When Albert Einstein passed away, Ralph Morse, Time's acclaimed photographer, avoided the throngs of journalists and reporters amassed at Princeton Hospital. Instead, he went directly to the Institute of Advanced Studies to look for Einstein’s office. Upon arrival, he snapped one photograph of the genius' yet undisturbed workstation.
What that snapshot displayed is total chaos. There isn't space on his desk that's free of paper. Manuscripts, books, envelopes and magazines are everywhere, with what looks like a cookie jar standing right at their very center.
The same disarray is shown on his shelves. Only a single rack displays pleasantly arranged journals. Elsewhere, heaps and heaps of paper are evident.
His desk is a mess - plain and simple - and he enjoyed it that way. Once, he was asked about his topsy-turvy workstation. Einstein stated: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”
Nowadays, empty workstations seem to be the trend, especially for most Millennials. But for the creatives, a tidy desk is seen as one of the worst possible ways to get the creative juices flowing. The combination of modern research and proof from the world’s leading creatives reveal that just the right level of mess on your workspace helps you reach better ingenuity, defy commonality, and boost work dynamics.
Creatives and Their Quirky Workstations
If there's one thing creatives around the world are known for, it's their quirky workplace that's usually a far cry from common corporate workstations. Below are four successful creative individuals and some of the things found on their workstations that inspire their creative minds.
Creative: Jeff Sheldon
Occupation: Clothing and Product Designer, Entrepreneur
Jeff Sheldon is the founder and creator of Ugmonk, a design brand founded in 2008. Ugmonk began with just a small batch of T-shirt designs. The company has since grown into a lifestyle brand that offers high-end leather merchandise, bags, and accessories. Every Ugmonk item starts off as Sheldon's design. Ugmonk has remained intentionally small, keenly focusing on workmanship and quality.
Joey Roth Speakers
Sheldon is a big believer in form and function. He said that most products these days are one or the other. However, the Joey Roth Ceramic Speakers are an excellent example of both. The speakers look spectacular, and more importantly, sound wonderful. Their straightforward, natural forms merged using the organic materials and exposed components make them something like a work of art. As someone who always listens to music and podcasts, Sheldon considers his Joey Roth speakers among his best workstation investments.
Each year, Ugmonk Charity Drive partners with Rice Bowls – an organization that feeds orphans worldwide. To date, Sheldon’s company donated 40,000+ meals. In his previous travel with his wife to Honduras and Nicaragua for the said charity, they visited a pewter factory that turns scrap metal into gorgeous pewter pieces. This is where the pewter elephants came from – a daily reminder of their visit and why they continuously support the charity.
Old Film Cameras
When his grandfather passed away, Sheldon inherited his grandad’s old film cameras. The cameras serve as a reminder to him that, in life and in work, it’s not really about having the latest gadgets. It’s more about how you see and perceive things. The old film cameras are also his favorites because of the amount of intricate detail and craftsmanship that went into creating the cameras.
Sheldon has a few little wood and concrete houses he and his wife got from Denmark. They are souvenirs of great and minimalist Scandinavian design which he adores. The houses are also great conversation starters since most people are drawn to them.
Sheldon quipped that including a glass on his list may be a bit common, but for the past five years, it’s the one glass he uses every single day. Aquaovo bottles are made with a dual-walled construction so water sweats and condensation are things of the past. And thanks to its screw-on lid, Ugmonk’s founder is confident that even if he accidentally knocks the glass over, his designs remain safe.
People Over Profit
Sheldon admits he’s not a bookworm, but when he reads, he likes books about business, life, and psychology. His current read is People Over Profit that tackles POVs of both the entrepreneur and the consumer.
Creative: Marc Hemeon
Occupation: Designer, Serial Entrepreneur, Painter, Surfer
Marc Hemeon is a multi-hyphenated creative. He used to work for Digg, and then Oakley, as a lead designer. In 2011, he co-founded Flick, which was then acquired by Google. After the buyout, Hemeon spearheaded the redesign of YouTube. He also handled a number of Google’s major products. He was part of the Google’s self-driving car development and has, later on, become Google Venture's entrepreneur in residence.
At present, he is HODINKEE's Director of Product Design. To top it all off, Hemeon is also a proficient painter, a competitive surfer, and a loving family man.
Vintage Camera collection
Over the years and thanks to the Pasadena Flea Market and the Alameda Swap Meet, Hemeon was able to collect cool vintage cameras. All of them still work, and he plans to use them for a photo shoot when time permits.
Art Books by Gerhard Richter
This is an inspiration for Hemeon because Richter is one of his favorite painters of all time. Hemeon collects books of Gerhard’s art and writing.
Specifically, wide mouth mason jars. He professed that he can’t live without his mason jars since he drinks everything out of them. Plus, they look cool and give him a subtle reminder to drink water all the time.
Lego Death Star
Hemeon got his Lego Death Star from the Google Office in Irvine. There was an internal auction for the Lego work of art, and he was able to win it. He built and customized a shelf just for his Death Star so his kids won’t be tempted to poke at and play with it. Admittedly, he rarely touches the Death Star because it’s “extremely fragile.”
