Design Revamp: The Original Opendesk

It’s been over four years since version one of the Lean Desk was released back in 2013. Originally designed for Mint Digital, the desk existed before Opendesk itself. Through this design, the concept behind our ‘Open Making’ model was born.

Over the years, the Lean Desk has been through multiple iterations aimed at making it more functional for users and more makeable for makers. Our latest revamp is our most significant to date with a host of improvements from new features to custom length options.

Lean desk with Imac and Macbook and Allstar chair
Lean Desk cable management
Lean Desk ‘X’ beam detail

Our first foray into digital fabrication and distributed manufacturing, the Lean Desk is a flexible four person workstation built for startups and established teams alike, and is popular for its spacious work surface and clever cable management. In the early days of Opendesk, the then team of five worked around one of these trusty workhorses when at start-up incubator Wayra. Now, our team of 16 work around a row of four and we’ll continue to add more desks as we grow.

Our latest design revamp sees us introduce both improvements and new features. The Lean Desk is well known for its central trough that provides both its core structure and space for cable management. We’ve made the trough deeper so more messy wiring can be hidden away. We’ve also listened to feedback from the startups and creative teams who have been using our desks and learnt that many wanted to take their desks apart and rebuild them much more frequently than we’d initially imagined. For this reason, we’ve refined the way the different parts snap together to include hidden hardware (nuts and bolts) to make both assembly and disassembly easier. Crucially, these parts are available in any local hardware shop :)

Going back to the start, as architects and part of the team at Architecture 00, Joni and co-founder Nick designed a piece of furniture for software company Mint Digital. Their brief was to design a number of workstations that were affordable but could also be made more quickly than ordering from a major supplier. Joni and Nick found that they could make desks from sustainably-grown forests, and build them locally in less than three weeks. Because the tables were designed to be made with digital fabrication tools they were able to make them just a few miles away from Mint Digital’s central London offices, with local maker I.J. CNC services. They named the table the Lean Desk, a play on the principles of lean production and the need for start-up companies to be agile and ‘lean’ in their development.

Ian Jinks, founder and owner of I.J. CNC services, joined Opendesk in 2013. As one of the earliest members of our maker network, Ian has helped us deliver locally made furniture across London, delivering some of our earliest work for Greenpeace and Kano. He made the very first Lean Desks and has helped us develop the design with regular feedback.

Ian Jinks from I.J CNC Services standing in his workshop
I.J CNC Services workshop
Ian Jinks setting up tool bit

The real breakthrough came when Mint wanted to replicate the same desks in their New York office. Rather than shipping heavy timber around the world, Joni and Nick found a Brooklyn-based carpentry workshop with a CNC machine. They sent the maker the digital files to make the same Lean Desks local to Mint’s New York office. By turning hardware into software it was possible to ship only the digital file across the Atlantic – and the core idea behind Opendesk was born.

Joni and Nick designing the Lean Desk
Joni and Nick designing the Lean Desk
Joni and Nick designing the Lean Desk

By turning hardware into software it was possible to ship only the digital file across the Atlantic – and the core idea behind Opendesk was born.

Joni Steiner, Opendesk CEO and co-founder

We’re striving to continuously improve our collection as we build on the fantastic feedback we receive from customers and makers alike. Our network of independent workshops constantly relay ideas and insights back to us, allowing our team to learn more about the make-ability of our products. Through a process of optimisation, we’re able to minimise wasted material and wasted time, resulting in savings that we can pass onto those who need furniture. In this way, we hope to improve the experience of those making our furniture, and those using our furniture - building a happier supply chain :)

Over the past couple of years, we’ve had requests for Lean Desks in all shapes and sizes. Whilst we can’t say it’s possible to order a Lean Desk with diamanté table tops, we have added a lot of choice by officially launching our customisation service, allowing you to choose any length between 1200mm and 2400mm - we’re firmly of the view that no one size fits all! So it’s now possible to request a 1301mm long Lean Desk to perfectly fit that awkward void in your office if you really want it. And it’s all thanks to fantastic work from our Design and Engineering team who have worked tirelessly to make this possible.

Joe and Ben parametric modelling

We’ve worked on some fantastic projects over the past three years. From big names like Nike, Google and Greenpeace to emerging start-ups like Kano, we’ve kitted out our fair share of workplaces. Visit any of our biggest and best projects and one product will stand out - the Lean Desk. It’s been a popular choice since the first one rolled off Ian’s workshop floor back in the day.

Lean Desks at Kano
Lean Desks at Greenpeace
Greenpeace’s East London office building

“Our first piece of furniture somewhat charts our journey as a startup, from Lean Desk to Opendesk. It’s taken us from back-of-the-envelope sketches to hacking MVP prototypes (in Hackney), from lifting van-loads of plywood up endless staircases (and a few dead-ends) to malletting the pieces together in the dead of night - and waking up a local Vicar in the process. Most recently it’s been about learning how to assemble a team and empower them to help us grow through learning - by bringing new skills and (digital) tools to the table.”

Joni Steiner, Opendesk CEO and co-founder

Photography by Peter Guenzel and Rory Gardiner and Josh Worley
Video by Josh Worley
Music (in Lean Desk video) by Doctor Turtle, Which That is This, licensed under a Creative Commons-Attribution license.

Designs featured in this article