Just Google “messy desk.”

Forbes, Business Insider, The New York Times, and any number of blogs will assure you that out of desktop chaos can come the very best of innovation. University studies have even been devoted to the topic of the cluttered workspace and its benefits to creative thought.

I generally have a messy desk both at work and at home. I don’t like clutter, but since I’m a working parent I claim higher priorities than tidiness. Recently I looked more closely at the “empty desk, empty mind” topic and was struck by these comments from designer Eric Karjaluoto of smashLAB:

A number of myths around creativity are simply hardwired into our culture. In no particular order: The belief that designers are sensitive prima donnas whose needs must be catered to; The idea that “eureka” moments come only after great toil; The belief that you need to create a mess in order to pull out a gem; The perception that ideas occur as a result of random, chaotic action, and are only impeded by rational, clear-headed examination and planning.

The problem with all of this is that a great deal of it isn’t accurate—particularly when it comes to design. Most designers I know are normal, sensible folks who like to solve problems. I think a lot of us start to find that our insights don’t come from within, but rather are the result of truly understanding a problem. Many appear to gravitate towards increasingly methodical ways of working, and documenting, their processes. And, with time, even their experiments become less random.

GoInvo designers, like most, approach this question in a variety of ways. 


Clutter is a distraction for me so I keep my desk pretty sparse. Only the bare essentials are within arms reach. It helps me focus. And any mess I do make is usually a series of sketches attempting to untangle some complex system I’m thinking about. — Eric Benoit


I like to think that a cluttered desk isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I don't believe that it's a requirement for creativity. Design is messy but it's drawn out of order just as much as out of mess and clutter, and in either case vision often needs to be tamed by order and practicality for successful design. Not just designers, but anyone will naturally organize their workspace to match their process and way of thinking. I really resent the idea that designers are sensitive and delicate creatures. Designers are made of harder stuff and can and need to take criticism, especially since critique is such a big part of the design process. We can be wrong. A lot of the time. Design takes research and experimentation and finding all the wrong answers before we arrive at the right answer. — Jen Patel


I have been writing my own music since I was eleven. I have found that there is no exact formula for me. Most musicians I've worked with are disheveled and messy, but that doesn’t necessarily make them a great song writer. On the other hand, you sometimes hear of amazingly talented artists are are neat freaks, perfectionists, and so on. Many great minds/artists have had routines—I believe I remember reading that Beethoven dumped a pot of water over himself every morning. I think it honestly just depends on the person. Music comes to me when I am absent minded or doing mundane tasks. A theme will be running in my head, sometimes for quite some time before I even realize it. This also happens when I am falling asleep. I also hear music in my dreams, and sometimes I will be able to remember it when I wake up and record the idea. The music comes when my brain is not actively seeking it, but instead when it is relaxed or on "auto-pilot" (which could be argued is a form of meditation). Even after writing music for 15 years, I cannot pick when I will write something good, or something I like. It happens when it happens, according to my emotions, my surroundings, and so on. I might argue that toiling away at something hour after hour, creating a “mess,” only produces a “gem” because your brain becomes so fatigued that the subconscious is allowed entry, to guide your pen or fingers. — Craig McGinley


Note the sketchbook, Copic markers, drawing space, and resin at the ready. Always. — Sarah Kaiser


Note the lack of a chair. There’s a treadmill, instead. Clear desk, tools at hand, surrounding prints in disarry, and movement. — Juhan Sonin


Koko seems to have a number of well-organized design projects ongoing. Good dog, Koko. — Koko Sleeper


Heading to UXPA Boston tomorrow?

Look for the Involution Studios booth. Meet our designers or catch up with old friends. Ask Jon Follett to sign your copy of Designing for Emerging Technologies.



Grab our newest posters to display in your studio.


We look forward to seeing you there!


Thoughts on Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal by Peter Miller, owner of a design bookshop in Seattle, WA.

“... never a typical job but often a very good lunch”

Bookseller Peter Miller trained as a chef with Maurice Thuillier before launching his shop, Peter Miller Books in Seattle. The shop is well known for its collection of architecture and design books, along with drawing and office supplies and home goods bearing names like Zumthor and Nendo. But we’re not here for the elegant pencils. We’re here about the lunch.