Bose Noise Canceling Headphones
As Hemeon puts it, “every creative – a designer or an artist – must have a good pair of headphones.” For him, the Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones pair is his favorite, especially for long flights or when he’s in the middle of a loud environment.
As someone who accidentally drops his iPhone on an alarmingly regular basis, Hemeon needs a sturdy phone case to protect his phone. His current favorite is the Peel Case because even if he drops his phone – unintentionally, of course – the case shields it from possible scratches.
Creative: Jessica Comingore
Occupation: Designer, Photographer, Lifestyle Blogger, Founder
Jessica Comingore plays different roles in her life. She is committed to a life of cultured simplicity. But "simplicity" for her is far from basic. Between having a creative studio and founding a lifestyle blog, she is also a photographer and an art director. At present, Comingore is fascinated with everything about interior design. And this art is what inspires many of her current works.
Way before Pinterest and Instagram took over, Comingore has been a pro in journaling her travels. Her precious journals are for tangible memories and archiving inspirations. Each book is packed with travel tickets, clippings, receipts, and sketches of her trips. They are always present on her workstation as they can instantly make her smile.
Handed by her aunt, the wooden tripod is a reminder of her uncle who passed away a few years ago. She displays it to honor one of the brightest and most interesting people she’s ever known.
Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring for My Halo
For sentimental value and pure love, this album is always near Comingore’s desk. It’s one of her most favorites and actually the very first album she bought.
Same with Vile’s album, her Pentax K1000 holds a special place in Comingore’s heart. It was her first film camera and remains to be one of her favorites. She often uses it during impromptu trips where an SLR is too much of a hassle and her iPhone camera too basic to capture great snapshots.
An 80’s Book about Branding
Bought from a used bookstore in Connecticut, the book on branding is a gem. It’s brimming with information about identity and stories about packaging projects in the 80’s. It’s her go-to source of inspiration when she needs to think outside the box.
Comingore’s workstation may be a disorganized organized chaos, but when it comes down to organization using her handy planner, she’s neat as a pin. Her current favorite is the Muji Planner.
Creative: Nathan Fwamba
Occupation: Designer, Real Estate Developer
Nathan Fwamba is what you’d call a creative soul. The list of his past work is impressive to say the least. Fwamba started designing in 3dMax. He created virtual cities. Later on, he turned these virtual properties into reality via the Second Life. He has worked with well-known multinational companies such as the Milk Studios, Kate Spade New York, and Puma.
After moving from San Francisco to New York, he is now the Creative Director of The Basics in NYC.
Today, Fwamba spends the majority of his day conceptualizing, creating, and researching more about Product and Experiences concentrating on Human Interaction and Online Commerce.
Cards Against Humanity
His stack of Cards Against Humanity is a limited set – one with his name on it! It was a mystery gift given to him by a stranger online. It’s his favorite because the game says a lot about him and the people he’s playing with.
These postcards are Fwamba’s personal moodboard, which helps him better understand his project goals and see how they fit with other people’s realities. He uses the postcards by mixing them up with images and fonts found in his books and magazines. In many ways, the Pantone postcards are his visual guides in setting the tone of his design.
This is a device he got from Kickstarter and one he was excited to own. Leap Motion is one of Fwamba’s favorite sources of inspiration because of how impressive the device is. And while it’s still primitive, it will have boundless prospects in the future – something that, as a designer, he is thrilled to be a part of.
Acne Studios Sneakers
Fwamba believes that designing requires a level of comfort – particularly with what you wear. He always makes it a point to put on something that doesn’t restrict him from tapping his creative juices. His collection of Acne Studios sneakers is a prime example of this comfort-to-design philosophy. He loves the brand so much he not only patronizes their sneakers, but also their shirts and shopping bags. His Acne sneakers are lined up near his workstation.
This is not something that is always seen on his workstation, but a Floor Alarm is a must-have in Fwamba’s world. He stated that in college, he was really bad at waking up early for his classes. Normal alarm clocks didn’t do him any good since he can easily disregard or turn off the alarm. Eventually, he did the same thing with his iPhone’s snooze button.
But with a floor alarm, he has no choice to but actually wake up and leave the bed to turn off the alarm. And more often than not, when he’s up, he starts his day.
Again, this is something not always found on his desk, but is a must-have especially when he’s camping. Fwamba loves camping and he likes his gear to be comfortable and functional. His Poler Trucker hat – sold at Stratosphere in Atlanta – is his favorite camping hat.
What's on your desk?
There’s comfort in having inspirational whatnots on your desk. Some are functional and necessary to do your work right while others are there for their sentimental value. Some make sense to others while a few are too quirky or weird for people to understand. The bottom line is, to follow these creatives, don’t worry about what others think about your desk. Instead, thrive on the chaos and continue to be more creative.
If you enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Minimums. Minimums features industry leaders and their most interesting possessions. Every feature is shot inside their home or office.
Over to you: what objects would we find if we looked at your desk right now?
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