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Knolling (wikipedia.org)
249 points by bestest on Aug 7, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

"Always. Be. Knolling." [0], is probably my favorite of Tom Sachs' Ten Bullets. As a whole, it's a pretty good office manual. Better for a studio than a startup office — but worth a look nonetheless.

0 - https://youtu.be/49p1JVLHUos?t=15m38s

"Arbitrary decision making and personal inventiveness are discouraged."

The role of the assistant is to help the assisted realize his or her goals. In your own work, you can do whatever you want. Sachs is saying only that when you are working as his assistant, focus on implementing his ideas instead of yours.

Take the good parts, discard the bad. And there are definitely both in this video.

And even on this point, it's not all bad when you consider how design/architecture studios operate. I probably would've been better off as a junior dev if a bit more of my personal inventiveness (cough - ruby metaprogramming - cough) had been smacked down

jraines mostly got it. It's worth noting the look and feel of the Sachs studio. I doubt anyone is taking that advice completely seriously. But if, instead, you just said 'have fun, do whatever!' things would probably be a huge mess.

No, Tom Sachs is super serious about that and it's strictly enforced in his studio.

Source: friend worked in his studio.

That's so interesting! And strange!

There's a balance to strike between "wanting everyone working under you to implement exactly your vision", "wanting everyone working under you to make something more amazing by throwing their own ideas in".

An important part of finding this balance is deciding exactly how much you trust your underlings to know enough about what the hell they're doing so that they don't do anything dumb, and to have a vision closely enough aligned with yours that their attempts at improving your ideas usually make you delighted. Clearly Sachs is not willing to extend much trust to people he is just now hiring to work in his studio.

Like, would you be happy with an intern fresh out of school who decided to roll their own crypto instead of interfacing to the library you told them to?

Sachs also got burnt by "outsourcing" on his 1998 "SONY Outsider" installation, which neither he nor art critics were happy with after it was completed.

Bear in mind that an artist's USP is their personal charisma and creativity. The assistant's job is to elaborate based on an initial invention by the artist. None of the assistant's personality/aura/talent should manifest in work that gets signed by the artist.

It's not a good situation but it's standard among big nane artists (Koons is notorious for strictness, afaicr)

There's a great subreddit dedicated to this, with lots of content: https://www.reddit.com/r/knolling/

I find it specially interesting when it's done to "dissect" machines, making it look like schematics. I find it helps dispelling the impression of things being black boxes.

No amount of knolling will help me with my usual problem taking apart complicated machinery:


(That's titled Appliance Repair)

That's what little parts boxes with lots of separate compartments are for.[1] That's one of my projects.

[1] http://brassgoggles.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,43672.25.htm...

Use a big piece of cardboard. Screw screws into it in the same order they came out, and draw an outline of the part they came out of. Tape down small pieces that aren't screws. Label everything with Sharpie. It slows you down enough to prevent a lot of mistakes.

I had once had to take apart an optical camera.

The approach which worked for me was:

a) Unscrew a few parts b) Screw them back c) Unscrew a few parts and some more d) Screw everything back in that same order ) .. repeat until done

Finally, it all ended well

My grandfather carefully painted black silhouettes of tools that hung behind his workbench, so he could tell at a glance if anything was missing. (There was a house rule of use anything you want, but it better go back where it came from when you were done.)

He didn't do that with his toolboxes, but all but one of those were locked.

I do find I do this as a sort of a tick, while thinking through my next step while making stuff.

This is a professional technique.

The hangar I just came from has hard rules - if any tool is missing the planes are grounded until the tool is found. No matter what. So you better don't lose those tools.

Prop tables in theater work the same way (everything must be in its tape outline to proceed with the preshow checklist).

Seems like an especially good rule when working on planes or people. Now where did the surgical sponge go...

"To prevent leaving surgical items inside patients, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses (AORN) recommends counting all sponges, sharps, and related miscellaneous items at five different times: (1) before the procedure to establish a baseline, (2) before closure of a cavity within a cavity, (3) before wound closure begins, (4) at skin closure, and (5) at the time of permanent staff relief of either the scrub person or the circulating nurse"


Atul Gawande talks about this in "The Checklist Manifesto." I believe he recommmends that the nurses who are keeping track (and people who are following checklists in general) must be empowered to pause the surgery. Otherwise surgical equipment still gets left in patients because of egos.

"No I totally got all the sponges out of the patient! How dare you question my authority!"

Interesting, not to get too far off topic but empowering subordinates to question leaders when they know something wrong is now a huge part of crew management in planes too due to some awful disasters.

I have two ideas for automatic machines in hospitals.

