Feeling Chaotic? Embrace the Calming
Effects of Things Organized Neatly
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
There's something to be said for having everything right where it's supposed to be, without surprises or hidden meanings. In our daily lives, everything grabs for our attention all at once, pushing and pulling us in different directions. The opposite applies for WNW Member Austin Radcliffe's ongoing project Things Organized Neatly. It's a "collection of collections" that calms the viewer with even spacing, color coordination, arrangement by size, and every other requirement for soothing the obsessive. Things Organized Neatly invites you into a world where everything serves a higher order, blending in with its environment to give you the power to approach. It sounds spiritual because it is.
Below, Austin shares what draws him to organization both happenstance and intentional. He also notes that this project has given him a third eye for seeing organization wherever he goes. "I see it everywhere. Sometimes it feels a bit like The Truman Show." The project began as a Tumblr, eventually earning Austin a Webby, has over 40k followers on Instagram, and has also spawned a hardcover book of the project's greatest hits, titled Things Organized Neatly: The Art of Arranging the Everyday.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects?
My work is full of references—found objects, fashion, or film stills. There’s usually a story, an experience, or hours of research behind certain elements.
What was the impetus behind “Things Organized Neatly”?
In 2010 I saw this emerging trend on design blogs. Artists like Mark Dion, Tom Sachs, and Wes Anderson were early influences. Simultaneously, I started looking at archaeology and scientific documentation. I volunteered at an archaeological dig in Texas later that summer.
How did you employ your photography and art direction skills to bring it to life? How has the project evolved over its extended run?
The blog has always existed as a “collection of collections.” Naturally, the book became an All-Star collection or overview of my favorite artists working in this style. Hopefully, the result is also cohesive.
In discussing this project, you’ve cited Milton Glaser’s definition of design as “any intentional act.” Are you interested in happenstance organization too?
The best things happen by chance. Arranging objects (or design elements) is like a puzzle. You keep adjusting until it ‘works’. Deciding when to stop is also an intentional act.
What have you learned about organizational, pattern-based design through the process of curating all of these distinct examples?
There is something universal about objects arranged neatly. The practice exists across many centuries, continents, and professions. I’m also fascinated by tessellations in the natural world.
When out and about, do you have a laser-focused eye for things organized neatly?
I see it everywhere. Sometimes it feels a bit like The Truman Show. The other day I was at [unnamed major retailer] buying props for a photo shoot. I looked up and their in-store marketing posters were all organized neatly.
Is hyper-organization something you practice outside of this project? Or is it an obsession you compartmentalize?
I’m actually not very organized at home. But I am really good at Tetris.
“Things Organized Neatly” is largely celebrated for its calming effect. How do you personally keep calm amidst the chaos of the internet and ceaseless barrage of content?
I love walking in Hollywood actually. It’s one of the few neighborhoods in LA with a walkable city scale. Kitschy tourist shops, crowded antique stores, and bookstores are great places to get lost. I guess these are all ‘analog’ experiences, escaping the digital.
Are you still taking submissions for this ongoing project? If so, how can our members get involved?
Yes! People can always tag me on Instagram, submit via Tumblr, or send me an email.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
Any magazine stand with a good selection of art & fashion magazines.
What’s your favorite thing on the internet this week?
What’s the best creative advice you’ve heard or received that all creatives should hear?
Pay your dues. In the internet age, everyone expects overnight success. The people I admire most have spent decades building their career.
Who are some other WNW members whose work you admire and why?
My friend Kevin Shea Adams introduced me to WNW.