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Rethinking the Function of the Architect’s Desktop

Have you ever considered what function the background on your computer’s desktop serves? I doubt it. Many people treat their desktop’s background as an expensive picture frame that displays imagery of their family or maybe a sports car that they will never ever be able to afford, but why not ask the desktop what it wants to be? It seems that the background of your computer’s desktop is an opportunity that architects have not yet capitalized on. In fact, I do not know of any profession that has thought about using the background of their computer’s desktop as anything other than a picture frame. This article discusses ten ways that you can make your desktop function for you.

10 Ideas for Rethinking Your Desktop:

The image displayed as your desktop’s background could be used for informational purposes, but let’s not stop there, let’s think about recreating the desktop for architects completely.  Can you imagine the possibilities yet?

What if the image displayed on your computer’s desktop could act like a digital Swiss Army knife? What functions would you want it to serve? Below is a list of ten ways that I believe that the background of your computer’s desktop can be used to enhance your productivity, decrease stress, inspire creativity and communicate valuable information to your employees, every day.

10. Office Directory:

When trying to explain to my wife why this was a great idea, she kept saying, why would you do that when all you have to do is check Outlook? Well, this is faster! Keep your co-workers names and their extensions on your desktop and you’ll never have to fumble through Outlook for their numbers again.

9. Software Shortcuts:

Whether you are learning a new software or trying to expand your knowledge base of shortcuts for software that you are already familiar with, update your background to display the shortcut commands that you are trying to learn. Change it weekly and eventually there will not be a key stroke that you do not know for your favorite software.

8. Project Team Information:

Why stop at your office directory? Working with a lot of consultants? Constantly find yourself fumbling through your Rolodex for the same phone numbers, search no more. Update your desktop to display information related to the project that you are working on.

7. Color:

Color is not just for clowns and clients, use color and tone to divide your desktop visually so that you can keep files organized. Architects should get in the habit of filing documents to their permanent location, but sometimes time does not permit such practices. When you are under the gun, and a deadline is fast approaching, it seems that documents always end up cluttering your digital desktop. Use color to divide your desktop into regions or zones so that you can organize files and shortcuts visually on your desktop, this eliminates visual confusion and prevents files from getting lost. Remember that white pixels require more energy than black pixels, so choose your desktop colors wisely.

6. Change It Every Month:

Combine many of the suggestions in this post into a template background and save it to the network. Have all of the computers in your office mapped to the image. Now you can update the background of all of the office computers monthly, weekly, or daily to communicate important information to your employees. Many large companies have intranets or scripts that display pop-up windows when loading software. This kills computer performance, and annoys me, usually I never read these notices because they clutter my screen, so I close them immediately before reading. Your computer has to load a background image, so why not make it load something functional. Plus this is a cheap efficient way for small offices to communicate information such as detail standards, ADA and building code issues without having an office meeting.

5. ARE Flash Cards:

Studying for the ARE? Scan in some flash cards and turn them into an image that you can display as your desktop’s background. Change it daily and you will be surprised how much information you will absorb during a workday.

4. Display Your Company Logo:

When you bring clients through the office, why not let them know where they are. Branding is something that architects preach about to clients, but rarely practice in their own offices.

3. Design Inspiration:

If you are updating your desktop background image on a frequent basis, as described in idea 6, another idea would be to change the background image to display a current piece of architecture, art or inspirational image which will spur design discussion and help to strengthen the design knowledge and culture in your office.

2. ADA & Building Code Standards:

One of the most difficult things in any small or large office is to communicate to employees the many important ADA and building code standards. Instead of always displaying inspirational images, maybe some days you throw in a diagram of a handicap accessible bathroom stall, and other days you feature a diagram of the open area requirements for building facades. Information displayed on a computer desktop will constantly remind employees that codes and legislation for buildings must be satisfied ,and hopefully they will learn these requirements, thus eliminating change orders and expensive alterations during the construction phase of the project.

1. Improve Professional Culture:

By using the desktop background to do one or all of the above, the professional culture of your office will undoubtedly improve. Don’t stop at these ten ideas, I am sure that there are hundreds of ways to rethink the function of your computer’s desktop background. If you have any ideas or examples of how you or your company have improved the function of the desktop background, please share below. If I think of more ideas, I will add them to this site and the template provided above.

Windows Tip:

If you are using dual monitors and would like to stretch the background image across both monitors, under the position dropdown, select Tile. Otherwise the background will not be stretched across the screen.


Talk is cheap, so let’s look at an example that I am currently using on my desktop. I admit that the desktop background that I designed does need some work, and as I revise it, I will update the files on this site, but it makes use of many of the above concepts that I have spoken about. The backgrounds pictured below are divided into two workspaces. The left zone is used to create graphic zones for organizing files, so that I know where certain files are on my desktop. The left side of the image also contains a small area for adding various building code information, so that I can slowly learn different code requirements. The right side contains two directories, one for the projects that I am working on, and one for my office. The directory is complemented by images of whatever project has my fancy for the week. I came up with an all black version and a black and white version pictured below (click on the links to view at half-size):

Desktop 1:
The thinking behind the white and black design is that one monitor is subdued and the other is the working monitor, allowing architects to focus on the primary screen.

Desktop 2:
The bright white background of Desktop 1, seemed a bit too bright for my use, so I attempted to tone the brightness down with a black background this time around. After completing this option, I reverted back to the white, and decided that more tweaks should be made to the design.