harvard innovation lab visualizes the evolution of the desk
harvard innovation lab visualizes the evolution of the desk
sep 30, 2014

harvard innovation lab visualizes the evolution of the desk

harvard innovation lab visualizes the evolution of the desk
all images and video courtesy of bestreviews.com




the past 35 years has seen the transformation of the everyday things that surround us traverse from tangible to virtual. a digital app exists for everything from world mapping to paying bills, completely recontextualizing the tools we use in the workplace. a team at the harvard innovation lab has encapsulated this history of technology, as it relates to the office, in a video, ‘the history of the computer desk‘, demonstrating the steep shift from cork boards and fax machines to pinterest and PDFs.


‘we wondered what it would be like to recreate the desktop from the 1980’s and then emulate its transformation through the computer age.‘ the team explain ‘we wanted to illustrate how technology has changed our world, un-cluttering our desks and simplifying our lives. while gradual change from year to year is often hard to perceive, a longer snapshot gives us a much more dramatic view of the technological progression we have experienced.’



the evolution of the desk by the harvard innovation lab
photography by dougthomsen.tv / engineering by anton georgiev




the scene is set with actual vintage items sourced by the team of photographers and entrepreneurs: the macintosh classic, corded phone, fax machine, globe, corkboard, polaroid camera, and rolodex were all purchased through individual sellers on ebay, while the rest of the items were found abandoned an unused in basements and at garage sales. while some argue that technology has made our lives more complex, the video below demonstrates the current clarity from clutter, and the ways in which technology encourages productive and social behavior.

the evolution of the desk
1980 — the first personal computer model is surrounded by countless, tangible desk items

the evolution of the desk
2005 — google maps recontextualizes geographic information

harvard innovation lab visualizes the evolution of the desk
2014 — clutter-free

  • in 2020 the desk will be empty. because the robots do your work.
    on a completely unrelated matter, that “clutter” might actually be raw data our brain needs to hinge its thoughts on.
    i should like to see what substitution harvard innovation labs has to offer. or the proof that digital substitution does actually work.

  • …where are all the cords and power outlets? they were just removed because would make the 2014 clutter-free desk less pretty.

  • amazing work. great.
    where’s the music from?

  • This is horribly inaccurate with a disregard for very recent history;
    keyfob on keys – late 1990s
    hp inkjet fax machine – mid 2000s
    IBM thinkpad 360CS- early 1994
    macintosh classic 1990 (the original mac came out 1984)
    unibody Macbook Pro 2008

    Joey Lopez
  • This is so naive. What a truly meaningless school project.

  • A bit like the paperless office which was promised, lol. Never going to happen to that extend.

  • I agreed with Frances… well, up until smart watches and whatever a leica M is.

  • i have yet to see anyone do any kind of job with only two devices and a pair of tacky sunglasses. you are forgetting all the gadgets we require to make work enjoyable: noise-cancelling headphones, smart watches, a leica M, and a 72″ 3D TV. in a world of increasing consumerism, i doubt clutter-free exists.

  • The 2014 desk looks like me now, but on the inside I’m like the 1988 desk… still.

    Ken Rosebrugh
  • What a boring, desolate place this 2014 space is. The eye is not meant to focus at one distance all day. Things on walls and desks communicate personality and belonging. A seemingly cluttered environment can foster creativity. As I write this, I am on my fast, small computer. But my desk is also covered by toys, water cups, pill bottles, scraps of paper torn from magazines, notes scribbled on legal pads, a wallet, business cards. Analog calendars and clocks help me visualize the time in a real context. A picture that inspires me does not blink off.

    michael chusid

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