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What’s on Your Desk?

I have to admit it, but whenever I visit another office, or have been on an interview somewhere, I really enjoy looking at how other designers have their space and what they have on their desks. I also enjoy it in films, when an obvious amount of effort is made to create a desk space that is authentic and full of interesting stuff.

So for something lighter than our usual topics - and if you’re able to, stick up a photo of whats on your desk and list a couple things that are on it that would be unique to you and the type of thing someone else would want to peer at.

If you want to post your image in the comments - then you can do one of two things.

1. upload the image to your server and include the HTML tag in your comment posting as a link to it. Like this: <img src=”http://www.YOURSERVER.COM/desk.jpg”>

2. email me the photo and I’ll stick it up and email you the URL. d at mdnstudio.com

I’ll start in the comments.

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PUBLISHED ON Feb.13.2003 BY damien
Damien’s comment is:

I'm fortunate to work at home and so I can have as much crap as I can place on two desks, side by side.

A floor plan of a hut at the code breaking, Bletchly Park and a letter from Bertrand Russell seem to get peered at most. But also hidden in the piles of crap is a single floppy disk with Microsoft Word on it for 'Apple Macintosh' - which I seem to keep for some reason.

Oh and I have copies of books my father and grandfather have written - as well as countless others that are fun or interesting.

On Feb.13.2003 at 10:48 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Did you clean your desk for the shot? Or is it always that tidy?

I did bring my camera today, but forgot the USB cable. D'oh! I'll post mine tomorrow! It's a huge mess...

On Feb.13.2003 at 10:57 AM
Damien’s comment is:

I confess - it is always that tidy. I'm a freak.

But there are piles of books and magazines behind me that aren't as neatly placed.

On Feb.13.2003 at 11:00 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

My god damien...how much to you have to pay for that cleaning service you have there?

On Feb.13.2003 at 11:26 AM
d’s comment is:

Oi - it looks tidy but its not. Things are misaligned - my grid system is all messed up, and some piles of books and papers are higher than others... Look - can you see? A pen is out of place...

So tell us whats on your desk Darrel.

On Feb.13.2003 at 11:33 AM
joy olivia’s comment is:

No use of the grid here. Just plain old out-of-control mess... Okay, I admit there is a touch of organized chaos, but it's not that bad. Right?

On Feb.13.2003 at 11:58 AM
Damien’s comment is:

Joy - whats the big photograph of above your monitor?

On Feb.13.2003 at 12:03 PM
Matt Wright’s comment is:

College style mess. Note the empty guiness six pack carrier on top of the record player. I need a bigger table.

On Feb.13.2003 at 12:23 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

The caption reads: "Pienza, chiesetta di Vitaleta, Monticchiello" -- Isn't it gorgeous? I'm a sucker for a pretty landscape. I should probably be working for National Geographic.

Can you tell I dream of going to Tuscany with my two Italian calendars and all? WHat inspires you is the name of the game when it comes to what's around your desk, I suppose.

On Feb.13.2003 at 12:30 PM
Andrew Pollak’s comment is:

How do I get my jpeg on a post??????????

On Feb.13.2003 at 12:31 PM
Damien’s comment is:

Hey - sorry I should have said:

if you can put the photo up on your server - then img src it to here, like this:

<img src="http://www.yoursite.com/image.jpg">

You can always email the jpg to me and I'll put it up online and send you the link to post here if you want.


On Feb.13.2003 at 12:35 PM
Andrew Pollak’s comment is:

Simplistic Complexity!!!!

On Feb.13.2003 at 12:47 PM
Andrew Pollak’s comment is:

I would rather be SURFING

On Feb.13.2003 at 01:02 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

My desk? At work...about 6" of assorted papers, web site print outs, junkmail, and leftover scraps of lunches.

At home? No desk anymore. The TiBook has freed me of such confines. That said, in the basement, I have a few boxes of crap from desks at previous jobs that I will, maybe, someday sort through.

On Feb.13.2003 at 01:21 PM
anthony’s comment is:

Another disaster area, sometimes it is clean but usually only when I am procrastinating.

