With that in mind, I consulted all of my friends and coworkers for their best ideas for a desk. It turned out that my initial thinking (largest possible broad flat surface for the given space) was a pretty popular idea. This leads me to wonder why there are so many desks with little specialized compartments out there, but not enough to actually research it.
Step 1: Go shopping.
Final shopping list was:
2x wire shelving units
1x 24" wide 80" tall hollow core door (if this was for me, I'd have gone solid core, but the hollow seemed strong enough for him)
1x bag of 6 copper pipe hangers, 1 1/4" diameter
1x box of #8 phillips head wood screws, 1" long