Desk Research, Visual Thinking Style!


Written By: Ed Garey

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What can you learn about someone’s personality by looking at their desk? Using photojournalism to reveal the secrets of the BAMM team.

When conducting ethnography and photojournalism, we spend a lot of our time in people’s houses, observing their behaviour and interrogating their material possessions for clues to their attitudes, values and consumption habits. But rarely do we turn the lens back on ourselves.

So, inspired by this contest run by creative blog site, we decided to use a classic visual thinking technique to find out what the good people of BAMM’s desks say about them. As it turns out, there’s quite a lot you can learn – not just from the actual objects that people have to hand, which can give insight into their interests and behaviours – but in the way they are organised and used, and the relationship between them and their owner.

As a mirror of the way we’d normally carry out similar exercises in the field, we got each person to tell us a bit more about what they could see, and then asked Sophie, our visual analysis expert, to provide some additional insight. Here’s what we found.


Harley, Project Manager

Sophie says: “Everything on Harley’s desk points towards him; his things ripple out in concentric circles with him at the centre. It suggests he has a need for control, a desire to have everything at his fingertips. The plant and water jug indicate a softening and personalisation of his working space; he wants to feel at home here.”


Anthony, Director

Sophie says: “Anthony has a very business-like, no-nonsense desk environment; there’s little clutter and papers are neatly piled as if in a physical to-do list. Post-its also suggest a goal-driven approach to work. There are few clues to Anthony’s other interests but the water bottle and sports sunglasses give some pointers to his outdoorsy nature.”


Tom, Junior Creative

Sophie says: “Tom’s desk looks like a tech workshop, full of the tools of his particular trade. At first glance it seems messy, but when you look closely it actually appears to be well organised, despite the quantity of ‘stuff’. If you were looking at this without knowing him, you’d assume he’s a tech enthusiast, but there’s also a creative element there; the paper diary, the USB man and the camera lens mug all contribute to this impression. The other thing that’s interesting here is full sensory immersion (touch, sight, sound) that Tom has in what he’s doing, he’s obviously very engaged.”


Ria, Office Manager

Sophie says: “You can tell that Ria’s something of an extrovert who likes to stamp her individuality on her environment – even down to the goggly eyes on her phone handset. It’s also interesting how she compartmentalises her workspace: official documents and invoices are neatly arranged to the right (not too close to her); a filing space at the top left; and finally, her small creative area with her phone and notebook angled towards her on her left. Although she’s got a lot on her plate, she obviously likes to keep a clear head, reflected by the relatively large space that she keeps free of clutter directly in front of her.”

What does your desk say about you?

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