On Feb.13.2003 at 01:30 PM
Sam’s comment is:

I'll take a pic, but in the meantime, can anyone recommend the proper way to light my little hovel? I don't get much direct sunlight, specially in winter. Flourescent? Halogen? I have a thing that looks like a neon tube bent into a screw shape that's supposedly sunlight-balanced, but it's not enough. Grazi.

On Feb.13.2003 at 01:53 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

For an interesting read on clutter at work (specifically in academic settings), check out: Kings of Chaos

An excerpt from the introduction: "If you occupy a messy office, you might want to print out and frame these words from The Education of Henry Adams: 'Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.' Then again, finding a bit of unoccupied space for your newly framed quotation might be a problem."

On Feb.13.2003 at 01:56 PM
Chad Ridgeway’s comment is:

actually, this is the view from my desk. Chock full of inspiration...

8th and Hennepin Ave...

The rattle of traffic.

Bus Stop brawls.

The Skyway Show Lounge.

Loud, angry rants from the intrepid streetwise.

and glorious sunshine, all the time. Even when it snows.

On Feb.13.2003 at 02:01 PM
Jose Luis’s comment is:

couln't help myself

I know I'm a pig, but hey, I work from home and no clients coming in today.

On Feb.13.2003 at 02:03 PM
Damien’s comment is:

Sam -

I use two lamps to reflect the light off of white walls. Then when its late and I think I can see my monitor flickering (which I technically can't) I turn on the overhead spots. But I hate overhead Flourescent light - however, I do notice that my light has a sort of tungsten filter to it making it a pleasant light but not always crystal clear - as direct sunlight would be.

On Feb.13.2003 at 02:04 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>interesting read on clutter at work

Bruce Mau doesn't clean his desk either! (from his manifesto.)

On Feb.13.2003 at 02:04 PM
Steven’s comment is:

OK. Mine didn't work the first time. Don't know what I screwed up.

Mine is mostly clean mainly because there is NO room to put anything. But you have to love my sweet General Lee on the side. NOTE: 100 year old buildings with brick are neat and all, but they are REALLY cold in the winter.

On Feb.13.2003 at 02:17 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Thanks, Damien. I think tungsten may be the way to go, and really high wattage.

Joy, yourlink reminded me of one of the great masters of clutter: Francis Bacon. All that stuff is on the floor. A mess that could only be described as epic. Awesome.

On Feb.13.2003 at 03:13 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

Sam -- Brilliant picture.

Darrel -- since I'm a pile-aholic myself, I remembered a review of a book on the topic (The Myth of the Paperless Office, Sellen & Harper) that appeared in

http://www.newyorker.com/printable/?critics/020325crbo_books" target="_blank">The New Yorker

about a year ago which is terribly eloquent and definintely worth checking out if you missed it the first time around.

But why do we pile documents instead of filing them? Because piles represent the process of active, ongoing thinking. The psychologist Alison Kidd, whose research Sellen and Harper refer to extensively, argues that "knowledge workers" use the physical space of the desktop to hold "ideas which they cannot yet categorize or even decide how they might use." The messy desk is not necessarily a sign of disorganization. It may be a sign of complexity: those who deal with many unresolved ideas simultaneously cannot sort and file the papers on their desks, because they haven't yet sorted and filed the ideas in their head. ... What we see when we look at the piles on our desks is, in a sense, the contents of our brains.
On Feb.13.2003 at 03:32 PM
a.’s comment is:

We discuss a few moths ago about the New Yorker article here,

the comments are gone but the links are there.

By the way Gladwell´s website is a great


On Feb.13.2003 at 04:03 PM
Damien’s comment is:

I did some work once with two scientists at Xerox Parc - who recently published a book entitled - The Myth of the Paperless Office (link below)

In the book there is a photograph of someone's incredibly messy office filled with several feet high piles of paper. The funny thing is, the guy worked a couple floors up from us, and he quite happily worked in this state - until the research lab closed down and it took him several months to sort through the paper to filter out what to keep and what had to be returned.

If you see the book - definitely leaf through to look at Alan's office. Apparently he continues today to work in a similar environment.

amazon.com link

On Feb.13.2003 at 06:28 PM
Damien’s comment is:

I'm posting this for Michael

And this, as I know him, is his desk messy. I kid you not.

