Robert Blinn of Core 77 posted an extensive and very interesting review of Living with Complexity by Donald Norman. He describes looking at a picture of Al Gore’s messy office, and issuing big judgements about a man who campaigns against our messing up of the environment, while not keeping his own space together. Messy spaces are widely considered the sign of a disorganized and un-together person. Not for Norman:

In Norman’s view, Gore’s desk is the cluttered extension of an organized mind. Indeed, Norman interviewed many seemingly organized owners of messy workspaces and heard them repeatedly request, “Please don’t clean my desk.” The apparent disorder of the office was being carefully tracked in their minds. Norman explains that all of our desire for “simplicity” is a false hope because life is complex. Complexity, however, does not need to be confusing.

We find complexity amazingly interesting AND confusing; since starting ‘the improvised life’, we’ve have had to totally GET with our messy workspace, and it’s vast piles of ideas that we’ve found and can’t keep up with filing. We’re kind of obsessed with “messy” spaces of creative people, who clearly have their own unique mental filing systems. We find that so many people think they are somehow flawed for having an in-flux workspace, we love to post examples to antidote the notion. Here’s another favorite. …the wondrous office of Fritz Karch who is the Editorial Director for Collecting for Martha Stewart Living.

Robert Polidori for Martha Stewart Living

Photo of Fritz Karch’s office via Unplugged

Related posts: dieter roth’s workspace + the courage to ‘leave crap the way it is’
a cool way to free up the creative process
on things “not looking good while you’re working on them”
what unkempt or messy or shabby can mean
real life is messy

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13 replies on “what a messy desk really means

  1. Wow, Fritz’s office is gorgeous. There is definitely a pattern to what seems at first disorder. The bundt pans lining the walls like shields of armor (or medieval torture devices!), the rich colors of boxes on the top shelf seep down into the next shelf of books. To my eye, it almost looks neat and intentional. An obsessive collection.

  2. i would say that complexity and simplicity are not necessarily in opposition…and that the idea of chaos, etc. might be in the eye of the beholder…on another note, having grown up with a father who vacumed every day and did not permit a dish to be left in the sink; placed neatness and order above all else – its been an interesting ride – only in the last few years have i been able to appreciate disarray and to realize I have a choice. Also, chuckling a bit that the real estate agencies that have represented my home for sale over the past year insist that there be no piles, clutter, etc…as usual, many threads…we are all so fascinating!

  3. Although I think this issue is serious in terms of creativity and order and how different minds work, my association with it is also humorous. I remember a W.C. Fields film (or short) in which he plays a character with an unbelievably messy roll top desk, piled high with a huge amount of work-type debris. However, asked for something buried among the hills of paper, he is able to go directly to it without a moment’s hesitation. I used to be pretty much like that. Now I often use the floor behind my desk as a temporary filing cabinet.

  4. Reminds me of a Julie Morgenstern maxim:
    When assessing whether your space is organized or not, don’t ask how it looks. Ask how it functions.

  5. That cuts to the right to the heart of the matter.

  6. Cara, I’m dying to find that bit…have been hunting through YouTube with no luck yet. If I find it, I’ll post it. Thanks!

  7. I find my workspace waxes and wanes. It gets pretty wild…I impose order…it gets wild again…

  8. Fritz has a completely amazing eye. I remember visiting him many years ago in a studio apartment he had that was absolutely packed with stuff, but in the most beautiful way.

  9. Truer words were never said. Thanks!

  10. i had to google the words and then i thaught they hit the nail on top – thanks to elissa ; and al gore too 😉 Wiebke

  11. A real person’s desk….thanks so much. Looks welcoming, actually. Down here in New orleans, la we love funky, messy, groovy, “lived in”, etc.
    Thanks, love, Diana

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