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CULTURE

Desktops

CULTURE

Desktops

Virtual versus physical: Our conversation with six creative professionals about their workspaces

by Greg Stefano
on 20 January 2012

Our environment influences our behavior both physically and mentally, guiding our personal evolution to determine, among other things, our quality of life. Nowhere does this ring truer than in the workplace. The surroundings, comforts, decorations and distractions that exist in the work environment can have a huge influence on creativity and productivity. For most, the workday revolves around the desk, and how individuals interact with that space can give some insight into the way they operate in the workplace. For the contemporary professional there now exist two desktops, the virtual and the physical, which raises some interesting questions about the relationship between these two spaces in our lives. We asked six creative professionals from the art, web and design worlds to show us their virtual and physical spaces, and found out what makes the modern desktop.

Monica Khemsurov, Co-Founder, Sight Unseen

Do you think of your desktops differently?

Yes. My virtual desktop gets far more use than my physical one, and it can accompany me into bed at night when I'm being a workaholic (which is always). I work from home, and my physical desk mostly just exists to keep me off the couch and save my back.

Monica_SightUn_Physical_Desktop.jpg
Favorite desktop accessory or decoration on both virtual and physical?

Virtual: My desktop image is the cover of a 1969 issue of the German advertising-art magazine Gebrauchsgraphik. Search its name on Flickr — amazing. Physical: Hard to pick a favorite, but I guess I'd go with the little metal bust on an acrylic stand, which I got this summer at a San Francisco antique store. I'm obsessed with things on stands; I also have a set of old geodes mounted on little metal tripods.

Monica_SightUn_Computer_Desktop.jpg
Where/when did you learn to organize or form a system of organization for them?

I don't have much to organize on my physical desktop — I keep my mess on my kitchen table. But I will say that on my virtual one, I've always religiously kept things in aliased folders because a long, long time ago I was told that storing a lot of stuff on your desktop slows down your computer, which I think is actually no longer the case. Ah, modern technology.

What do you look for in a work space? What are the key elements to keep you productive?

Quiet, comfort, and good food at arm's reach. I work really well at home actually — I can focus here far better than I can in an office. Offices make me tired and shifty. Especially when I'm not near a window, which has been the case for half of my working life. Once I was shut away in my own office with no window at all, so I hung a huge photograph of a forest on the wall, but it didn't help the feeling that my soul was slowly dying.

Dennis Crowley, Co-Founder, Foursquare

Do you think of your desktops differently?

Yes, my physical desk is just a seat. As much a place to sit and get work done as it's a place to store all the stuff I accumulate. The foursquare office is pretty open with lots of common space to work. There are some days I'm only at my desk for a few minutes (meetings, etc) and I'm totally fine with that. My virtual desktop is pretty bare—I've got a portal to Dropbox which mimics everything onto my Mac at home, iPad and iPhone. I guess the Dropbox cloud is the virtual equivalent of my messy physical desktop.

dennis-crowley-mac-desktop.jpg
What are you embarrassed about on your desktop?

Physical: It's a mess. I just tend to accumulate stuff—stickers, papers, postcards, photos, books, baseball cards, trinkets, USB cables. Virtual: Nothing! Since I got this new Mac I've bee keeping it real organized!

Favorite desktop accessory or decoration on both virtual and physical?

Physical: Penguins that sing and dance to House of Pain's "Jump Around" (my Mom sent it to me for Christmas). Virtual: I've been using this app called F.lux that subtly changes the color of your screen as you get further from dawn and closer to dusk. Took me a few days to adjust but it's pretty nice.

dennis-crowley-physical-desk.jpg
Where/when did you learn to organize or form a system of organization for them?

Virtual: My desktop hasn't always been so tidy - the desktop my old MacBook was littered with old files. My physical desk has always been kind of an "organized mess". Luckily, foursquare is moving offices next week which will force me to get rid of most of it.

What do you look for in a work space? What are the key elements to keep you productive?

