KNOLLING Part Four: From Chaos To Creativity

This series of blog posts about KNOLLING is dedicated to Andrew Kromelow who coined the term ‘knolling’ in 1987 and to Tom Sachs who expanded on the concept of knolling to ‘Always Be Knolling’.

I first heard the term ‘knolling’ around a month ago. I was fascinated by the term and started to research everything I could about it. I became somewhat confused because I could not discern if it was a systematic method of organization or an artistic technique also called flat lay photography or flatlays.

It seems to have started as the former and morphed into the latter over time. ‘Flatlays’ or ‘flat lay photography’ has nothing to do with knolling as a systematic method of organization. But from the way I understand these terms, they can be used as a record of knolling a set of objects. It can also be an art form of pleasantly laid out objects. It is presently and widely used on Instagram, tumblr and Pinterest. The purpose of using these social media applications is a popular means of graphic design layout or brand marketing as shown below. Instagram photos used in an article on Business Insider called, Everyone’s obsessed with ‘knolling’ their stuff and putting the photos on Instagram

I have written three previous blog posts about knolling to get as clear an understanding of it as possible. These blog posts represent my process with this goal in mind.
KNOLLING: Organizational or Graphic Design Layout and Product Branding System?
KNOLLING: Can It Help Organize My Costume Jewelry Collection?
KNOLLING: Social Media Gives Knolling New Meaning

The focus of this fourth blog post is to analyse the original process of ‘knolling’ used as an organizational tool. Specifically, it is about the process which I believe that Andrew Kromelow used to ‘bring order out of chaos’ in Frank Gehry‘s furniture fabrication factory where Kromelow worked. That resulting order prepared the staff for the continuation of a project or the starting of a new project.

I am finding that knolling is also a catalyst for creativity. This is my experience and what I would like to share. Just to clarify, the following video is not what I am writing about. My focus is not on flatlays or flat lay photography. But for information sake, this video, Making a Flat Lay Collage for a Campaign, Brochure or Magazine from StyleShoots by Matt Brasier, explains those terms and their current use.

The following video, Ten Bullets by Tom Sachs, does focus on knolling in great detail.

In my second blog post, I asked the question, KNOLLING: Can It Help Organize My Costume Jewelry Collection? In a word, YES. It can and it is helping a great deal. I am in the process of creating four boards so far:
• a board for my bracelets that holds 48 bracelets laid out in color order as an additional organizational system
• a board for about 2 dozen necklaces, again using color order as an additional organizational system
• a board for earrings
• a board for pins
I am also working on layouts for my hat collection and my purse collection.

knolling my bracelet collection using color order as an addition system
Knolling my bracelet collection using color order as an addition organizational system

The next things that happened was a spontaneous inspiration. Once I had created order out of chaos and could see my things neatly laid out in front of me, I experienced an epiphany. I felt the desire to commence making jewelry. I am not ever sure what the thought process was or if there even was one. I do have lots of broken pieces of jewelry which I hoped to repair some day. I also have a new piece that was missing some stones that needed regluing. The next thing I knew, I had retrieved my jewelry storage boxes from my shelves. I got out my glue and I started creating. I have already created two pieces of jewelry out of one piece and have plans for quite a few other pieces.

knolling my necklace collection using color order as an additional system
Knolling my necklace collection using color order as an additional organizational system
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KNOLLING Part One: Organizational or Graphic Design Layout and Product Branding System?

This series of blog posts about KNOLLING is dedicated to Andrew Kromelow who coined the term ‘knolling’ in 1987 and to Tom Sachs who expanded on the concept of knolling to ‘Always Be Knolling’.

What Is Knolling? From 10 Bullets. 2009 by Tom Sachs
What Is Knolling? From 10 Bullets. 2009 by Tom Sachs Posted on the Blog, August 19,2015

Knolling is defined in Wikipedia as “the process of arranging related objects in parallel or 90-degree angles as a method of organization”. The original phrase, knolling, was coined in 1987 by Andrew Kromelow, a janitor in the furniture fabrication shop of Frank Gehry. Gehry was designing chairs for the legendary, Knoll Furniture Company. Kromelow was particularly impressed with the furniture designed by Florence Knoll.




Florence Knoll furniture
Florence Knoll furniture designs which Andrew Kromelow admired for their clean, angular lines.


Andrew Kromelow especially liked the clean, angular lines of Florence Knoll’s designs which can be seen above. As a result, at the end of the workday, Kromelow would collect all the tools that had been left out in the work studio and organized them in a similar geometric manner then photograph them from the top. No photographs of Kromelow’s work seem to have survived, publically.

