From clunky typewriters and classroom-style layouts to iPads, laptops and Ping-Pong tables; the office has come a long way from the first designs in the early 1900s. The changes in industry and introductions of new ones brought new design trends, technological advances, and different ways of working in the office space.

1900s – Taylorist Approach

In the early 1900s, american engineer Frederick Taylor was the first to design a functional office space. The design was one that resembled a factory, with long tables of workers completing repetitive tasks, quite cramped together. The way of working was efficient, introducing routine and structure to the workplace, the small tasks assigned meant skill requirement and time learning was low, which allowed a good amount of work to be done.

Senior staff members would have their own private offices to establish their position and authority, which we still see in some offices today. The styles of the offices meant they were quite noisy with typewriters and telephones on the go, along with discussion, meaning there was little privacy.

1920-40 – The European Movement and New Aesthetics

Img: Office Museum
Major European cities took on the Taylorist approach, with mini skyscrapers and multi-story office buildings being built. The Taylorist approach was still in play, with seniors in private offices away from the ‘worker’s floor’, however the layouts were less factory-like and more resembled a classroom. Multiple desks would be dotted around amongst many filing cabinets, this layout promoting collaboration between workers and less of a systematic feel.

Design and aesthetics also became more relevant, with hints of art-deco design and modern touches added to office spaces, in fixtures or overall architecture.  However, due to walls and walls of filing cabinets and places of storage, some were without windows, possibly making the space feel enclosed from the outside world.

Paper work and typewriting were still what most tasks entailed, with no hints of technological advances just yet.

 1950-1960s – Office Landscapes and Open Plan

The Schnelle brothers from Germany decided to challenge the Taylorist approach by creating the B├╝rolandschaft model. A way to banish the workplace hierarchy with desks scattered in a large open space; the open-plan design increased collaboration and a sense of community.

The design – which translates to ‘office landscape’ – did allow some privacy with partitions and large plants, and colour and design advanced making the office an enjoyable setting to be in.

 In late 1960s, concerns were brought forward about the open plan approach and the modesty of women who were required to wear skirts and not trousers, which led women’s desks to be modified with plywood. It’s clear that attitudes towards gender have come a long way since then.

1980s-2000 – Cubicle Farms and Technology Advances

Img: Fistful of Talent
As rent-prices rose in major cities, the cubicle farm approach was introduced. This allowed more workers to work in one area than before, and provided privacy for all employees.

The previously created community-style office had been banished and collaboration and happiness of workers decreased. And who can blame them, with the enclosed workspace they were provided with, and the uninspiring and bleak cubicle walls for a view.  Some argued that the lack of distraction did increase productivity of employees, but it did seem like a step back-wards in office design.

Technology advanced massively in this era. Computers were introduced in most offices, with Microsoft Office brought in in 1985, as well as fax technology improving also in the 80s.

The Millennium and Onward – Contemporary and Innovative Design

Img: Woodalls Design
The internet, social media and mobile phones now dominate the office, each year new technologies being introduced to make work more complex. Towers of paperwork are a rare sight in modern offices, with data and files stored mostly on platforms like the Cloud or Google Drive.

Employees’ well-being and happiness is more of a priority now than ever, with areas to escape the desk which offer a refreshing working environment and cutting edge contemporary design.

Collaboration is once-more encouraged with open plan spaces and meeting rooms and the element of fun being added to some office spaces, with games rooms or similar provided.

Img: Woodalls Design
Hot-desking is also a trend which was introduced and used across businesses and individuals as a way of working freedom and independence, many freelancers who normally work at home using hot desks as a way to be part of an office environment and community.

Office design has come a long way since the Taylorist approach, yet factors such as attention to productivity and structure still remain, just in new and refreshing ways. Not all modern offices need slides and Ping-Pong tables, but effective designs and facilities to suit the workforce are in place and forever improving with new ideas.

Laura Sewell

An aspiring journalist, Laura is our content writer intern.  Pop-punk gig-goer and drag queen enthusiast, Laura is working her way into the industry, with an English A -Level and love of writing about anything and everything in tow.
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