One is hand sanitizer dispensers that counts people entering rooms and beeps until all have used the machine, or even until all people already in the room have used it.

It's notoriously hard to get people to use hand sanitizers.

The other is convenient and fast dispensers that counts tools and sponges as they are used.

Was listening to Atul Gawande on the podcast "Conversations with Tyler". Sponges are now bar-coded (less expensive than RFID, etc.) and scanned during the process to make sure they're not left inside the patient.

> The other is convenient and fast dispensers that counts tools and sponges as they are used.

... and reliable. Not like those stupid vending machines. You would think after so many deaths they would have fixed the problem.

Also see Andrew Kim's book 90° on knolling. Andrew is the designer behind minimallyminimal.com, the Microsoft redesign concept, Xbox One S, who now works at Tesla.



I bought an Xbox One S recently (didn't know anything about the S it was just a good price for an Xbox).

Its a beautiful piece of hardware and doesn't look out of place under the TV like the old Xboxes somehow did.

OT: This has been parodied at least once; see Stackenblochen[1].


I built a entire website essentially built around this - http://www.everydaycarry.com - its been crazy seeing something that started off as a niche hobby turning into a business

I thought of your site as soon as I saw this, though, tbh, I don't think of it is a site. I know it from Twitter and somehow it is weird to me to think of it as a site. I can't quite put my finger on why that is.

Always liked your site. I wanted to create a similar site, but yours was so good I didn't.


The images are too high res for mobile. It loads too slow.

Hmm, cloudflare should have taken care of that with a feature they have. Il check whats going on

The site is ranked in the Alexa top 10,000 in the US - I'd wager that DanBlake knows what he's doing and probably has the site dialed in for his target audience & device already.

Did you check the claim yourself? Or did you just feel the need to brown-nose for no reason? Not sure, but if you take the time to check (takes less time than typing your comment, or searching the Alexa DB), you'll see the front page for the site is just shy of 7MB, so I'd agree with the comment that it could do with being optimised better for mobile.

"Alexa Traffic Rank" browser extension shows the ranking for every site you visit, checking is a course of habit. My point was simply that the site is pretty darned popular, and as OP said, it's a business. A comment like "The images are too high res for mobile. It loads too slow." sounds more like jealous nit picking than anything else

Well the site is nearly 7MB, so it isn't, maybe next time take the 5 seconds to open Developer Tools to check?

I wouldn't browse it on a mobile over cellular, 10 mins of browsing around the site could knock 100MB of my plan quite quickly.

And I'd have wagered that Blockbuster Video knew what it was doing in the late 1990s.

The wikipedia article doesn't mention it, but just like Tom Sachs spent time at Gehry's shop and adopted this term and practice; so did Casey Neistat spent time at Sachs' shop, where he also adopted it (and probably made it more well known than ever before). If you've seen Casey's videos or pictures of his famous NY studio; this is where it all came from.

Is this just OCD, or is there an actual benefit to Knolling?

My gut reaction to this is that it's distracting compulsive behaviour, but I could be wrong. I've found organization for a workshop to be of unexpectedly huge value, so I could be wrong here too.

I'm looking at my very much un-knolled desk, which has more piles than I would prefer it to, and it strikes me that if I regularly knolled this desk it would compel me to decide that maybe some of these things really don't belong on it, maybe some of them don't even need to stick around my life at all.

I mean clearly the toy dragon princess standing atop a pile of stray cash and a few doubloons is an important part of my desk and does not need to move. But does this wireless kit I'm never gonna attach to my drawing tablet need to be here? What about that badly-laid-out paperback copy of "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" that I quit reading in favor of a hardback copy a friend gave me? What about the dust jacket for that hardback? That probably belongs on the book sitting in my To Read pile with a bookmark a fifth of the way through it, not on my desk. And while pens are good to have maybe I only need one or two of them, not sixteen? Would I have accumulated even a quarter as much stuff on this desk if I knolled it every morning?

Knolling is starting to feel like a way of stopping clutter before it starts.

My desk is trashed everyday and tidied at night with only the things I'll need for the next day left (knolled though I hadn't heard the term).

The top sheet of the pad has a context dump of what I was working on when I left, where I was stuck etc and a single action to take (usually an easy win).

I find that knowing exactly where to start the next day makes momentum easier to pick up and the process of deciding on what to do next morning gets work out my head so I can leave without dwelling on work.

Colleagues sometimes jok about it but their desks look like a grenade hit them and they often can't find anything so I'll take my approach.

I have my own office at work so I make sure that's tidy as well, th cleaners have been asked not to touch it (I prefer they don't move my stuff around)

Stacking is vertical knolling.