Things Organized Neatly
Tom Sachs—”Always Be Knolling.“ from Ten Bullets on Tumblr, “Things Organized Neatly”

The above image from Tom Sach’s, Ten Bullets, #8: “ALWAYS BE KNOLLING’ suggests what a Kromelow ‘flat lay-overhead photo’ might have looked like.”The result was an organized surface that allowed the user to see all objects at once”. Kromelow referred to this as ‘knolling’ due to the idea’s inspiration from Florence Knoll’s design sensibility. The term, the concept and the ‘flat lay photography’ Kromelow made of his arrangements caught on thanks to another person in Gehry’s employment.


Tom Sachs, an artist and sculptor who also worked in Gehry’s studio, popularized Kromelow’s knolling and his ‘flat lay photography’ process. According to the blog post in, Sachs created a piece about knolling and adopted the phrase, “Always be Knolling” (or ABK for short) as a motto for his work. By 1987, knolling had officially become a trend. But what transpired between 1987 and 2009?

One wonders because nothing more seems to be available about it again until the 2009 blog post on, ‘What Is Knolling? The Overhead Photography Trend Explained’. Supposedly, this style of organizational layout has been used for over three decades to shape brands and sell products. No examples were available. Instead, decades before the social media venue, Instagram, had the popular account, ‘The Flat Lays’, before the existence of social media at all, and separate from Kromelow’s organizing technique, knolling existed as a graphic design layout and branding inspiration. But it was not known as knolling and it was before 1987.

Pencil sharpeners
Mechanical pencil sharpener boxes pinned to Pinterest. This image is from a series of the blog posts, the Charrette Chronicles on The image is courtesy of the Charrette Corporation and former art director, designer Johanna Bohoy


The process of ‘knolling’ existed independent of Knoll and apparently previous to Andrew Kromelow’s coining a phrase for it. It was a prominent style designing with type, graphic design layout, architectural presentation and products branding including overhead or flat lay photography. One company that prominently exemplified this pre-knolling sensibility was the Charrette Corporation. The architect  David Paul Helpern, designer of the NYC Charrette Corporation flagship store and the graphic design/branding designer, Johanna Bohoy, the Art Director at Charette’s Headquarters in Woburn, Massachusetts were responsible for its conception. This can be traced back to the early 1980’s rather than the late 1980’s when the term knolling was coined.

There is a series of articles about the Charrette Corporation written by me, the NY Graphic Design Examiner on Many samples of their forward-thinking graphic design and branding style are included. Suffice to say, whether it is called knolling or attributed to the earlier Charrette Corporation methodology, the result is very calming on the brain to observe objects in an orderly rather than chaotic manner. This seems to be especially true for artistic, creative brain dominant people.


To add to this, technology has taken leaps, specifically with the creation of social media venues which facilitates present day knolling. But according to my research, history clearly illustrates that the clean, perpendicular and parallel lined style of graphic design layout, now known as knolling, was not a revolutionary idea and did not begin with Florence Knoll or Andrew Kromelow in 1987. This is not to deny that the advent of social media has allowed knolling to become very practical, even pedestrian in its incarnation as ‘flat lay photography’. Layout and branding are now easily and attractively showcased by Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr, pictured directly above and below.

Coffee Stationery / Branding Mock-Up By forgraphic™ in Graphics
What is Knolling? The Overhead Photography Trend Explained
Looking for an easy way to incorporate some knolling into your next project? We’ve got you covered. From


Life has a way of providing what is needed at a particular time in history. Credit it to The Charrette Corporation, Florence Knoll, Andrew Kromelow or Tom Sachs. They have all played a part in transforming the disciplines of design layout and branding forward to another level of usefulness and appeal in the world of product marketing. But is there more to it than that?!

My next blog post will attempt to answer that question and this one specifically:
Can It Help Organize My Costume Jewelry Collection?

Knolling Orange
From on Instagram. Photo from
Another simple but great knolling photo on Instagram comes from Rather than group items by category or type, she created a photograph that was themed by color. This knolling photograph is predominantly orange and features a toy moose, a notebook, flowers and more.


KNOLLING Part Two: Can Knolling Help Organize My Vintage Jewelry Collection?
What Is Knolling? The Overhead Photography Trend Explained
Florence Knoll
Frank Gehry
Andrew Kromelow
Tom Sachs
Ten Bullets Website aka Tom Sachs Working To Code
Things Organized Neatly
Flat Lay Photography
Charrette Corporation Layout and Branding Technology
Alison Gilbert, NY Graphic Design Examiner

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