You might be familiar with the Invo kitchen—after all, we do blog, tweet, and Flickr about it pretty often. Cooking and eating together is so important here that new hires, including interns, might find themselves on deck for the next meal before they have even changed into their indoor shoes. Sharing meals at Invo started long before the beautiful kitchen, however. Donna Driscoll, one of the first engineers in the Slicon Valley office, says of then start-up studio, “We did everything ourselves, even making daily lunches for each other. That was a part of the day I loved, sitting down and eating together. I would bring in a lot of veg I was growing in my garden. ... People underestimate how powerful the mere act of sitting down to have a meal together can have on the bonding experience. We felt like family.”


Eric Benoit cooking lunch. His meals are not to be missed!

In a 2103 interview with Bon Appetit Miller is quoted, “There’s a time when you look and you see eight people bent over their little clear-plastic containers. You see lunch isolating everybody. It didn’t matter to me if I made the whole meal and four people ate together or if we all worked on it and we all eat together; I just liked the idea that it was in common.” For Invo'ites, this is the key: the common gathering. It gives everyone permission to take a real break, to relax. It’s inclusive without being forced—many of us are natural introverts and need some quiet to recharge, but we still need to eat!

What is most impressive is that, for some years, Peter Miller managed to achieve the same effect *without* a kitchen. The very first group lunch he made involved washing the lettuce in a huge industrial sink next to the freight elevator and mixing the salad in a battered stainless steel bowl he borrowed from a nearby bar. Since then they have equipped their back-room-lunch area with a small food-prep table that quite literally sets the stage and protects the lunch-making space. A refrigerator and a microwave, cooktop, oven, and sink have followed, so that they can accomodate a broad range of cooking styles, using fresh ingredients. Just like Invo!

Lunch at the Shop is a cookbook wrapped in a treatise about the virtues of shared meals at work. Since most offices do not have the facilities for cooking, none of the recipes require an oven or stove, or the pots and pans they would use. Miller prefaces the recipe with an excellent, descriptive list of recommended supplies and equipment along with some basic cooking tips. And the recipes, well, there are more than 50, so it will take us some time to work our way through that many lunches. We will let you know.

As designers, we love beautiful books and this one is no exception. Blogger Terry Vlassopoulos mirrors my own reaction when she writes, “It reminds me of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. I have the pretty version, the compact red hardcover with thick, glossy pages, perfect typography and brightly colored illustrations by Maira Kalman. Lunch at the Shop shares a similar aesthetic, right down to the red cover, but they have other things in common, too. Where The Elements of Style provides building blocks for good writing, Lunch at the Shop gives a framework for the less daunting subject of lunch.” 

WIth its drafting-styled illustrations and enticing photographs, thoughtful editorializing and clear instructions, this is a cookbook for the artist and the writer. And, of course, for the midday break at your favorite atelier, digital or otherwise. 

lunch-openbook lunch-book-cropped

April zipped by with lots of exciting activity at Invo Studios, especially on The Digital Life. Here’s a quick review so you don’t miss a single episode.

10.April  |  Fast Forward Product Innovation  The barriers to entry in product design are falling—from open source reference designs for jumpstarting your electric and mechanical engineering to crowdfunding your financing. In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the evolution of product design with Dragon Innovation CEO Scott Miller.

10.April  |  The View From China  Dirk Knemeyer reflects on the unique cultural intersections of the first and third worlds in China.

17.April  |  A Tour of Asia  Dirk Knemeyer discusses his recent tour of Asia and reflects on his experiences there, including significant cultural differences, observations about the use of technology, and significant factors from an economic perspective.

23.April  |  100th Episode Celebration!  With guests like Luke W, Soren Johnson, Brenda Brathwaite, David Gray, and a host of others, the ride has been a fun one so far. We'll continue our coverage of UX, design, tech and culture and look forward to the next 100.

1.May  |  mHealth in Africa  Guest Niti Bhan talked with us about the highly active entrepreneurial space around mHealth in Africa, her perspective on human centered strategy for digital health, and the unique and innovative methods developed for Africa’s emerging healthcare consumers.

