Friday, January 20, 2006

Early Amazon: Door desks

Amazon often seems to be lumped into the world of dot com excess, but it never enjoyed the Aeron chairs or free massages of the VC heavy startups.

Amazon was a frugal culture. When I joined, the health plan was a high deductible plan that offered little comfort, catastrophic coverage only. Salaries were low, the worst offer I received as I recall.

But the quintessential example of Amazon's frugality was the door desk.

Door desk, you say? Okay, I have a door. How do I make that into a desk?

Leave it to Jeff Bezos. Buy a wooden door, preferably a hollow core wooden door with no holes predrilled. Saw a couple 4" x 4" x 6' pillars in half. Bolt them to the door with a couple of scary looking angle brackets. Put it in front of a programmer. Door desk.

In addition to being inexpensive, door desks offered a lot of surface area. Put your computer monitor on top and in barely makes a dent. If Amazon wasn't so bloody cheap, you could have put three more monitors up there. Plenty of space for all of your crap.

Ergonomically, door desks leave a lot to be desired. Keyboards were usually too high. Typing for hours could be uncomfortable. And those angle brackets have sharp edges; accidentally scrapping exposed flesh against those was a mistake that wouldn't be repeated.

But door desks came to symbolize the Amazon frugal culture. They took on a live of their own. Years later, in 2001, there was a 6.8 magnitude earthquake here in Seattle. We were in a different building by then -- the attractive PacMed building up on Beacon Hill above downtown Seattle -- but we still had our door desks. And I can't tell you how happy we were to have that door desk over our heads as the building shuttered and swayed around us.


Dimitar Vesselinov said...

Any photos, Greg?

alan said...

I still have a scar on my right knee inflicted by my old door desk. I really hated those things.

Greg Linden said...

Sorry, not that I can find. There appears to have been one in Time Magazine in their 1999 person of the year article

but it is now seems to be behind a paid archive wall and unavailable.

Adam said...

Found a pic. Thank you Wayback Machine.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha! Went on a tour of Amazon last month - what did I tell my friends about? The furniture! Not only in the offices but in the meeting rooms too.

Anonymous said...

They're still here too. Every table and desk in the Seattle corporate offices are 'Door Desks'. I personally have an "L" shaped one.

Anonymous said...

They're not hollow-core doors - they're solid core, otherwise there wouldn't be enough wood for the screws in the L-brackets (Simpson Strong-Tie brand) to bite into to securely attach the legs.

I built two for my basement home office for around $225.

Anonymous said...

ah jeez the door desks at amazon. the group affiliated with the one I worked within initially were the sad dudes that actually constructed these things. Literally. the amazon store for employees in the Rainier bldg next to Lowes used to sell the extra ones.

Anonymous said...

They used to give miniature versions of the door desks as staff awards at the annual 'All Hands' meetings. Don't know if they still do.