Multiple monitors and arrangements

It’s quite common to have two monitors these days for working with your day to day project. Because people realize it becomes handy when there’s another monitor around when you need that extra space.

However there’s a lot of misconception of using multiple monitors to boost productivity, especially when you are watching Youtube showing off big and fancy monitors everyday. So in this article, let’s discuss some of the topics that Youtube doesn’t cover and see whether it can help you clarify some of the misconception.

Size matters a little

Size does matter when it comes to the monitor size. But we don’t need large monitors bigger than 32 inches most of time. In a sense, the size of the monitor is quite relative, there’s no absolute right or wrong in choosing the size. Because the distance from your eyes to the monitor is also a variable which most of time gets updated to its most optimum value.

Make one example, if you have a 50 inches monitor, you wouldn’t sit closely in front of it like what a Youtuber does. Why? Couple of things: a) You can’t see the whole picture b) The heat, radiation and the noise might kill you in a month. It’s same as sitting at the first row of the movie theater. It’s a bit too overwhelming if you ask me, a normal human. So you’ll naturally sit back.

Similarly, if you have a 11 inch monitor, so tiny you might say, but you can put it near your face, just like an iPhone or iPad. It would still make you very enjoyable reading it, wouldn’t it? So size isn’t the thing that really matters here? So what is, you might be wondering?

It turns out there’s another important metrics that the companies doesn’t advertise that often, it’s called DPI. Like a printer, it tells you how many dots it can print within an inch, essentially it tells you the fineness of the detail it can ever go if it chooses to. That’s what we are concerned here when choosing a monitor as well.

You want to get a monitor with dpi above 200 or at least close to that range. Just give you an example, iPhone might give you 300 above, that’s why we think the text is so crispy clear on the phone, of course we wouldn’t expect to see the phone’s content over long distances. See nobody asks that kind of question.

Unfortunately there’s not much choice if you want to find a monitor with dpi above 200, in fact, it’s very hard to find. And when it does exist, people might not appreciate it that much. This is an irony. Because in order to get a high dpi, normally it needs to go to a smaller monitor to get it. Funny? You can find a utility tool online to help you figure that out, https://www.sven.de/dpi/. I’m not saying smaller is the better, if you notice, I’m only stating the math fact here.

Number matters but how?

Ok, now we put the screen size out of the way, we can be more focused in terms of finding the right monitor arrangement. To be honest, on this earth no one can tell you what’s the right way :) Because no one knows, also no one is like you, you might particularly like some arrangement other than others. Below are popular monitor arrangements:

But there’s one thing for sure. Using multiple monitors at the same time isn’t necessarily boosting your productivity, and most time it’s not if you are not careful. Human does not have good memory in tracking, so they rely on their habit. And if you don’t have a habit, you just want to look straight most of time. Which is not bad at all.

Therefore one monitor, or a relative large monitor isn’t a bad thing to start with. You do not need to over-think where to look, your eyes does not need to travel too far as long as the monitor isn’t too large for you. Because if it’s too large, you have to sit back, it’s the same problem all over again.

When you absolutely want to add another monitor to this picture, you can’t make the second one sit straight in front of you, instead you need to position it a bit off center while having the first monitor to be centered. Why? We’re not looking for an equal-partner for multiple monitors, you want to have a specialty for the new addition. The second monitor need to have a purpose, also it can’t be the center! Believe it or not, you’ll regret if you break this rule too often.

From now on, we’ll have all sorts of combination on monitor arrangements, left/right, top/bottom, front/behind. There’s just so many to experiment, but the good news is that you’ll find a good one for yourself sooner or later, as long as the distance from your eye to the monitor isn’t a fixture. So please have fun and below is my dream setup which is quite close to what I’m using.

Memory is important

There’s some universal thing here. No matter what you do, the habit with the help of your memory will always do you good. If you happen to put news website to one of your monitor, tomorrow you’ll come to look at that monitor for news. Therefore this comes to the window management, you want to arrange the window so that certain things always (or most of time) sits in that section of the viewport. This actually comes back to the answer of the productivity. If you want to be fast, you need to remember things. In the computer algorithm, we always use space to trade speed. In the best scenario, we’d like to have all info laid in millions of monitors in front of us, assuming we can remember which monitor is for which purpose.

If I can’t remember so many things, what should I do? Form a habit, nominate certain things to a specific monitor, reinforce this habit. If your head doesn’t need that much movement to find the info you want, that’s the definition of productivity using computer terminologies. Of course we don’t want to make you in-human, let’s add some randomness here as well. If you can freely find the relevant information for the current task with the help of all your monitors, you’ll be thrilled to find out you can actually master time. You know what I mean if you have ever done it.

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Fang Jin

Fang Jin

Front-end Engineer, book author of “Designing React Hooks the Right Way” sold at Amazon.