8.May  |  UX News—Microsoft Mobile, Tesla Batteries, and Smart Watch Wars  Dirk and Jon talk about Microsoft's mobile strategy to encourage developers to port their Android and iOS apps to Windows, Tesla's batteries for solar power storage, and the start of the luxury smart watch wars.

In other news, we’ve shared a view into the Twitter stream of Invo’ites, looked at some of the medical technologies at the Boston Marathon, explored ideas about the evolution of work, and saw a few notes from Dirk’s presentation at Service Design Salon in Tokyo.

Have a great weekend!


If you have been following The Digital Life, you might recall that Invo founder Dirk Knemeyer was traveling in Asia last month. He shared his impressions of the unique cultural intersections of the first and third worlds in China in The View From China. Following that, in A Tour of Asia, he reflected on his experiences there including significant cultural differences, observations about the use of technology, and significant factors from an economic perspective.


One of Dirk’s stops was at Service Design Salon in Tokyo, Japan. Service Design Salon is a meetup dedicated to service design to which they invite speakers from various industries and sectors to centralize thoughts and ideas on service design. Service Design Salon is hosted by Concent, Inc., a design strategy firm based in Tokyo. Upon their invitation Dirk gave a talk on April 3 entitled “UX & Emerging Technologies.” Following his presentation Dirk participated in a panel discussion with Atsushi Hasegawa, Ph.D., President and Information Architect at Concent, Inc. and Kazuhiko Yamazaki, Professor at Chiba Institute of Technology.

“Dirk’s talk was very inspiring and thought provoking,” said Mario Sakata, host of the event and User Experience Architect at Concent, Inc. “It got our wheels turning, and they haven’t stopped. Dirk has articulated what we all need to consider when designing for user experience with his gift of seeing things that will happen in the future and reveal their meaning which has lead to fertile and engaging conversations.”

“Tokyo is a global innovation hub including renowned strengths in emerging technologies such as robotics and virtual reality,” said Knemeyer. “The insight and sophistication from the participants of the Service Design Salon bodes well for the future of user experience and design in the region.”


The Service Design Salon event was held at amu, a multi-purpose creative space run by AZ Group to which Concent, Inc. belongs, and it usually offers seminars and events to become a center of community activities. Near beside amu stands kusakanmuri, a flower shop also run by AZ Group, and it offers classes, a tea room, and a variety of design books and products along flowers and arrangements.


We work in a very old building in a very old town (by American standards). So, we have an old infrastructure in some regards. Today we had a power outage for around two hours, which is not all that unusual. They are more common in the summer, when thunderstorms roll through, or in deep winter, when ice coats tree branches until they bring wires down.  

What I find remarkable about Invo during a power outage is that everyone stays at the studio. When I worked in traditional, corporate organizations, if there was an outage, people seemed to fall into one of two categories: those who would continue to work steadily, conducting meetings on mobile phones or working on laptop battery, as if nothing had changed, and Everyone Else. Everyone Else would perhaps try to work for a few minutes on battery (if they had laptops), and then join the rest, heads popping up over cube walls like prarie dogs to ask if anyone else had lost power. After about 15 minutes of milling around aimlessly, inevitably someone would ask "Should we just go home?"

At Invo, though, that question rarely comes up. Last summer, for instance, during a particularly exciting storm we lost power in the afternoon for what turned out to be several hours. Since tapping on unresponsive keyboards quickly lost its charm, intelligent minds cast about for something to do. Intern Quentin Stipp’s gaze fell on our mid-century vintage Royal typewriter.


He asked me if I knew how it worked, which I found amusing until I realized the implications of such a question. So Quentin and engineer Adam Pere set to figuring out how to properly thread the ribbon and the general mechanics of the thing.


I showed them the marvelously literal carriage return and how margins were set, and finally how to put in a sheet of paper. Adam and Quentin spent a good hour tinkering until they successfully imprinted a few faint characters onto the paper. The rest of the staff offered suggestions while continuing on with what work they could do. At the end of the day, those of us with children went home and the rest stayed on to play a game by flashlight. 

In a Forbes article called The Evolution of the Employee, futurist Jacob Morgan compares what he sees as the employees of ten years ago (or, perhaps, just last year) and those who are emerging as the employees of the future. 


