Secrets In Wood: An Interview With Marlies Romberg, Creator Of The Dear Diary Wooden Workstation

by Jason Toon

The current vogue for wooden gadgets reaches its apex with Dear Diary, a wooden workstation with a computer built into it, complete with wooden keyboard, mouse, and monitor frame. But Dutch designer Marlies Romberg wasn't trying to reinvent the cubicle. As she told us via email, she arrived at this point from a completely different direction, starting with the concept of the diary and asking what a diary looks like in the digital age. She also talked about how old-fashioned sealing wax could be the new encryption. Our questions are in bold.

Dear Diary by Marlies Romberg

One of the things that attracted me to the idea of a wooden workstation is that, so much of the time in an office, you are surrounded by artificiality: plastic, nylon, fluorescent lighting, even climate-controlled air. In that environment, there's something particularly satisfying about fresh air, real plants, and wooden furniture. Was this something you had in mind when you created Dear Diary?

No, I made a wooden desk because that reminds you of old days. My point has never been to make a wooden computer table. My starting point was a modern translation of the diary. And that became a wooden PC...

The name Dear Diary suggests an intimacy and privacy we don't often associate with using a computer. Your artists' statement says "It seems like young people have no secrets...the digital world is personal but not private at all." Do you see blogging, social networking, Twitter, etc. as replacing the old paper diary?

The old journal is indeed replaced by blogging, social networking, Twitter, et cetera. There is no longer much writing by hand so people have to find a replacement. I made this replacement. But I believe that people should not use an online diary. This computer is personal with a lock on it. Only the one with the key can open and turn the PC on.

Dear Diary by Marlies Romberg

Did you create Dear Diary as something that could potentially be available as a consumer product, or is it a singular work of art?

It was not meant that Dear Diary 1.0 would be made for consumers. But there are so many enthusiastic reactions that maybe it will happen. With a few simple adjustments, it is easy to do.

Now to a couple of more concrete questions. Computer users tend to buy newer models every few years. Can the computer in Dear Diary be removed and replaced?

Yes, that is possible, which is something I had to think about a lot. I have made a secret entrance.

How did you install the keyboard? Did you take a standard keyboard and somehow attach it to the laser-cut wooden keys?

I used a standard keyboard and placed under the wooden blocks.

Dear Diary by Marlies Romberg

Did you take ergonomics into account when designing Dear Diary (for example, in the distance between the screen and the keyboard, or the angle of the keyboard?

The distance between the screen and keyboard is okay, but the space you need for your hands is not really okay. That are some things I have to change if I’m going to make Dear Diary 2.0.

Do you use Dear Diary yourself? And what would you change for Dear Diary 2.0?

I do not use Dear Diary myself, yet. I would like to make more versions. Maybe with another style. Maybe I will change the size of the screen. Maybe there is not going to be a mouse but a trackball.

Top Secret by Marlies Romberg

Finally, Dear Diary seems to show that you're interested in exploring how dualities like real/virtual, natural/artificial, private/public will be shifted and redefined as technology advances. Do your other projects deal with these ideas?

Yes, I also made a USB stick for my graduation. This USB stick is for your personal and secret files. You can place them on the Topsecret USB and seal it with wax, just like old days when they sealed secret letters. In the future I will make more products with this theme.

Top Secret by Marlies Romberg

Photos courtesy of Marlies Romberg