On Feb.13.2003 at 06:55 PM
Damien’s comment is:

Hmmm - Joy, I just read your post about the book by Richard and Abi. Woops - I didn't mean to reintroduce the book again.

I shared an office with Abigail Sellen, who co-authored the book. I seem to remember she was pretty tidy herself.

On Feb.13.2003 at 08:03 PM
KM’s comment is:

My maid keeps my desk tidy.

On Feb.14.2003 at 12:51 AM
ben’s comment is:

pretty much the high point of it being clean.

On Feb.14.2003 at 07:57 AM
Armin’s comment is:

Here is my desk. Pretty messy. The double monitor is a godsend. I couldn't live without it. Lots of useless stuff and toys that I have no idea what they are doing there. A magnetic cactus to hold clips. A tin of altoids to get rid of the coffee breath. Some unfinished business. Loads of fun.

I got overly excited about this and I did a full review of my desk. I know I should be working instead.

On Feb.14.2003 at 09:13 AM
Sam’s comment is:

I feel envy for all of you, not only for your clean and efficient workspaces, but also for your digital photography skillz. Here is where I work, currently in mid-transition from massive mess to general orderliness. I am just anal enough to want to clean up but also just irresponsible enough to let things slide for a while until I can't find the Schaedler ruler. this arrangement is dictatced almost entirely by the length of USB cables.

Main Desk

Note small staute of Beethoven next to stack of CDs, just like Schroeder in Peanuts.


Note brand-new Luca Trazzi espresso maker (red!) in the foreground.

Posing the Hard Questions

Pulled from an Ikea catalogue. It used to be ironic, now it's a warning.

On Feb.14.2003 at 11:27 AM
Armin’s comment is:

This one comes from my wife

Yellow - note the need for two computers

Orange - also need two of those

Perwinkle - take into account the PINK backpack

Pink - photos and photos of my nephew Pablo

Red - Load 'o crap

Light turquoise - water, tea, coffee, anything liquid is always welcome and very much needed

Green - if you ever need tape, you can find it here

Dark turquoise - lists, charts, to do, production schedules, it's great to

have the option, but annoying every time you see them.

On Feb.14.2003 at 01:33 PM
Briar’s comment is:

I keep a kitchen timer on my desk. I am constantly setting it.....do a concept in 30 minutes.....surf for 10 minutes.....work for client x for 45 minutes......

I have 6 mechanical pencils. Only 2 have lead in them right now. Sort of a Russian roulette.

We went out for Chinese food the day that I bought my desk. This was my fortune.

On Feb.14.2003 at 04:05 PM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Fun post Damien. I'm on the road and can't take a photo of my desk so I did the next best thing. I took a photograph of my current "desk" at the Trident Bookstore and Cafe in Boston.

Free wireless connectivity provided by NewburyOpen.net Who ever thought one could enjoy a tofu burger with brie, green tea, and read Speak Up at the same time?

On Feb.14.2003 at 08:34 PM
Don Clark’s comment is:

I promise I'm a minimalist at home. I promise. I have a motto for my work area: more stuff to look at, more inspiration :)

On Feb.15.2003 at 02:36 PM
Armin’s comment is:

So, yeah, my parents want to get in on the desk action too. *Look for the red circles to see me!

First up, my dad's desk. A businessman by day and designer by night he keeps a very updated setup, with all the latest in iEquipment. Except for the abundance of floppy disks ; ) Many of my college hours were spent on this desk.

Next up, my mom. Although she's not a designer, she certainly appreciates what we all do. She is a writer and has a snazzy iMac. All setup in what used to my room. Sigh.

On Feb.16.2003 at 10:25 AM
joy olivia’s comment is:

Thanks to an extra enlightening morning visit to Scrubbles, I'm able to bring you a link to this great story about the inspirational clutter that surrounds desks of graphic designers. Enjoy!

On Jun.19.2003 at 08:14 AM
joy olivia’s comment is:

That's supposed to be Scrubbles.net.

I'm awful. Can ya do a mass replace for me Armin? I think I've recommended Scrubbles fifty times here as Scrubbles.com.

On Jul.03.2003 at 12:17 PM