Infographic: Chess Media Group

It may be a little unfair to compare the start-up-like, Millennial-rich Involution Studios to any Fortune 15 corporation with, presumably, many more senior employees. And staying at work when the power is out isn’t a true measure of anything, let alone productivity. That said, there is something about the studio and the “Future” column above that rings true. Certainly the work anytime-anywhere-use any device mantra is well established. It’s the items that follow those first three, however, that are really true for Invo and so-not-that-true for many organizations. You can see it in the Design Axioms, of course, and in our Code of Ethics. But our culture of learning is evident in our day-to-day studio life as well. For instance, we give tech talks and short tutorials or product reviewslearning from and teaching each other. Sometimes this knowledge transfer happens through a Slack channel (Collaborative Technologies, check). We gather over lunch to talk about a difficult project and what could have been done differently. Along with providing support and solutions, these experiences help us to develop leadership skills. To the uninitiated, a flat organization might seem like a trap, with only one leader and no opportunities for growth, but Invo designers know otherwise! We are encouraged to jump into the deep end of the pool, on occasion before we feel quite ready, but the rest of the team is there to throw a life ring when we need it. This is the kind of environment that allows creativity to flow and people to evolve.


Laurel wreath and medal photo:

This week marked the 119th Boston Marathon, the world’s oldest annual marathon. Over a million people gathered in chilly rain to watch 30,000 runners compete, starting at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, April 20. While the winner, Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa finished at 2:09:17, the last brave competitor crossed the finish line at around 4:30 on Tuesday morning—a 20-hour run—truly a remarkable feat for Venezuelan Maickel Melamed who has muscular dystrophy. And it wasn’t his first marathon, either!


While Invo-ites might be more inclined to a Netflix marathon, we do take an interest in the technologies involved. Some aren’t new, for instance runners have had barcodes on their bibs since 2006. Using handheld scanners, race organizers use the barcode to identify runners who need assistance, as well as to locate runners who may have gone off course or at the end of the race. The bar codes provide only basic ID information, not medical data.

With approximately 1 in 10 runners needing some medical help during the marathon, the Boston Athletic Association implements a huge operation involving over a thousand volunteers, 10 hospitals, 20 i-STAT® portable blood analysis systems, 28 medical tents, and hundreds of beds, IVs, and pounds of ice. In addition, staff are are trained to use defibrillators in case of a cardiac arrest, pulse oximiters to measure oxygen levels and identify heat stroke. 


Boston Marathon medical infographic: Abbot Laboratories.

Marathon sponsor Abbot Laboratories provided the i-STAT handheld devices to enable the Boston Marathon medical staff to peform a variety of lab tests in just minutes, including cardiac markers, lactate, coagulation, blood gases, chemistries and electrolytes, and hematology. From a small blood sample, medics are provided with information to check heart function or monitor physical exertion and administer needed care onsite.


The i-STAT handheld blood analyzer.

The i-STAT device uses specialized cartridges to provide an array of tests found in complex lab testing systems. The test cartridge contains a silicon chip equipped with chemically sensitive biosensors that are configured to perform specific tests. A medic applies a few drops of blood to the cartridge and then inserts it into the i-STAT. The cartridge performs a series of preset quality control diagnostics such as monitoring the quality of the sample and validating the reagent. The i-STAT tests include diagnostic indicators for disease state and clinical practice guidelines.

Access to blood analysis data is critical in treating two common marathon conditions: dehydration and hyponatremia. The first is familiar to most of us who have played sports on a hot summer day and neglected to drink enough water, ending up with a terrible headache or dizziness. The second is caused when a person drinks more water than the body can handle, essentially diluting their blood. This causes a drop in the level of salt in the blood which can have serious consequences if left unchecked. Since the symptoms of both these hydration condtions can look similar, blood work is the best way to determine the most safe and effective course of treatment.

This year, the heavy rain and cold temperatures also caused many runners to experience hypothermia, a condition where the body temperature drops dangerously low, despite the runner’s continuous exertion. For some, warm liquids and reflective blankets provided relief, but others were treated with a 3M™ Bair Hugger™ therapeutic system that circulates forced warm air around the person’s body.

