Office Design through the Decades - Bluespace Ltd

Office Design through the Decades

18th November 2021

office retro design

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Bluespace Ltd

At Bluespace, we always keep up with modern office design trends, and our priority is to design a workspace which lasts. Our expert workspace designers are always finding new ways to bring a new lease of life to a space, and our creative commercial designs certainly stand out. As market leaders within the local community, we set a high precedent when it comes to workplace design, paving the way for new and original designs and ideas. With this in mind, we’ve taken a look at the ways in which office design has evolved and changed over the decades, and how we ensure we are always one step ahead of the newest trends. 

Where it all began

In order to review the evolution of office design in recent decades, it’s important to note the history which paved the way for modern offices as we know them today. The first ever office is often attributed to Ancient Rome, however it wasn’t until the 18th century that buildings dedicated to housing offices were being constructed. It was during the times of the expansion of the British Empire that the need for an office was absolutely crucial, allowing them to handle the masses of paperwork generated by the Royal Navy during this time. This building was known as The Old Admiralty Office built in 1726 in London. 

Furthermore, the first ‘skyscraper’ Oriel Chambers, built in 1864 by architect Peter Ellis, was the first ever building to feature a metal-framed glass curtain wall. This concept was truly groundbreaking for its time, and most urban office buildings today use this same method to construct office spaces. The glass curtain allowed natural light to flow throughout the office space, which we now know can help with productivity and mindfulness. 

Throughout the decades 

Office design has certainly changed drastically over the past 70 years in particular, with the ways in which we are expected to work and a growth in knowledge and research surrounding the office, we’re reviewing the ways in which these contributed to various shifts in the office design industry. 

1950s 

The 1950s was when the office design industry really came into being, showcasing an experimental approach when it comes to office design trends. Previously, office spaces resembled a factory floor, with linear desks on a lower floor to those higher up, both metaphorically and physically as the bosses tended to stroll along the upper floor, looking down onto the office floor. In the 50s, the open plan office emerged. This physical hierarchy was removed, adopting the German concept of Bürolandschaft, which literally translates to office landscape. This concept grouped desks together to encourage collaborative working, and paved the way for the modern office. 

1960s

The 60s saw the rapid rise of design based furniture, from leading manufacturers of office furniture such as Herman Miller, as they experimented with colour and shape, office furniture became an integral part of any office design. Furniture evolved as we began to understand more about the human body and more about how office workers interacted with the furniture around them. The 60s is well known for the emergence of the Action Office, developed by Robert Propst; a campaign led by Herman Miller shortly after they created the Herman Miller Research Corporation. The Action Office 1 formulated a plan to address issues experienced by office workers. This saw the introduction of individual desks of varying heights and sizes, suited to every office worker rather than just the standard. In addition to this, partitions were introduced, with the hope to give workers a sense of privacy and provide them with their own space. 

As a result of these changes throughout this period, office furniture became part of the design process, and an emphasis was placed on ensuring that office workers had all the necessary tools to carry out their tasks effectively. 

1970s

Bold, bright colours encompass the 70s when it comes to office design. It was thought that these vibrant interiors would encourage workers to feel more motivated and increase their productivity. The progression we saw in terms of design for the users of the office was huge, as the 70s saw the introduction of ergonomics like the Vitra Mat by Wolfgang Mueller in 1976. Ergonomic furniture was designed to support the user throughout use, reducing the likelihood of strains, aches and pains. 

This is one of the ways in which we can see how office design has evolved throughout the years to place an emphasis on the comfort of office workers, it was not just to look aesthetically pleasing, but it was designed with the user in mind. Ergonomic chairs became increasingly popular, height adjustable and designed to encourage freedom of movement, the 70s certainly saw a transition into user led design.

1980s

The introduction of the office cubicle came in the 1960s, but its widespread use wasn’t until the 1980s, a decade known and in fact, widely castigated for the legacy of the ‘Cubicle Farm’. Cubicles were seen as an evolution of Propst’s Action Office. There seemed to be an emphasis on providing employees with a private space to call their own, but this resulted in a disconnect amongst fellow employees, making collaborative working more difficult. Office spaces became rather crowded as profit led companies implemented a layout which capitalised on square footage available by creating linear rows of cubicles. This was an attempt to boost productivity, but instead saw employees sealed off from fellow employees and resulted in a huge drop in morale, and therefore productivity. It is evident that we actually saw a regression in user led design during the 80s. This was a complete shift from the aims of the Action Office which encouraged flexible work stations suited to individuals, completely ridding the office of any open plan formats popular in the 50s and 60s.

