harvard innovation lab visualizes the evolution of the desk
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

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

    Ken Rosebrugh says:
  • 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.

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

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

    sworddesign says:
  • This is so naive. What a truly meaningless school project.

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

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

    claudia says:
  • 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.

    sheperd says:
  • Well, we are not supposed to live in stone age era and do not have to take benefits of modern technology . We are living in 21 st century where all world infromation is on our one click . Now a days World is know as golbal village after the invention of internet . someone may thinks that clutter might be foster creativity but the thing is that our brain is deveopled in such a way that it adopt the simplest thing to work to learn from . Now all these tangilbe items is digiatly available perhaps it increase negtive space or perhaps it give us more space to produce more creativty .

    ahsan says:
  • This shows that we can do more with less. It’s not a case of “less is more”, but rather the refining of these tools into a few exceptionally powerful, easy-to-use ones. It may not be completely accurate, but it shows a rather likely future. Every living thing, including humans, has shown the ability to adapt to do better. The excuse of “messy means creativity” is a myth, reinforced only by the media. To be creative you first have to learn. The more you learn, and the more diversity in the things you learn, the more you can create. The freeing from the clutter that used to slow us down is not a bad thing. We can now use specialized all-in-one tools that keep us working in the same spot for a longer time before needing to reach for a different tool. That helps with focus, not to mention how digital tools have overcome many disadvantages of paper ones. A good example out of the many that you can give is having access to a huge data ocean using a search algorithm that only asks you what you want to know, and then gives you results that would take weeks in the past, in mere seconds, and usually organized in a tidy matter, ready for easy citation, copying, sharing, improving, etc. I grew up almost paperless, and I easily surpassed my peers in efficiency. This fear of change is nothing new. But we must overcome it, because the sooner we do, the sooner we will change the world into the place we all want to live in.

    Adrian says:
  • this is so 2014-
    we are now 2015 and this wideo go on with me in shorts and haavaian shirt , my laptop on mine knies , sunglasses on mine face , smartphone playing Spotify and mine lags in the see at the beatch ….to sunset..

    bendra says:
  • Visual the video continuing into the past to show desks prior to 1980. Typewriters and slide rules slowly giving way to quill pen, ink pot, parchment, and candle.

    Michael Chusid says:
  • I think one very important feature that is missed here is mobility. I think that in no small part also explains the minimalist end point. Because you are not anchored to the desk by technology, the final desk is often not a desk at all.

    Paul says:
  • Even the desk location itself has changed! People no longer need to work in a set place; they are free to choose from a home office, private office, executive suites office, or virtual office. It will be interesting to see how the future continues to change our outlook on our workplace environment. We even use stand-up desks at our office because it’s better for your health. Thanks for sharing!

    BusinesSuites says:

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