Marathon runners are all about speed and are often reluctant to stop for medical attention. If a runner is injured or otherwise impaired, he or she wants fast diagnosis and treatment in order to get back into the race. With the help of effective technologies, medical staff are able to quickly identify someone who simply needs an electrolyte drink and a brief rest, while also saving the life of the runner on the edge of a heart attack. And while that runner might not make a personal best, he or she will get to try again next year.

Intrigued by the latest in digital health diagnostics? Check out  The Digital Life: The Frontiers of Digital Health Diagnostics


Some weeks you can get a pretty good picture of our day-to-day studio life just by following our Twitter streams. Check in with a few Invo-ites and you’ll see what I mean. These are things we think about, talk about, and, when we can, do something about.


We are pretty excited to hear all about Dirk Knemeyer's recent trip to Asia his talk at University of Shizuoka Game Lab in Shizuoka, Japan. More on this to come!


Designers Beth Herlin, Eric Benoit, and Juhan Sonin have been exploring ways to show the problems that patients have, managing their own healthcare without enough expert guidance. See and download the full design.


We are disappointed in the decision of 23andMe to end their collaboration with the Open Humans project. Was it simply a matter of dot-com vs dot-org?


Rob Bracket, former and eternal Invo-ite, sounds off about Adobe updates.


Before we could get too discouraged, Ben Listwon clued us in to a beautiful new book that began as a blog post.


Designer Jen Patel showed her industrial/engineering chops again, building her new computer. 


The entire studio was treated to a wonderful lunch by designer/engineer Adam Pere, and we bid adieu to our intern, Muzi Meng, who is heading for Chicago.


As always, we waited eagerly for Sarah Kaiser with the latest in confectionary illustration.

Mmmm. Donuts.

Special Tuesday Edition

When you visit our booth at Health Experience Refactored tomorrow and Thursday, you probably won’t think about what goes into setting it up, which is a good thing. Like our software, our booth is designed to let visitors get into the experience without wondering how to approach it, what’s in it for them, or even how to get out. It’s ok to just view the home page, grab a card to bookmark it, and visit it later when there are fewer distractions. But you can also hang out, talk with Invo designers (and authors!), ask questions, and pick up a book or two and our beautiful new posters. We guarantee you won’t leave with pens you don’t really need.

Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how we got things ready.


We labeled and packed 50 copies of “Inspired EHRs: Designing for Clinicians.” Authors and designers Jeff Belden, Juhan Sonin, and Jennifer Patel will be at the Invo booth to sign your copy!


We also labeled and packed 50 copies of “Designing for Emerging Technologies” to give away. Say hello to Jon Follett, author and editor of this exciting collection.


A thousand posters arrived last week. These are our two most recent care cards and look great framed.


We want the posters to be easy to transport, so we ordered 250 mailing tubes.


And for 250 tubes, you need 500 end caps.


Seven rolls of glossy labels: 2,500 in all.


All hands gathered to roll the posters, cap the tubes, apply the labels, and pack them up. 

Also in store are our two newest banners, but you will have to visit the Invo booth to see those. Meanwhile, the rest of us will be back at the studio, designing the future of healthcare.

We are pretty darn excited about these posters. And, if you will be in Boston next week, you should be, too. Visit the Invo booth at HxR 2015 and you can get both—free! posterstryptich

While we prep for Health Experienced Refactored, we are also getting excited about our two book-signing events there. Check out Thursday’s Join Us at HxR 2015 for details.

In other news, we had two episodes of The Digital Life air this week—

  • In Episode 96, Farewell Internet Explorer Jon and Invo engineer Ben Listwon discuss the end of the IE era and get a first report from Dirk Knemeyer from his trip to Asia to research technology and culture.
  • In Episode 95, Live from SXSW 2015, Jon talks with Boston mobile entrepreneur, Giuseppe Taibi, who made the annual pilgrimage to Austin about some of the latest and greatest wearables and health centered products that debuted at SXSW this year.

For our Foodie audience, Monday brought a new point of view in Around the Studio: How we take our vitamins, redux. If you haven’t read it, bring your appetite!

If you have come to look forward to our Friday doughnut artistry, here is my new favorite.


Click here for more blog posts!