As technology saw rapid growth, office furniture struggled to keep up, often leading to heavy, complex desks which were not adjustable or customisable, but were purely to house the heavy and complex units that were word processors and fax machines. This increase in modular walls and bulky, standard sized desks meant that office design was anything but creative, and the atmosphere that was created certainly reflected that.

1990s

The 90s saw an increase in more muted, neutral colour palettes, with beige being the predominant colour within most offices during this period. There weren’t too many changes in the office during this time, with cubicles still being a popular choice in the layout of the office space, computers were bulky and large desks were used to house the heavy CPUs and abundance of wires. Not to mention the dreaded fax machine, a staple in any office during the 90s. 

However, whilst the aesthetics of the office did not change for the most part during the 90s, this was an important decade when it comes to the evolution of the office. Here, we saw the beginnings of a new era and we can actually attribute the 90s to the start of the possibility of remote working. Marking the start of the Information Age, the widespread use of the internet meant that remote or flexible working might be possible, and this concept was only furthered as technology evolved during the late 90s to become more compact and more affordable. This is the very beginning of the virtual office, and whilst it has only been in recent years that flexible and remote working has become a necessity, the 90s marks the very beginning of this journey, one which would go on to shake up office design in the years to come.

2000s

With the vast evolution of technology, slimmed down PCs meant deskspace was no longer dominated by your computer. In addition to this, wireless technology and the ability to almost go paperless through digital filing meant that desks and offices became far less cluttered. This was reflected in the office furniture design industry, with sleek desks and office accessories to accommodate the modern office. 

Offices began to once again move away from the rigid layout of linear cubicles, creating spaces adapted to ‘hot-desking’, these multi functional workspaces featured height adjustable desks and chairs to ensure flexibility within the office space. As the expectations from office workers changed during this period, with an emphasis on employee morale it was important for businesses to cater to this. 

Dress codes became more relaxed and breakout spaces started to come into fruition. Breakout spaces are an office staple today, providing a space for your employees to relax and escape from work within is vital, with the modern office worker putting in more hours, these longer days make a work-life balance harder to achieve. Providing this space enables employees to momentarily escape their work duties, ensures they do not get overwhelmed, and actually results in higher productivity. Office decor moved from the standard beige, and became more fun, playful and personal to reflect this new way of working.

2010s

Liftshare office fit out by Bluespace

Office working has become increasingly fluid, as expectations have evolved and we have more of an understanding of prioritising employees through office design created around them. Rather than cramming in as many cubicles as possible, breakout rooms, collaborative spaces and sections specifically geared for hot desking and flexible working have become the standard. Profit-led employers could no longer offer poor working conditions as the employees would simply work elsewhere, so businesses have adapted to this more relaxed approach of an office space. 

Breakout spaces have increased in popularity in recent years, and office designers have had to be more and more creative when it comes to these spaces, ensuring that employees are able to relax, play games and socialise. Towards the end of the decade, office working was shaken up more than ever. With the pandemic forcing many to work from home, people began to question the role of the office altogether, and going into 2020 the future of the office was certainly in question.

2020s & beyond

Pikl Break out space design

Remote working was increasingly popular, providing many with flexibility in terms of hours and cutting commuting out of their daily routine resulted in more time for themselves. However, it did come with issues. Lots of office workers felt lonely and found it difficult to balance their work from their personal life, with no separation between the two. Now employees are able to return to the office, businesses who have asked their employees to return full time have faced backlash. As previously mentioned, the desire for flexible remote working dates back to the 90s, and having this option lots of employees want to be given an in between, where they can spend some time working from home and some time in the office, getting the best of both worlds. This has meant that office design has had to consider a rotation of workers, dynamic spaces which can be used by anyone is vital, so as a result of this sit-stand desks have become hugely popular. 

Glass partitions have become another staple addition to offices, ensuring cleanliness, and providing a space for each employee to call their own without shutting them off from their coworkers. We’re certainly seeing the best of all aspects of office design coming together, with almost all office furniture being ergonomic, layouts are created to accommodate users rather than distance them, dedicated spaces are created specifically for office workers to relax in. Office design today and going forward will be prioritising the users within it. 

Sustainable office design is something that is vital to be considered when designing any new space. Ensuring that all materials and furniture used are sustainably created, sourced and ones which will last. Introducing elements such as biophilic design and using natural lighting throughout the space have an impact on morale and on the environment. Going forward, it will be a requirement from any office design company to provide a space which is created with the environment in mind, with green credentials becoming increasingly important.

If you’re interested in a creative, modern office design which prioritises your company, then be sure to get in touch with us today and arrange a free consultation. We will create a space which truly inspires, for workspaces designed for you, around you, contact us today on 01603 722123.

Holdon Group Volvo Commercial Design Norfolk

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