Yes, you guessed it! The mighty Stream Deck.
However, I won’t be presenting it from the perspective of streamers. This article is totally for us regular people: the work-from-home crew, office stars, learners, coders and cloud engineers!
I’d like you to meet this tool with fresh eyes, in a way that will streamline your entire workflow. Here’s the gist of this article:
- First we will review three Stream Deck devices and the app, real quick.
- Then we will go over how streamers use it, blazingly fast.
- Then we will discover the true potential of this tool for us professionals.
- Then I will sprinkle some insights on the future of this device and its possible impact.
- And finally I will link to videos and resources to teach you how to use the software and get you started.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how to transform your workflow. That’s the promise, so let’s begin!
The Stream Deck Innovation
Corsair, the computer hardware company, owns Elgato Systems. And Elgato produces a variety of products such as microphones, video capture devices, lights and streaming interfaces.
And Stream Deck is a line of product they produce in 3 sizes:
- XL is 32 keys
- Standard is 15 keys
- Mini is 6 keys
To assign actions to icons under the keys you install the app (Windows + Mac):
The app gives you ability to set some truly amazing functionality:
- Design and switch to profiles and nested folders to swap keys on the device
- Drag and drop key icons from anywhere
- Trigger a variety of actions once each key is pressed
- Install plugins to extend your reach to many apps on your computer
- And of course design your entire work process!
Streamers Love This Device
Reaching out to various dials and knobs while on air with hundreds of people watching is a hassle! You have to change your live scene, switch between cameras, cast your screen, adjust your lights, change streaming settings and finally share your social links all during the live event.
Streamers design their decks to take advantage of one tap changes: they design buttons for changing scenes and switching between cameras, keys to show and hide their monitors, triggers to adjust the intensity of their room lights, actions to activate and deactivate various microphones and pop up and blink their social links.
And voila! Just with one click of a button, they trigger a series of actions while playing against an army of enemies or presenting live webinars!
Why do they love this device?
- They want one tap changes with multiple actions
- They don’t want to print labels for buttons
- They want to easily customize their setups
Hence it’s pretty much a standard for a streamer or live event host to use a Stream Deck device to control their event.
Time to Supercharge Your Own Workflow
Now, you may ask what is that have to do with my own work?
The answer is pretty easy! You may not realize it but you also are streaming actions into your computer: triggering apps, dealing with bookmarks, repeating tasks, switching between contexts and workspaces, zooming in and out of stuff, using keyboard shortcuts to start a series of functionality and continually pressing app icons. All of these efforts are a flow of actions you stream into your workstation to get things done.
Let’s break these down into specifics so we can take full advantage of a Stream Deck device to remove many frictions from your work.
Easy Access to Desktop Apps
The easiest way to take advantage of a Stream Deck is to design app shortcuts. You customize profiles for your desktop apps to make them accessible with the push of a button. This way of using it has many alternatives such as using the system tray icons with a mouse, searching with Spotlight and Alfred or triggering the Launchpad to access your apps.
Stream Deck will reduce the friction a little further, but let’s not stop here.
Chrome on Rails
The next use case is pretty interesting. Chrome is the most used browser on the planet with a staggering 60% of internet users. And Chrome provides awesome functionalities such as extensions, bookmarks, multiple tabs and developer tools.
Think about how you use Chrome right now. You use menus and keyboard combinations to close tabs, reopen tabs, find and click on your bookmarks, trigger certain extensions, zoom in and out of the pages and move between tabs.
What if you were able to trigger certain profiles while using Chrome to make these actions as easy as clicking a button instead? What if you shadowed your bookmarks into keys so you can just click their names instead of looking for them?
This is where Stream Deck shines. When you switch to Chrome, Stream Deck can understand that you are using Chrome and give you folders of actions specific to Chrome. You switched to another app? No problem, the device can change its keys to match that app.
Here’s some advantages you can get from the device:
- Reduce friction accessing your most used websites
- Have buttons specific to managing tabs, zooming in and out, and triggering extensions
- Design folders of dashboards per context, i.e. bookmark keys specific to your projects
One Tap App Triggers
What if you’re not just using Chrome? What if you’re using Colab or Jupyter? What if you’re using Kindle or Notion or Adobe Illustrator?
All of these apps provide a wide range of keyboard combinations to change between styles, trigger cell codes, switch between pages, swap between palette icons, and so on. You already have been using these key combinations to work faster and better.
Apple realized this need and invented the touch bar. Soft buttons that change as your context changes. However it was tedious to design new buttons and functionalities and it was up to app designers to provide those buttons. It didn’t revolutionize anything. It is a luxury to have a touch bar, that’s all.
What if that revolution could be somewhat achieved if you had a deck of buttons that you can be easily designed and they changed as your context changes?
That’s exactly what’s possible with Stream Deck. A better touch bar with less price tag with light years ahead in customization.
