel, it’s definitely worth the extra money! I eventually got rid of my backpack because it was uncomfortable (also you end up hitting a lot of people without knowing).

Will you write another book? Perhaps not about Swift/Sketch, but there are other apps that designers are talking about; Affinity Designer/Photo/Publisher for example.

That’s definitely possible. Before doing that, I want to make sure that Design+Code is a solid book, with updated materials that respect the latest Apple standards.

I’m not proficient enough with Affinity to write about it, but I heard great things. If I was to write another book, it’d be about Web or Android. I think there’s a huge need to simplify the design process for those platforms and explain them in a way that beginners can understand.

Your book and your lifestyle are truly inspiring!

I would like to ask that how can you be this productive during your travels? What is your average daily routine?

Last, but not least what are you most frequently used iOS and Mac apps besides Sketch and Xcode, you can’t live without?

Thank you for your answers! : )

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Thanks the kind words, Daniel.

  • The key is to love your work more than you love traveling. Focus is important. You have to understand what makes you focused: music, good wifi, great projects, etc. I’d suggest getting an unlocked iPhone and ask for a SIM card first thing in every airport that you land to.

  • I spend an average of 5 hours of focused work per day. Before a launch, that can grow to 12, but that won’t be sustainable. I travel with my fiance, so sightseeing, culinary explorations and watching movies is part of the deal. :wink: – I do enjoy the balance and I think that’s key to keeping it consistent and avoiding burnouts.

  • I can’t live without Ulysses, Screenflow, Ember, Dropbox, CloudApp, Mint, StrongVPN, Slack, Keynote and of course Twitter.


Thanks @MengTo for doing this AMA, I’m a big fan of your work :smile:

Since you’ve been denied for a visa to the US, your life changed radically. Do you still have the same will to work/live in the US as before? How did that change?

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The feeling is mutual. Love what you’re doing here @levelsio!

  • The beauty of traveling is to open doors. It really made me rethink about my options. I don’t look at working in the US the same way anymore. Considering the visa hurdles I’d have to go through, I am not as desperate to work in the US. But who knows.

  • I’d call the denied visa the best thing that ever happened to me. I am who I am today because of it. Steve Jobs summed it best:
    “Sometimes life’s going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did.” -SJ

Hi Meng To. Your book is mind-blowing. Congrats.
My question is: what tech persons inspires you the most and why ?


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Really appreciate it!

Definitely Elon Musk for both his bold vision and phenomenal execution. I really believe that he’s going to change transportation, space exploration and energy in a big way. If you read Nikola Tesla’s short autobiography (something he wrote a century ago), you’ll find that we are still far behind our potential as a human race.

I still read about Steve Jobs. But I must say that I’m very impressed with Tim Cook’s ability to grow Apple in his own way. Perhaps not as visionary but still extremely efficient and world-changing as ever.

Obviously Jony Ive, the subtle force behind Apple. His taste is so disciplined that it changes mine. I think that innovation has the ability to change minds.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
― Henry Ford

Ray Kurzweil really changed my life with his view of the future (singularity, scary stuff) and how I should approach my daily habits in regards to eating, sleeping, taking supplements and analyzing my own self. Technology is going to change biology and medicine in an unprecedented way.

Finally, I just started reading about Ed Catmull, the CEO of Pixar about managing creativity. Super inspiring stuff.

So nice to see you here. Read your book and your very inspiring story.
Could you tell how you transitioned from using large-size iMac to laptop (and btw, what size MacBook and Air/Pro do you use?).
I’m also faced with this question; it seems so interesting and promising to work on MacBook, but when I use it after bright and large-sized Thunderbird display, its like… a porthole :wink: Not to mention all panels, even in Sketch, take too much screen space… Were you struggling with the same things? How did you solve them?

I’m humbled to be here and to receive these amazing questions.

  • Currently, I’m working on a 15-inch Macbook Pro. I did travel and work on a Macbook Air for a year. I think the need of a big monitor or a mouse is an illusion, because it’s really really hard to get out once you’re used to it. But over the years, I found that it’s a really good practice to get out of your comfort zone and really try new things. In fact, I’d force myself to, so I can understand better the people I design for. I did so with the Mac 10 years ago when I transitioned from Windows. Most recently with going mobile-first, using the Macbook, iPhone 6 Plus, etc. It’s only after a long period of time that you can truly judge the pros and cons. Traveling has been instrumental because it forced me to live with less materials.

  • I guess you learn how to work with full-screen windows instead of having them open next to each other (which I would argue is more distracting). Reality is that we all suck at multi-tasking. Command + ~, Command + Tab really helps.

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Do you use Retina MacBook? As I have a choice of 13" Pro Retina and 15" Non-Retina (but with faster processor and more memory).
If Retina, at what scale do you work in Sketch? As 100% seems pretty small and 200% a bit large compared to reality.
And Photoshop looks awkward, you can hardly see 14pt text in layouts when its 100% scale.

I use the 15-inch. The 13-inch’s native resolution is too small – smaller than the Macbook Air’s (1280x800 vs 1366x768). 15-inch is 1440 by 900. You’ll need that extra real estate for Xcode.

I think it’s good to work on a Retina screen, because it makes you consider Retina, which a lot of designers are on. Since a lot of us design for professionals, even if the market share is tiny, that portion is really important. Because you designed for non-retina before, you’re able to still consider them.

As for the pixel density of the screen, both Sketch and Photoshop have solved those issues long ago. You won’t notice a difference at all, except that the readability is far greater. It’s like upgrading to broadband internet.

How long before Design+Code were you designing, and coding for?

How much did you have saved up when you started on this journey?

Did you at any point feel like you were absolutely reckless for doing this?

What is your next life’s task?

Which 15-inch non-retina model?

  • Prior to the book, I’ve designed as a job for 14 years. 2 more years before that, as a hobby/student while going to high school.
  • I had around 20k. I soon realized that I couldn’t travel for long with that money, so I took a job in Hong Kong for 6 months.
  • Reckless? I think that’s relative. Compared to staying home and saving money? Sure. But at the same time, you don’t take risk, which probably won’t challenge your ideas the same way. It’s hard to see it at first, but it makes sense after a while. Eventually, you don’t really think about it because it feels so natural. Who knows what kind of person I’d be if I didn’t go to the US, or traveled for a year and a half afterwards. But I’m happy I did and it feels so right, even though it felt crazy at first.

I guess what I’m saying is that you should always be reckless. Keeps you hungry. That recklessness starts feeling normal.

  • I’d like to build a dream team and grow products, so that they mean even more. Tools, education, design. I’d like to settle, but keep traveling. My views have opened greatly and I’d like to bring those views to wherever I settle.

  • I have a Retina Macbook Pro. 16 GB RAM and a nice graphics card so I can play games when I feel inspired.

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Thanks everyone for asking questions and @MengTo for answering so expansively. :smiley:

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