Zen and the Art of Knolling

Zen and the Art of Knolling


Are you familiar with knolling? In your online and social media travels, you may have run into the term, or the phrase “Always be knolling.” You have most certainly seen knolling in action. Knolling is simply defined as the process of arranging related objects in parallel or 90-degree angles as a method of organization.

The term knolling was coined in 1987 by a janitor name Andrew Kromelow who was working at Frank Gehry’s furniture making shop. The story goes that Kromelow would neatly arrange the jumble of the day’s tools at right angles on the benches as he cleaned up. He dubbed the practice knolling because it reminded him of the right angles in Florence Knoll’s angular furniture (Gehry was designing for Knoll at the time).

The term and the concept really came into its own when the amazing artist and designer Tom Sachs popularized it in his 10 Bullets video, a tongue-in-cheek short film designed as a training film for incoming studio personnel. It was this video that introduced the phrase “Always be Knolling” (or “ABK”), a riff on “Always be closing,” from the film Glengarry Glen Ross.


Knolling has caught on as a useful way to organize and group objects so that you can see what you have, as a compelling layout for photographing objects, and as a kind of therapeutic, meditative activity, especially for the more OCD among us.

In the above video, Make:‘s very own maker madman, Caleb Kraft, engages in a little meditative knolling by disassembling, knolling, cleaning, and then reassembling a Knock-Em Out electronic boxing game from the late 70s.

While there is definitely some organizational utility in knolling, there is also a tongue-in-cheek aspect that is often lost (as witnessed in this video). Hipsters have adopted it and seem to take it all a bit more seriously than they should. Knolling is a great way to take stock of one’s tools, supplies, and other objects, it’s not a very useful way of organizing them for work flow (e.g. you don’t want your work surface covered in a carefully arranged grid of tools).

And speaking of over-reactive hipsters with organizational OCD, this comedy video does a great job of showing how you can take the concept of knolling therapy way too far.

So, do you knoll? Do you use it in organizing? In photography? As a sort of busy-work therapy? Please share your experiences in the comments. And in the meantime, ABK!


Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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