As few of us likely know, the much-beloved modern office cubicle was originally designed not to keep us apart while at work, but to set us free. Envisioned by Robert Probst in 1967 for Herman Miller as part of his then-groundbreaking “Action Office II” layout, today’s cubicle has since seen several evolutionary changes since its inception which may not be immediately obvious to some. These changes have moved the cubicle far beyond its introduction as simply a provider of privacy and customized for workers. As we move further into the information age, the modern office cubicle has come to set the standard for efficiency and cooperation more than ever before.
Before the cubicle arrived on the scene, many offices consisted merely of desks arranged in rows in an open work environment. This layout did nothing to offer employees a sense of identity or a definitive place to anchor their work spaces. Some might even say that the cubicle might have been one of the first truly modern ideas to enter the office— an idea in which the aesthetics of design and concern for worker needs were truly united. One thing Robert Probst certainly did was provide a far more cost-effective solution than individual, built-in offices. His invention also enabled the continual integration of new technology into a personal work space. — information networks, display monitors, and tablet devices, to name a few.
Today, there is nothing in a private, enclosed office that cannot also be conveniently housed in a cubicle system.
However, it has taken considerable time for people to recognize the value that cubicles bring to workflow. In the early days of the Action Office II, Probst’s design—like many new ideas—did not emerge without detractors. One such critic was George Nelson, an actual co-developer of the Action Office II concept. Regarding the plan, Nelson had this to say:
“AO-II is definitely not a system which produces an environment gratifying for people in general. But it is admirable for planners looking for ways of cramming in a maximum number of bodies, for “employees,” for “personnel” … the silent majority — A large market.”
Many workers in the 70’s and 80’s echoed this sentiment when organizations purchased large numbers of cubicles without first developing a space plan representative of their workflow. The lack of space planning—not the cubicle itself—left something of a bad taste in people’s mouths when they felt “crammed” into row after row of generic workstations. Ironically, this is the very thing that professional modern office cubicles eliminate when they are designed with individual production in mind and arranged in configurations that move production along toward profitable benchmarks.
Over the past two decades, more and more people have witnessed modern office cubicles deliver truly elegant and flexible solutions to industries ranging from medicine to software. Some of the best minds from design — Alexander Girard, Isamu Noguchi, Bill Stumpf, Don Chadwick, and of course Herman Miller – continue to build upon simplicity and versatility of cubicle design, creating new individual environments with an increasingly human element.
At the same time, workstation functionality has likewise progressed, incorporating communication systems, information systems, storage units, and — as the tools we work with each day continue to become smaller and more mobile — wireless routers, data hosts, and flat-panel displays. These advances in both form and function continue to drive business to new levels of achievement and have put to rest once and for all the unfounded doubts of George Nelson.
Instead, the cubicle has been made into a foundation to be improved upon by If you do happen to harbor any doubts about taking advantage of cubicles’ potential when the time comes for you to empower your workplace with them, we do hope you’ll give CubicleWorld the opportunity to demonstrate exactly why George Nelson’s doubts regarding the modern office design, and with it, the modern office cubicle, were entirely unfounded. Contact us today.
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