Here’s what you can do while using your apps with Stream Deck:
- Design buttons to take full advantage of all shortcuts an app can provide. For instance you can make many profiles for each of your use case: Google Colab, Jupyter, Adobe Illustrator, Visual Studio Code, Sublime Text and that little app that makes your life easier all get their own profiles. You switch to an app, the key profile presents you the new keys.
- Trigger series of actions to prepare multiple apps with one click. For instance you can design a button to pull up Github website, open up iTerm, Sublime Text, Docker, and Notion. You click that button, and all of them get ready and wait for your use. Your sequence changes, your button changes. Simple.
Pro Level “Online Meeting” Controls
Now that you know how shortcuts can be assigned to keys on the Stream Deck, you can guess what’s coming next.
Whether you’re using Zoom, Google Meet or Microsoft Teams, you’ll always want to seamlessly control your microphone, camera and screen. And we usually use either app menus or keyboard shortcuts to achieve this functionality. And that’s sometimes tedious and doesn’t come across as professional especially when you struggle to find the app and unmute yourself or share your screen. 😇😀
Enter the advantages of Stream Deck. It currently provides easy integration with Zoom and you can assign keyboard combinations to easily take the pain out of your online meetings. Plus, you get to be known as the pro level presenter.
Build a Productivity Dashboard
One specific advantage of being able to nest folders of keys and swap between profiles of keys is that you can concentrate your most used apps and websites onto Stream Deck dashboards.
- You can make folders to organize all of your most used calendars, drive folders, productivity sites into one place. Tap, tap, tap: all of them open instantly.
- You can make folders to focus all your training resources such learning and documentation websites into one place. Click, click, click: they are all ready to go.
- You can trigger extensions and apps through shortcuts such as starting your timer for the next session and taking a screenshot from the website. Press, press. All in order.
- You can combine all your SaaS portals under one pane of glass and reach them much faster. Plus you get to remind yourself how many services you use with one look.
Time to Streamline Your Workflows
Now that you’ve discovered the full potential of how might you use the Stream Deck, it’s time to think about your own context and workflow.
Every advice is bound by a context. Something that seems great for my context might have totally different implications for your workflow.
Hence, it’s time to think about what you can do with this tool. I’ll give you some ideas:
- You can do all of the above, as is.
- You can build streams of actions that combine and multiply all of the above.
- You can design truly amazing workflows that help you save a lot of time and frustration.
Here’s how I use my Stream Deck: I have the XL version (32 keys) and designed profiles specific to launching apps, accessing my Chrome bookmarks and shortcuts, tracking my work sessions, opening up my Google Cloud dashboard pages, controlling my OBS live streams, switching between Notion styles, running and adding cells on Colab, managing my online meetings with Zoom and Google Meet shortcuts, and building my own productivity dashboard, etc.
And, I barely started using this device. 😬😀
The Future of This Tool is Amazing, However…
So what’s in line for the future of these devices? Here’s a couple of ideas.
- This device will probably be a new peripheral to increasing productivity in majority of work and home offices, selling like crazy.
- App providers will start pushing out more plugins to take full advantage of this device. As the shortcuts become buttons to press, they will offer more shortcuts too.
- End users will continue customizing and sharing their own plugins to make this device truly accessible.
- More functionality and open source workflows start to emerge, transforming our lives.
- Apple will soon pretend this device never existed and invent a prettier device and provide better integration to Mac, lol. I won’t be surprised if this really happens.
- You’ll have your breakfast ready, coffee on your desk and your cozy blanket put on your shoulders without leaving your desk all with one button. No, I’m just kidding! 😇😂😅
A few limitations of the current app is that you have to copy similar actions to other profiles or folders one by one. You can’t reverse (Ctrl+Z) once you delete something. You don’t have functionality to build loops. Also, you can’t trigger other buttons from under a button with the current version.
I’m hopeful that they will read this article and fix these issues though. 😉
So, How do I justify the price?
I have a simple framework for justifying the price for many devices. You can calculate the time you spend to set it up and time saving it brings back. Then you calculate your hourly rate and multiply by the net time saved. I’ll give you an example.
Let’s say this device took 7 hours to set all the profiles and actions. And you gain 5 minutes each day, use it for 300 days in a year and gain a total of 30 hours (5×300/60). That’s a net gain of 23 hours.
Now multiply that with your hourly rate. Let’s say you earn $15 an hour. 23 x 15 = $345 earned in terms of time. The ROI of this device is less than 9 months.
If you are making $90 an hour however, the time earned is worth $2070. The ROI of this device becomes less than 2 months.
In any case, if you like being more productive, you can give this device a try.
And no, I’m not affiliated with them in any way! I’m just trying to help you see its true potential.
Ways to Learn More and Get Started
It’s time to show you how I use the Stream Deck for my own workflow and hopefully provide some insights on how the app works too.
How I Use the Stream Deck
The product page:
Elgato’s Amazon Store:
To reiterate a disclaimer, I’m not affiliated with them in any way. I just really hope that this article helps you discover this device and its true potential to drastically improve your work processes!
Let me know if you liked it and in what way you found it useful. And share your workflow success stories with me too!
Enjoy, and see you next time!