Desk & Desktop Setup: Where tech, aesthetics and fandoms meet

Desks & Desktops: where productivity aesthetics play out


Setting up a home desk was, for many, an afterthought before the pandemic. As WFH culture matures, however, the concept of personalizing and improvising a desk set-up has become less tied to simple utility, and more with streaming & stanning culture, digital-minded demographics and cultural exploration.

How does a setup idea become a power-up for niche communities, and what does that mean? Using Pulsar TRAC to leverage social data, we explored different dimensions of the Desk Setup conversation across different audiences.

First, let’s take a look at where the Desk Setup trend has begun and what’s behind the shift.

Audience interest in Desk Setup keeps growing since the first lockdown

Unsurprisingly, both search and social interest in desk setups soared in March 2020, when the first COVID-lockdown was enforced across much of the world. Consequently, a significant degree of social chatter centers on self-mocking WFH moments in which individuals improvise temporary, sub-optimal workspace solutions. 

TikTok and K-Pop communities subsequently propelled pinnacles of social interests in 2021 and 2022, respectively. 

While TikTok helped introduce the idea of a ‘productivity aesthetic’ to more communities, and helped send the items such as standing desks and under-desk bikes to the top of bestseller charts and newsfeeds, K-pop stan communities shared desk aesthetics and buying lists, driving conversation and spend in the fandom economy. 

Chronicling desk setup conversations over time allows us to visualize how conversations around individual associations have ebbed and flowed since the initial spate of global lockdowns.

Gaming, trading, stanning... desk set-up associations diversify

Prior to the flood of work-based conversation in March 2020, gaming was the one association to see anything like a comparable degree of conversation to 2022. While gaming has remained comparatively consistent since, and work-based chat has lessened following the initial shock, associations within trading, studying and ‘stanning’ (obsessive fanship) have each grown.

This diversification has taken place for several different reasons. Trading, for instance, took off out of the 2021 crypto bull market, as users linked physical and digital set-ups to the mentality of the individual trader. 

Studying and Stanning, meanwhile, are somewhat interlinked by the active online presence of the communities who fall within both camps. 

While it by no means suggests that one group equates with the other, there is more than a little synchronicity between the two.

What goes into a Desk Setup?

Let’s break down what we mean by a desk setup. For one thing, there’s a clear distinction between people talking about their physical desk space versus the desktop on their operating system.

And so, with the Metaverse still buffering and the final verdict on simulation theory still pending, it appears that physical desktops are still more associated with the phrase than their digital equivalent. As we shall explore, however, the gap between the two can appear strikingly liminal at times, given the importance of hardware to the real-world space, and software to any sense of productivity. 

Even as the majority of the conversation skews towards the physical desk, we see several distinct strands of content ‘type’, ranging from striking ‘Desk Inspo’, to the more in-depth ‘Desk Tour’ and granular and discursive ‘Desk Advice’.

Different Desk Setup contents dominate different social media

When breaking down the Desk Setup conversation by social platform, we can also isolate different content types and tendencies for each channel. Twitter and Reddit, for instance, show a monolithic disposition, while Youtube and Instagram are driven by relatively varied content types. 


Desk Setup as Aesthetics

Aesthetics are a huge factor in conversation around desk setup, in association with styles and makeovers that turn second-hand, old or unused materials into an aesthetically pleasing or cool desk mise-en-scene. This lets desk aesthetics be a way for audiences to fantasize about their lives and project a certain coherent image that reflects their personality.

Productivity and Ergonomics, on the other hand, are discussed in their physical sense alone, mostly alongside specific products related to desk setup. 

Certain trends are pushing this focus on aesthetics even further. Gen-Z, in particular, is injecting their post-pandemic spending/passions into their self-growth experience.

Another trend pushing the aesthetics is K-Pop fandoms who are aligning themselves with desk setups online, especially on Instagram where K-Pop fan communities are showing their love for their favorite pop star using their desks as well as assimilating with Korean aesthetic content such as Study With Me

Despite the pervading minimalist trends online, one of the main drivers for Minimalist seems to be attributed to the WFH adoption as people prefer to add new workstation elements to their personal spaces while avoiding as much as conflicts with existing personal elements.

Both Cozy and Green have been a staple aesthetic in recent years amongst young female gamers and Instagrammers, with Green skewing towards Witchcore. Meanwhile, Clean is a relatively new TikTok trend that’s emerging as a spin-off from satisfying ASMR-style videos bundled with desk organization tips while Kawaii & Korean is tied with cuteness and is driven by anime & K-pop stans globally.

Who’s driving the conversation?

Let’s break down what we mean by a desk setup. For one thing, there’s a clear distinction between people talking about their physical desk space versus the desktop on their operating system.

Techies, Stans & Gaming communities are leading the desk setup convo

When we take a look at the participants engaged in conversation around Desk Setup, we can see distinct creative, cultural and tech sub-affinities within wider subgroups. Techie communities are the main participants, using their desk setup reviews as a way to engage with like-minded peers.  

Another undeniably strong community emerges around K-Pop, with mainly Thai and Filipino stans sharing their customized desks and setup buying lists with K-pop merch

What drives different communities to engage with desktop set-ups?

When we break down each community’s conversation, we can see that fandom behaviors are striking out again with K-Pop Stans placing much more value on Aesthetics compared to other audience groups. 

Tech Creators, however, show a predilection for Productivity as their top value in relation to Desk Setup, but still with a balanced focus on other aspects. For this group, their desk’s aesthetic is almost as important as its productivity.

How does a desk setup link to productivity?

Naturally, this wave of personalisation, and the idea of the desk as an aesthetic space, sits on top of a more established idea: the desk as a space of work and productivity. 

This particular concept is linked to the utility of individual items in a set-up:

Several insights immediately leap out:

One is the relative popularity of keyboards, with ‘old-fashioned’, mechanical keyboards valued for their tactile feel. Collectors share their own collections, in a trend that straddles the productive and the ‘aesthetic’, given the preponderance of aesthetically pleasing Kawaii & pastel styles.

Over in the gear and tech communities we established earlier, meanwhile, monitors take top spot, with multi screen set-ups considered an essential layer between the user and the complex game or task they’re interfacing with. 

Upgrade my dual monitor setup to an ultrawide. No more middle bezel for me. from battlestations

And gear doesn’t simply correlate to ‘computers’. Treadmills and min-fridges make up a small, but growing, part of the total conversation, as the desk-setup continues to evolve and incorporate items from the health and food spaces.

Each of these categories, however, appears diminutive next to that of PCs at large. And the disparity is only larger when combined with laptops. 

This is because the desk setup conversation tied to productivity traverses the physical and the digital. When it comes to linking set-up to performing tasks, an individual is clearly far more likely to cite the operating system that enabled them, rather than any physical items. 

Apple’s clear dominance is also reflected when we investigate which brands are most cited in conversations around desk setups in general. 

While Amazon and IKEA place second and third respectively, we see that the majority of the most mentioned brands are drawn from the tech and entertainment spaces. 

As for Apple’s dominance, one contributing factor appears to be the confluence of individuals integrating Apple products into varied set-ups, and the presence of Apple evangelists. 

One notable emerging brand, particularly amongst younger users and on platforms such as Pinterest, is Divoom, whose bluetooth speakers bring us full-circle to the lo-fi ( but nonetheless wholly tech-enabled), aesthetics we’ve seen achieve such popularity amongst Gen Z.


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Where next?

My Aesthetic: the fashion & interior trends behind an expression

Witches are real, and they’re online