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


Ah, the holidays.

That time of year when DIY-ers want to d.i.e. because they have set the bar too high again. Gifts in a jar, hand-felted laptop cases—carefully crafted artisanal homespun organic and fair trade objects imbued with positive vibrations.

Here at the studio, though, we like to make make things all year ’round. (Remember our October story about Sarah Kaiser's amazing projects?

In fact, making things is a design axiom here (my personal favorite). I asked people to share projects they have done. make-things

Beth Herlin’s All-Purpose Bar


One summer when I had a little too much time on my hands, I decided I would try woodworking. Being a senior in college at the time, naturally the first project I came up with was building a bar. So with a lot of help and instruction, I designed and constructed a 5-foot wooden bar complete with two cabinets, two drawers, a mini fridge, and an epoxy resin surface made from various found objects and bottle caps. It was a fun addition to the shared common room in our suite.


But then I went off to Pittsburgh for graduate school, and I didn't quite have room for the entire bar in my car. So, I decided to store the base and cabinets, and create Bar 2.0: Coffeetable edition. I scavenged for cinderblocks to serve as the base for the bar top, creating the perfect coffee table for my very industrial apartment in what used to be an old cork factory.


Yet again, it was time to move. I graduated from my masters program and migrated to Boston to start my work at Invo. While I was finally able to unite all the parts of my bar once again, there was no way I could sacrifice the space it required in my tiny one bedroom. It had to do more than just be a bar. So, Bar 3.0: Bartainment Center was born. That’s right, my TV dispenses beer. Who knows what it will evolve into next!

Eric Benoit and The Laser Santa


Last year I took a laser cutting class thru Artisan’s Asylum and “illustrated” (=traced) + laser cut + glued + painted two christmas ornaments, one of which was the Santa from the classic stop-motion animation “Rudolph.” It was a gift for my parents. Here is the Santa... pre-paint and glue


... then finished!

Involution of the Birch


I typically keep a low profile here, but since part of my job is to cultivate a maker vibe at the studio, I thought I would share my first Invo-made craft. With paint, paper, and glue I transformed cardboard tubes into a portable birch grove.

Code is great, but sometimes it’s more satisfying to get your hands dirty in the creative process.

The turkey coma has come and gone and the trees are sporting colorful lights.

My most recent family gathering included a few of my favorite engineers, so I brought back this gem to share.

Big Little Details


Self-described, Big Little Details is “a curated collection of the finer details of design, updated every day.”

Stephen Hawking: How He Speaks & Spells


The EE | Times medical blog featured a fascinating piece on the technology that Stephen Hawking uses to communicate. Timely, given The Theory of Everything’s recent release.

PopChart Lab


The perfect seasonal hello: The Fractal Formations of Snowflakes greeting card.

Highlights From the Week

Yesterday we launched Episode 80 of The Digital Life, especially exciting in that it coincides with the release of Jon Follet’s new book, Designing for Emerging Technologies,” already one of the top 10 UX books on Amazon. Jon discusses how he went about writing and editing this collection of essays from the tech industry’s top thinkers. Congratulations, Jon and all of the people who helped make this book happen! Follow @designemerging on Twitter.

Thanksgiving Thursday brought Episode 79 of The Digital Life, covering recent news including the Uber snafu over targeting critical journalists, the rising popularity of the e-book versus the tenacity of print, and the ongoing battle over net neutrality.

On Wednesday we posted the second article in our UX Maturity series, Foundation.

This week’s Around the Studio: Does desk + mess = great design? lets you see (literally!) how Invo-ites think about order and creativity.

Here’s what we’re reading online, this week at Involution, on design, tech, and the digital life, in our links round up.

SOPA: Anatomy of a Public Uprising
As most of us of are aware, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) bill in the US House of Representatives, while purported to protect content providers, in fact hides within its depths the chilling ability to freeze online businesses and tech innovation through a set of draconian provisions, that would, for instance, force search engines to filter their search results.

Last week, as the technorati voiced their dissent and decorated their avatars with black bands reading "Stop SOPA", Representatives began taking notice. In the open forum of the Internet, people circumvented the Washington lobbying of pro-SOPA industries, and voiced their extreme displeasure.

The political situation reached an inflection point on Thursday, when legislators began to backpedal on their support for the bill as they saw public opposition rising.

Then the White House weighed in with a statement against the bill in its current form. In response, the House of Representatives shelved the bill, at least for the time being.

Talk about the bill's demise is greatly exaggerated however, as it could be reopened again. Adding to the fear of a zombie SOPA resurrecting itself is the fact that its equally malformed Senate twin PIPA is still lurching forward.

Leave Me Alone, I'm Being Creative
Is the future of creative work a collective endeavor? The New York Times featured an interesting piece in their SundayReview opinion pages on "The Rise of Groupthink" and how open office plans, constant collaboration, and group brainstorming may not be the everything it's cracked up to be when it comes to drawing out creativity and innovative thinking in a business environment. In addition to dissecting the current trends towards a more collaborative work environment, the article also explores explores the introverted nature of creative types, and asks whether the new focus on the group is supportive of the lone genius. In a related article, Business Insider takes a look at "How Larry Page Changed Meetings At Google …" to align them with better decision making. Not surprisingly, Larry limited the number of people in the group, and required a decision maker to be at all meetings.

Where the Wild Things Are
As our cities grow bigger and bigger, natural wildlife is getting squeezed out at every turn. One architecture firm from the Netherlands thinks it has a solution to providing sanctuary for the displaced plants and animals: Sea Trees, or floating wildlife oases.

Job Innovation at Lightspeed
There's no question that the days of the long-term job are long past. In today's volatile, technology injected, rapidly shifting economy, how can we expect to know what jobs will be around in the next five years, let alone the next ten? Fast Company takes a look at the new skill sets required for the new world of "quicksilver" work.

FTC Fires Back at Google+
As Google attempts to leverage its massive search traffic to give Google+ an edge in the burgeoning social network wars, the FTC is firing back, by expanding its antitrust investigation to include Google+. With such a juicy prize as social network dominance at stake, it's no wonder we're seeing a no holds barred approach from the search giant.

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