Office Design: What it was and what it is now

Office design has taken on so many different forms over the years. Ranging from the birth of the skyscraper to the rise and evolution of the open plan office, the advancement of office design has been recorded in history books and media. With popular movies and tv shows acting as a timeline for changes in office design, such as The Office (2005), The Apartment (1960), The Devil Wears Prada (2006) and The Intern (2016), they also convey the developments in attitudes made within organisations, as they steer away from a traditional corporate style design to people-centred office design.

Early 1900s

The 1900s welcomed the Taylorist office design, which was invented by Frederick Taylor. Obsessed with order and efficiency, Taylor designed workers’ desks to be laid out in rows inside one room, sort of mimicking a factory layout. However, he made sure to place managers and CEOs in separate, private offices to reinforce hierarchy in the workplace.

1950s-1960s

Although Taylorism provided companies with a cost-effective office layout solution, many found it to be noisy and distracting to work amongst so many people in one room. Therefore, the 1950s-60s moved away from Taylorism, and towards a more humanised workplace. Employees started to see a progressive use of colour and shape, air conditioning for the warmer months, office plants and the introduction of the office cubicle. The “Action Office” invented by George Nelson and Robert Propst created the ‘cube’ system – a three-sided moveable partition developed to allow for personal privacy, and less distractions, solving the issues caused by the Taylorist office.

1970s-1980s

The 70s and 80s welcomed the London skyscraper boom, most famously, the Canary Wharf development. This led to companies taking advantage of the huge amount of space that they now had by creating rows of cubicles leading to the development of the cubicle farm. Although they gave people the opportunity to work independently, the extensive vertical length of the cubicle meant that workers were getting minimal amounts of light and air, creating quite a depressing work environment.

1990s-2000s

Aiming to remedy the issues caused by cubicle farm design, hot desking and laptops were introduced in the workplace. These allowed for flexibility like never before as workers were able to move throughout the office and sit at different desks, as collaboration and communication was at the forefront of this decision. The introduction of more modern technologies, like the laptop, meant that workers were no longer forced to share one workspace, they were able to choose their own way of going about a task.

Modern day

The modern-day office puts employee comfort and satisfaction at the forefront of their designs. Communal areas, breakout zones, standing desks and games areas are some of the ways in which many companies aimed to encourage a healthier work-life balance. The ride in hybrid working has led to the popularisation and boom in co-working spaces, with there now being over 6,000 flexible workspaces across the UK.

Office design continues to adapt and evolve, it’s exciting to think about what’s next in the world of work.

Take a look at our latest office and co-working spaces here.

Ideas

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