The simplified office


In response to my description of my own office, my colleague Colin Birge shared this anecdote about one Microsoft employee who took office simplification about as far it could go:

He was one of the earliest usability specialists in Office, later to become the usability manager before ultimately retiring. As befits a person of seniority, for most of the last four years or so he spent at Microsoft, he had a window office, usually extra large.

The contents of his office were as follows:

  • One small square table.
  • One office chair.
  • One guest chair.
  • One laptop.
  • One whiteboard.

That was it. The rest of the standard desk was gone, including the corner piece and the extended table. There were no bookcases. Apart from the whiteboard, he had nothing on his walls. He had no books, no computer equipment apart from the laptop, no personal materials at all. When he retired, he didn't have to clean out his office. He took nothing with him but the clothes he was wearing.

Apparently his apartment was nearly as spartan.

I knew a guy once who claimed that you didn't really own anything that you couldn't carry at a dead run while firing an AK-47 over your shoulder. This fellow was the only person I ever knew who lived that philosophy.

Comments (24)
  1. Guest says:

    This guy should have worked at Apple. His office decoration matches Apple UI design philosophy so well.

  2. Rick Scott says:

    No music? No telephone? No pens/papers? No trashcan?

    If you aren’t going to use that beautiful office, give it to someone who will!

  3. Pops says:

    I would go with the AR-15 in place of the AK-47, personally…

  4. Brian says:

    I think he used the office to it’s fullest extent.  He didn’t cover it with worthless bits of paper and pens and electronic equipment.

    I’m always amazed at how most people look at a nice room and their immediate thought is how to fill it with junk.

  5. My philosophy is: "If it can’t fit in my laptop case, I don’t need it".  When I leave at the end of the day, no trace of my being there exists.

    When I’ve been at the same client for 6 months, I start leaving my spare power supply and backup network cable overnight.  I consider that "moving" in.

  6. Adam says:

    Oh yes the good old days;

    Clothes in cardboard boxes, pillow, blanket…

    using old shirts as towels…

    only dishes to wash were the plastic-ware from taco bell the night before

  7. e.thermal says:

    " knew a guy once who claimed that you didn’t really own anything that you couldn’t carry at a dead run while firing an AK-47 over your shoulder. This fellow was the only person I ever knew who lived that philosophy"

    Sounds very Jack Reacher-esq

  8. Anon says:

    He should have at least had the Ship It! awards in his office.

  9. B.Y. says:

    I’m a minimalist but I like chubby women!

  10. Serge Wautier says:

    "Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner"

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113277/

  11. "He was one of the earliest usability specialists in Office, later to become the usability manager before ultimately retiring."

    Sounds like he had plenty of "office"!

    Ba da dum

  12. Cooney says:

    Pops:

    The AK47 has the advantagablaileap, aveing ch of and reliable. In South Africa, they’re cheaper than super-soakers.

  13. Cooney says:

    The AK47 has the advantagablaileap, aveing ch of and reliable

    The AK47 has the advantage of being cheap, available, and reliable.

    Hrm, yeah, looks like apple got the touchpad better than everybody else.

  14. MDPILWL says:

    I’m not sure if this is where I ask but I found some old info on DVD Region codes you commented on and was wondering why if my DVD has a Globe with the word ALL it doesn’t it play on my DVD Player?

    TIA

    JR

  15. silkio says:

    MDPILWL: This is definately not where you ask that.

    And re this topic; it’s not possible for everyone to function without their secondary items. Should I not read my mail? Should I not multi-task in here by taking notes? should I not have a tree?

    Live and let live …

  16. As I move on from the inaugural tip, I feel I should mention that I write these tips from the context…

  17. Duncan Bayne says:

    At the point where you’re desperately firing it over your shoulder, surely the old AK / AR argument becomes supremely irrelevant? :-)

  18. :: Wendy :: says:

    People are fabulously diverse and creative,  part of their creativity is fed by serendipitous chaos.  With a minimlist approach you can achieve visual cleanliness and task focus at what cost?  What proportion of ‘users’ have a ‘minimlistic office’  the question is hardly even worth gathering data on?  Minimalistic office do not produce a strong environment for empathising with users.  I have friends who work in companies that ‘require’ a clean desktop.  Do they have a clean desktop.  NO.  Not on their desktop (software) and not on their Desktop (Table) they subvert the policy and sneak in personalisation.  This  is counter to a minimlist ideal,  its real,  personalisation,  identity in multiple forms (not just minimalisation).  Experience the clutter!!!

  19. Andrei says:

    Nice post. I take my laptop to work. All I have at work is:

    1. Power supply

    2. USB Mouse

    I could have a tower and a 20" LCD if I wanted, but I don’t need that. I have my laptop.

  20. Rick Scott says:

    Wendy:

    If those companies are anything like the companies that I have worked at, a "Clean Desk" policy means you aren’t allowed to have sensitive/private information that is not secured and/or covered in some fashion. Its not a tidiness requirement.

  21. David says:

    Yeah, but how tidy was his filesystem?

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