Modern commercial interiors have been influenced by few factors as ground-breaking as the introduction of the office cubicle. When first designed by George Nelson and Robert Propst for American office manufacturer, Herman Miller, the cubicle was a welcome solution to the problems that offices in the 1960s were facing. A far cry from the symbol of uniformity we see now, they were originally designed to allow workers more privacy and personalization.
The work environment they superseded were lines of uniform desks in an open room, and so employees found cubicles to be a great step forward. As time has gone on, office designs and office fit-outs in New Zealand have developed more of an integrated design purpose, including modern design concepts like break-out zones and sit-stand environments.
The Rise of the Cubicle in Office Design
In 1945, George Nelson joined Herman Miller as director of design, and went on to guide the company through the creation of its enduring signature products, both through his own work, and the hiring of many talented designers. One of these designers was Robert Propst, who – along with Nelson – ran Herman Miller’s Research Corporation, aiming to solve problems around the usage of furniture, but not the furniture itself. The corporations first major evaluation of the 20th Century office space sparked the original design of the cubicle.
A study led by Propst found that an open environment filled with unconnected desks reduced enthusiasm and discouraged communication, instilling workers with the sense of a school exam. He also found that workers were facing discomfort sitting long hours in one place. He decided that the employees needed a mix of both privacy and interaction, of which they were getting neither.
Propst drafted an office design which Nelson then translated into the Action Office I, or AO-1, and this was introduced to Herman Miller’s catalogue in 1964. AO-1 featured desks of different heights, letting workers choose a work station best suited for the task they were undertaking. This first form of the cubicle was better suited to small offices than large corporate ones.
As the AO-1 failed to make the sales it needed to, Propst and Nelson went back to the drawing board together. They disagreed over the project for several years, until Nelson was removed. Propst was then free to pursue his own ideas, and based the new design for Action Office II (AO-2) around mobile wall units for defining open spaces. The walls also supported modular furnishings, and were simpler to assemble and modify than AO-1.
AO-2 was so successful that it was quickly copied by Herman Miller’s competition. The first offices to use the design were in the Federal Reserve bank of New York. In 1978, Action Office II was retroactively named ‘Action Office’ to make it the definitive version of the product, and by 2005 its sales broke US$5 billion.
The Needs of Modern Office Design
Commercial fit-outs in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Sydney now have more of an agile approach. Modern officer interior design caters to all age-groups in the workforce, and also harnesses the opportunities within colours, finishes, shapes, and furniture systems., to support the modern office context. As the interior fit-outs of current-day offices have changed, we now have an environment that is much more cohesive and productive for high-level strategy, and effective execution of daily tasks.
Just as when the cubicle was first introduced, the problems of commercial interior design are ever changing, so are the solutions. Trying to strike a balance between cubicles and open plan? For your office soft fit outs may be the answer. For more information talk to our friendly team today.