Saturday, October 11, 2008

A clean cube is a happy cube?

A Money article is about "Audi's clean desk fetish". The clean desk versus clutter desk argument has been going on for a long time.
Some researchers, however, dispute the benefits of a spotless workplace. When Herman Miller (MLHR), an office furniture supplier, conducted an observational study of workplace organizational habits, they found that "filers" actually stored more useless information than their unkempt counterparts. The company identified a group of "work masters," or efficient employees, and reported that those staffers were more inclined towards piling than filing.

"When people place things on their desks, they're encoding information in the spatial connections and layers," says David Kirsh, a professor of cognitive science at UCSD. Kirsh, who studies workers in their natural settings, says many workers prefer to use a two dimensional surface. "If you disrupt that and force them to stack or file, you lose information."
Kirsch, that name sounds familiar doesn't it? Yes, he is the distributed cognition guy, along with Hutchins, whom I've talked about before. The famous paper (Fresno State people click here, everyone else here) is:
James Hollan, Edwin Hutchins, & David Kirsch (2000). Distributed Cognition: Toward a New Foundation for Human-Computer Interaction Research. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 7(2), pp. 174-196.
Sometimes the reason for a clean desk is a more about security (IBM used to be big on that) or safety, which is hard to argue against. But from a cognitive or productivity point of view, does a cluttered desk implies a cluttered mind?

Maybe not :)
"A clean desk isn't always the sign of a productive employee."


"In fact, a clean desk can hinder worker efficiency."

I love this guy.

The premise is that people use their desk space as an extension of their minds.

"The human mind, specifically short-term memory, has a limited capacity," Brand said. "It has seven, plus or minus two, 'chunks' available for storing things.