When and why office cubicles were invented

Did you know that the office cubicle layout with its loved or loathed reputation was originally designed to bring out the best in workers? Debuting in the heady days of the 1960s, cubicles were intended to make office environments breezy, less confined, and altogether more efficient. From whence did this ultimately complicated office element come?

Office workers and executives all o’er the land can thank (or at least salute) designer Robert Propst for introducing the cubicle. Propst headed up the research division of legendary furniture manufacturer Herman Miller and envisioned a better way to work, with flexible and customized office space that inspired more effective work than an armada of big, heavy desks.

Indeed, the typical 1950s and 60s office worker labored in expansive, open spaces packed with row after row of huge metal or wood desks, with a background hustle of clanking typewriters, noisy telephones ringing all day, and an eternal haze of cigarette smoke. (Ironic, given the recent trendy return to the open office layout.)

Introducing the Action Office

Propst saw the answer to the office layout blues in his Action Office, focused on lightweight sitting and standing desks and filing systems. He designed the original cubicle in 1964 to empower people and thought “productivity would rise if people could see more of their work spread out in front of them, not just stacked in an in-box.” Acoustical panels helped insulate workers from the noise of telephone calls and typing, and the panels became miniature walls of multiple heights that separated each space into its own office without completely cutting workers off from colleagues.

But corporate America didn’t use the Action Office (Propst introduced two iterations) the way Propst intended. Instead of following his design for roomy desk spaces and walls of different heights, they chose tiny, boxed-in desks instead and cubicles were used to cram even more workers into offices. The office layout he envisioned shrank until it became impersonal and crowded, and the age of the cubicle farm had begun.

Government incentive

The U.S. government also helped the cubicle movement take off.  In efforts to stimulate business spending, the Treasury Department implemented new rules for depreciating assets, allowing companies to recover their costs quicker by buying furniture that “acted like offices” rather than offices themselves.

In the past 50 years, cubicles have become ubiquitous and now represent a $3 billion industry. Interestingly, cubicles of various design are often integrated into open office layouts as quiet retreats and private work areas.

 

Let us take care of your office needs with a Professional Consultation

Take full advantage of your workspace by consulting with our team. When you schedule a free design consultation, one of our staff members visits your location to assess your available space and help you design a floor plan for your new office furniture that meets all your functional and stylistic needs.

Schedule a Professional Consultation

Delivery/Installation

Fast delivery and installation services are available at affordable prices. Our team can quickly and safely assemble your newly purchased furnishings to your exact specifications. Your ultimate satisfaction is important to Office Furniture Direct, so please let us know if you have any questions or concerns.

Service Area

Since opening for business more than 15 years ago, Office Furniture Direct has sold and installed furniture for small, medium, and large businesses throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Call us at (503) 546-1546 to see how we can service you.

Service & Hours

HOURS
Mon-Fri: 9am – 5pm
Saturday/Sunday: Closed

Office Design & Space Planning Consultations:
By Appointment M-F
Schedule Here
Or Call (503) 546-1546

 

View Our Resource Blog

Read Our Reviews
OUR REVIEWS

Showroom

Our Showroom is open by appointment only for the safety of our community but we are open for business. Orders can be placed over the phone. Please browse our website and online catalog. We can offer delivery and set up/installation or arrange for socially distant pick up.

Showroom & Warehouse:
2730 NE Riverside Way
Portland, OR 97211
View Map

SALES & SERVICE

Phone: (503) 546-1546
Toll Free: 888-236-8389

Fax: (503) 246-4422

View Our Resource Blog

Read Our Reviews
OUR REVIEWS

HBC Catalog

HBC Catalog

We are a large commercial office furniture company and our prices are often well below the list price in the hbc catalog. Typically our price is around 30-35% off catalog prices, with delivery and installation included within our local service area. For exact pricing and to place an order, call us at 503-546-1546.

View hbc catalog

© 2018 Office Furniture Direct. All Rights Reserved.