How to organize your desk – Principles from an Architect

This post was contributed by Architect Gadgets, a website created to help Architects improve their work life and productivity through the use of technology.

There is nothing more off putting than a disorganized desk. It will make you be and look more inefficient and less professional.

As an Architect, my job is to make buildings and rooms look beautiful, and it turns out that the principles used for that can be also applied to desks.

In this article, we will go through 5 principles that will help you organise your work station. With these principles in mind, you will be able to organize your desk while matching it to your own style and personality.

Ready, let’s get started!

1st Principle: Group similar items into a bigger frame

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

This principle relates to everything, from pens to windows, passing through paper or electronics. Placing together similar elements into one bigger container will help with making everything look tidy. For this, objects like pen holders or paper trays will dramatically increase the tidiness of your desk.

The picture above is from a building, that orders all the windows in a clear grid. This design follows the exact same strategy than an open shelf full of boxes. Next time you go to Ikea and you see a Kallax shelving unit with its boxes, remember this picture. And you can achieve the same organised feeling on your desk by using elements such as pen holders to group together all the pens that otherwise would be scattered all over your desk.

2nd Principle: Look for alignment, symmetry or any other type of geometric order

Photo by Thomas Kolnowski on Unsplash

When deciding how to organize your desk, it is important to realize that how you place all the objects on your desk has also an impact on how ordered your desk looks. As it happens with facades, your desk can become neater just by bringing in some geometrical order.

For example, if you have a pile of books that you want to have on your desk, try putting them in order from biggest to smallest, and align one of the corners of all the books. If you are placing the books in the upper left corner of your desk, align all the books to their upper left corner so they form an ordered pile.

As with books, this principle can be applied to any object on your desk. Loose papers? Make sure they are all neatly aligned and the appearance of your desk will be a completely different one.

3rd Principle: Less is more

Photo by Jessy Smith on Unsplash

One of the mottos of the modern architecture is “Less is more”. Popularised by Mies van der Rohe, which adopted the sentence in 1947, it has become the definite expression for minimalism. As it happens with Mies architecture, your desk can become simple and elegant by reducing the amount of elements to a bare minimum. The emptier your desk is, the easier it is for it to feel organized.

How can you achieve that? By placing the most unused objects within drawers, you can both improve the appearance of your desk and become more efficient, as you will spend less time looking through all the clutter in order to find those objects that you use the most.

4th Principle: God is in the details

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Another motto from Mies van der Rohe was “God is in the details”, meaning that the most important part of architecture could be found on the small details such as a door handle, a junction between two materials or a window jamb. As with Architecture, the same can also be said from an organized desk. Small details can make a big difference in the overall appearance of the desk.

For example, getting right how to organize all your cables will have a huge impact, and it can be done in very simple and elegant ways. Also, a small plant or an elegant pen holder can bring your desk to the next level, especially when you use this principle together with the previous one and you have only a few elements visible on your desk.

5th Principle: Keep a consistent palette of colours

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

You may have never thought of it, but if you look carefully, you will see that, in general, buildings tend to be formed by only a few materials. This is done in order to keep a sense of order that would be much more complicated to keep if more materials were used. Also, interior decoration tends to follow the same logic. Few colours are used in order to achieve a harmony that might sometimes go unnoticed but that your subconscious still picks up. The same happens with desks. If you manage to keep it consistent and, ideally, with a plain palette of colours, your desk will look much more organized.

How can you do that? Well, when buying storage items to group objects together (first principle), try buying all the objects with the same colour or tone, so they all end up forming part of a unified image. Architects tend to love using white everywhere, but it can also be done with other colours or materials, such as the wood and brown tones in the image above.


As we have seen, for keeping your desk organized, you can apply five principles that Architects use to design harmonious buildings.

First, remember to group similar items into a bigger frame. Easy examples of this are paper trays (where all papers are placed together into several trays) or pen holders (where all pens are placed together into a container).

Second, look for alignment, symmetry or any other type of geometric order. An example of this would be aligning all the books that you need to have on top of your desk.

Third, remember that “less is more”. All the other things equal, the emptier your desk is, the more organised it will look. Therefore, keep only the most-used and essential objects visible on your desk and store all the other on the shelves and cabinets.

Fourth, pay attention to the details following the architects’ motto “god is in the details”. Having two or three nice details such a small plant or a nice cable organiser will boost your desk’s look. This principle is even more powerful when used together with the previous one, as the details will stand out even more.

Fifth, keep a consistent palette of colours. By having all the elements in similar tones, you will bring a harmony to your desk that will not go unnoticed.

With these five principles in mind, you will have a beautifully organised desk.

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