These are not stacks. These are piles.

Perhaps they may even qualify as mounds.

Implementing strict organization can turn O(n^2) tasks to O(n), by removing the "look through my n tools to find the one I need" step.

That is, if you need n tools or parts for an assembly process, and if at each step you have to scan through these tools and parts to find the one needed, you have created an O(n^2) algorithm.

At least, this is how I conceptualize the value of workshop organization.

I've worked in both kinds of shops. Some shops are the worst piles of disorganization and others are shrines of kaizen. Ive spent a lot of time thinking about both and feel like those shops that are religiously organized tend to be the places where production and output is the primary goal where the less organized ones tend to be the ones where creativity is prioritized, but I'm not sure there's a direct correlation. I'm interested in other's thoughts on this.

It seems that it's really easy to find stuff. Like in this [1] picture, it's really clear where the sledge hammer is, but if things were arranged randomly it would be more difficult

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knolling#/media/File:Ten_Bulle...

That seems like a very interesting and useful application of theories in pre-attentive processing. When everything is aligned to the same orientation then the attribute of orientation may become almost effortless to perceive and cognitive resources can be devoted to more targeted feature recognition. There is a section of chapter 5 in the book "Information Visualization: Perception for Design" by Colin Ware [1] called "preattentive processing and ease of search" that goes into nice detail on considerations such as this. (See also [2])

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Information-Visualization-Third-Inter...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-attentive_processing

That image was removed from Wikipedia due to copyright violations, but the "How to knoll" bullets are the first image in https://www.curbed.com/2016/7/18/12215158/always-be-knolling...

Sorting by shape and size instead of more abstract aspects like function, type, usage frequency is inefficient.

If you are fiddling with lots of tiny pieces (imagine Lego, or watch components), you necessarily need to find every piece you use. If they are organized beforehand then it is much more satisfying and efficient to assemble since all the searching is done beforehand. Think of how it is sometimes much easier to process a list after sorting it.

Organizing Lego as it comes out of the box moves all of the frustration in model building to the beginning of the experience, and removes it from all the rest.

I'm not disciplined enough for "Knolling", but I can certainly say that such a practice forces you to put away things you cannot fit on your work surface, so you'd avoid the desk/workbench overflowing with materials and tools that is all too easy to have happen in non-computer activities.

I don't really do non-computer activities at my desk but I still have way too much stuff: drives/flash drives, a cpu fan, cables, adapters, notes (I like to sometimes use pen and paper when programming), a broken microphone...

I enjoy this video, by Casey's brother, outlining the studio rules: https://vimeo.com/34901903

Adam Savage is a compulsive knoller - if you watch his podcasts you can frequently see him arranging items in front of him into parallel and perpendicular shapes.

> Adam Savage is a compulsive knoller

And is friends with another famous knoller - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxLxwbm7FMA , https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-CTkbHnpNQ

If you have knolled everything you own but still want more, check out this: http://stupiddesk.com/

Holy shit, I had no idea this had a name - I've been doing this all my life.

I guess it also explains why I find angular designs more attractive than rounded/circular ones - sitting here at my desk looking at the circular monitor stand bases, cylindrical bluetooth speaker, coins and some cables coiled up, these things can't be knolled, so I tend to stack round things instead (in diameter order, of course).

I never knew it was Knolling that is in almost every stock photo of a desk for a startup's landing page

Ha! I remember discovering this as a teenager, that I didn't have to actually tidy up my room/desk to avoid getting yelled at, as long as I aligned everything in place at right angles. It's always good to put a name on the phenomenon.

Didn't know this practice has a name! Thanks HN :)

Sharing the excellent bandcamp of two musicians whose profile picture is a knolling of themselves and their gear. Bandcamp: https://qdrpd.bandcamp.com/ , knolling: https://f4.bcbits.com/img/0000904983_10.jpg

Recommend one of the "See also"-links from the Wikipedia page, for those not familiar with the term: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mise_en_place

I own several peaces of Knoll furniture. Certainly not the cheapest, but the build quality is superior and the chairs are extremely comfortable. Great company!

.. But, why ?

Don't ask me.

aside/fun: What would be knolling code be like? :)

I worked at a shop that insisted on one parameter per line in function calls.

How long for deletionists to get wind of it?

I wish I found about this sooner...

I can't be the only one who expected this to be about a certain Google project that aimed at organizing knowledge ;)

You never stop learning reading HN :)

What do you call it if you've always aligned things like this?

Here I was expecting an article on Google's Wikipedia competitor. But I guess that isn't notable...

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