Friday, July 6, 2012

How to choose a good desk

  I’m going to get really opinionated in this post, so brace yourself.

I am of the opinion that a lot of desks sold today are crap.   They give the impression that they will help with organization, but in practice only do half the job. 

If you go to Google and do an image search on the term “desk,” you will see

  • desks that are all work surface with no storage
  • desks that are all storage, but very little work surface
  • desks with too little storage
  • desks with storage that is the wrong shape
  • desks designed to organize, but which have no work surface

Try that Google search.  Right now.  I'll still be here.

There is no denying that most of the desks you’ll see on a Google search are Beautiful Specimens.  The problems happen when Beautiful Desk collides with Reality--the day-to-day demands of work and creativity.   Just to get an idea, try Googling “desk organization” images and you’ll get more of a sense of this reality.  (Or you might take a good look at your own desk at home.  After all, you are reality too!)

Part of the trouble is that our desks have to do more for us than ever before, and furniture design has not quite figured this out.   A good desk needs room for:
·      Surface area workspace
·      A computer (which often takes up the prime workspace area front and center on the desk with a monitor and keyboard at least, and a tower if you have a desktop)
·      A printer/scanner/copier  (takes up more surface area)
·      Networking equipment
·      Power strips and cords (preferably out of sight, but not too inaccessible because sometimes you have to add to them)
·      Places to dock mobile gadgets
·      Filing cabinets nearby for papers
·      Drawers for office supplies

Unfortunately, most desk design seems fixated on style to the detriment of actual utility.  Personally, I can't blame these desk-makers too much; they understand that making their product appealing will do a lot for sales, but it behooves us as savy consumers to make a wise decision based upon what we really need our desk to do and do everything we can to keep from getting snookered by advertising tactics that can cloud the issue of productivity and organization.

Critical thinking is the name of the game, people!  So, sharpen up your reasoning skills; we're going to look at some desk designs and pick them apart to see what is good and bad about them.
Beautiful, huh?  Probably its best feature is that it can be raised and lowered so that you can sit or stand at it.  But where's the power strip?  Where are you going to put all your office supplies and your printer?  If you get this desk, you'll need to get another desk to hold the stuff this one can't store.
 Very nice, if you only work on the computer and if you only have a desktop computer.  But where do you put your printer?  Where do you put your office supplies?  And where do you spread out your paperwork?  If you got this desk, you'd have to get another desk for a work surface and for storage.

This desk looks kind of heavy with all that wood and the way it starts to spread out. (Somehow it is fashionable right now for desk to look light instead of weighty, and that trend gets in the way of good desk design.) However, you'll notice that this desk has some drawers for office supplies.  That open space on the right side could hold a computer tower nicely.  However, I still wonder where I would put a printer.  Perhaps on the side, but that would use up available work surface fast.  And what are those shelves doing in the middle under the work surface?  Could a printer go there?  (But would I want a printer to go there even if it would fit?  It would be hard to get to.)  This is a better desk than the ones above, but it still isn't as good as it could be.  (total spam blog site; do not follow)
  This desk clearly has room for a printer, room for a computer, and file drawers.  Having a keyboard drawer under the desk surface frees up workspace, if you don't mind that kind of thing.  It has cubby-holes for books and cds, but where would we put our office supplies?  You might be able to make it work if you put the printer on the very top of the hutch and put some kind of organizer in its place.  Or you'd have to try to find organizers that fit in the cubby-spaces.
Love that color coordination!  I for one am a sucker for lime green, which means I have to be very careful when I see images like this.  It seems to me that the desk and the wall unit are meant to go together.  (If they are not, then this would be misleading advertising.)
If we look at the desk itself, it has no drawer storage for office supplies, and computer equipment would take up much of the work surface.  Also, placing it so it faces out into the room would make computer cords pretty obvious.   However, if it were placed closer to the wall unit (perhaps in an L or butting up against it, this desk would become more useful.  It would still lack storage space, but computer equipment (printer, routers, power supplies) could be transferred to the shelves.  The shelves actually add a lot of flexibility, since the shelf space is not confined by vertical divisions like a wooden hutch.  There is more potential for creative desk setups that also help you be productive.  Office supplies could be put in drawer caddies on the shelves.  If the wall unit were raised a bit, the desk could fit underneath it.
Overall, this desk setup is flawed, but flexible.

I wish I could show you a picture of a good desk, but I couldn't find one.  Maybe they don't exist and we just have to jury-rig them with accessories.  If you're curious, the desk set-up my husband and I have right now is a combination between a big metal teacher's desk with drawers and a shelf system somewhat like the last picture above.  The shelf system is high enough on the wall that the desk can fit snugly under it.  We put our computer equipment (laptop, printer, scanner, router, back-up server, and surge protectors) on the shelves, and we put office supplies in the desk drawers.

If you have to buy a desk, make sure to take into account all the things you will need it to do.  Check it for computing space, work space, storage space, and whatever else you need for your special talents.  If you can find a desk or a configuration that matches your needs, you're more likely to be able to stay organized long-term.

Do you need extra help with organizing and de-cluttering? Hire me! Go to for more information about my services! Did this article help you? Be sure to share it with your friends!

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