Being in a crowded room. I'm more productive when everyone around me is buzzing. Most of the early foursquare prototype got built in East Village coffee shops since the atmosphere was much more motivating than working alone at my kitchen table.

John Maeda, President, Rhode Island School Of Design

Do you think of your desktops differently?

I don't see them as connected in any way. I do regret that I don't connect them more thoughtfully.

JOHN_MAEDA_PHYSICAL.jpg
Favorite desktop accessory or decoration on both virtual and physical?

On my physical desktop, Kinesis keyboard is a necessity. On my virtual desktop, I guess it would be my Sparrow Mail window.

JOHN_MAEDA_VIRTUAL.jpg
Where/when did you learn to organize or form a system of organization for them?

In 2005 I wrote a book called The Laws of Simplicity that espoused principles of organization that I use in my daily life.

What do you look for in a work space? What are the key elements to keep you productive?
I look for a large enough table with a power outlet nearby. The key elements are industrial ear plugs, my computer, and my in/out box.

Jon Burgerman, Artist and Illustrator

Do you think of your desktops differently?

Yes, one collects dust and the other, images dragged off the Internet.

John_Burgerman_Virtual_Desktop.jpg
What are you embarrassed about on your desktop?

Nothing really, I have no shame, not anymore.

Favorite desktop accessory or decoration on both virtual and physical?

I have a small collection of cute/ugly animals stuck to the wall of my office. I haven't really added to the collection for a long time now but I still like them. I try and keep both desktops clutter-free. I don't like clutter. I don't like unnecessary things. Almost everything is unnecessary...apart from wet wipes, of course.

John_Burgerman_Physical_Desktop.jpg
Where/when did you learn to organize or form a system of organization for them?

I am feral. I learned and adapted by need and circumstance.

What do you look for in a work space? What are the key elements to keep you productive?

Nothing. I like space and the suggestion of a never-ending afternoon. To keep productive I need no restrictions or distractions. I'm distracted so easily.

Kelsey Keith, Senior Editor, Dwell

What are you embarrassed about on your desktop?

It's a cubicle with gray walls and very little flair.

Favorite desktop accessory or decoration on both virtual and physical?

I moved into this office two weeks ago, so I don't have much in the way of decoration. Several must-haves are red pens, a stack of clean notebooks, and a drawer to stash all the extras: snacks, stain remover, passport, calculator, hand cream. I would equate that drawer to the folder of photos on my virtual desktop.

Kelsey_Keith_Computer_Desktop.jpg
Where/when did you learn to organize or form a system of organization for them?

I tend to remember things as soon as I write them down, so I wasn't forced to get organized until I started managing people in an editorial role. Now I stay on track by adding appointments, even tentative ones, to my calendar as soon as they crop up and keeping a running tally of high-priority tasks on Mac Stickies. Funny enough, I loathe physical Post-It Notes.

What do you look for in a work space? What are the key elements to keep you productive?

No clutter. Bright but warm light. Seltzer. Noise-canceling headphones. A land line.

Kiel Mead, Designer

Do you think of your desktops differently?

My desktops are the same, there is never enough space!

Kiel_Mead_Desktop.jpg
What are you embarrassed about on your desktop?

My wood shop is sort of next door to my office so there is usually a fine layer of dust on everything. I am kind of self-conscious of that when clients are visiting.

Favorite desktop accessory or decoration on both virtual and physical?

My dog, George, She is currently on my computer desktop and strangely, sometimes we catch her on the actual desktop! She is a 40-pound Basset hound, explorer.

Kiel_Mead_Screen.jpg
Where/when did you learn to organize or form a system of organization for them?

On my computer desktop I like all my icons very small. For some reason I feel like it is more organized when it is small. I wish I had a shelving system, floor to ceiling. I think that will be my next investment.

What do you look for in a work space? What are the key elements to keep you productive?

I am always looking for pens in my work space—they keep disappearing. My wireless printer is a task-killer, easy as pie, I can print from my phone! The main things that keep me productive are the endless threads of emails I tend to find myself on.

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