Knolling: the Art of Organizing Things

On this occasion, I want to tell you about a type of photography that is very fashionable and that surely you will have seen many times on Instagram and other sites: the knolling.

The knolling is a type of picture that is characterized by being, almost always, a zenith photograph in which the different elements that are shown are perfectly ordered from parallel angles of 90º. The result is usually extremely striking and offers virtually all products that show their share of prominence.

The invention of the technique, as we know it now, is attributed to the Canadian architect Andrew Kromelow, who in 1989 worked in the furniture studio Frank Gehry. One day, seeing how tremendously disorganized the studio was, he decided to collect all the utensils and arrange them on the table, organizing them by use, shape and placing them at 90º angles. When he saw the result he decided that it should have a name and since at that moment the studio was developing a project for the firm Knoll, he decided to baptize it as knolling.

How to make a good knolling

What initially was developed as an organization system (of which there were already antecedents, such as the manuals of medical instruments), soon became an aesthetic trend. It was thanks to Tom Sachs, a sculptor who had also worked in the Frank Gehry studio and to the utilitarian bet he attributed a visual. In fact, he made the ABK manifesto: Always Be Knolling. In it, he established a simple guide to do it, based on four points:

  • Search around you for materials, tools, books, music, etc. that you are not using.
  • Remove everything that is not in use. If you are not sure, leave it.
  • Group all objects that resemble each other.
  • Align all objects at right angles, either on the surface they are on or in the study itself.

Knolling the art of organizing still lifes

Knolling has gained enormous popularity in the digital age, and as we’ve said Instagram and social networks are plagued with this type of photography. It is a style that, for its straight lines and angles, for visual order. It has a great capacity to catch the image of the spectator.

Although at first glance it may seem that it is a purely visual style and that may not serve us to show our product, you are wrong. If we sell, for example, an electronic product (for example, a mobile phone) we can use the knolling to show everything that is included in the box: the phone, the charger, the cable, the headphones … Or it can even be used to teach the whole family of accessories that we make available to the buyer.

It can also serve us to show clearly and powerfully the ingredients of a dish in gastronomic photography. For example, we can sort all the fruit pieces of a fruit salad. Many photographers have used knolling to “eviscerate” a product, showing all the pieces that make it up. This is something that can be useful for many products, conveying a sense of complexity.