A Look Back at the Workplaces and Offices of the 1970s and 1980s – Design You Trust — Design Daily Since 2007

A Look Back at the Workplaces and Offices of the 1970s and 1980s


The office has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past several decades, evolving in layout, style, colors, work culture, and technology. The modern office is geared towards individuality, with ergonomic design and cutting-edge technology playing a crucial role in this transition.

h/t: rarehistoricalphotos


In the 1960s, the open office design started gaining popularity, with the Bürolandschaft approach being introduced in Germany. This design aimed to promote interaction and equality among colleagues in the workplace. However, Robert Propst, the former president of Herman Miller Research Corp., criticized the design, calling it a “wasteland” that sapped vitality, blocked talent, and frustrated accomplishment.


In response to the growing demand for office spaces, the Herman Miller furniture company introduced the Action Office in 1964, a flexible and colorful design that aimed to enhance employee freedom and privacy. However, as the need for office space continued to grow, the company redesigned the Action Office to be smaller and lighter, leading to the birth of the cubicle.


Despite its widespread popularity, the inventor of the Action Office, Robert Propst, spent his final years regretting its creation, calling it a “barren, rathole place” used by “crass people.” During the 1970s, employees dressed formally, and the trend of telecommuting was proposed as a solution to traffic congestion in urban areas.


In the 1980s, cubicles dominated office buildings, and technology advancements brought computers into the workplace. Desks were reinforced to accommodate the heavy and bulky computers of the era. Office design during this decade was defined by functionality, with a shift towards glass, concrete, and clean lines in the late 1980s.


With the improvement of technology and a reduction in costs in the 1980s and 1990s, telecommuting became a viable option for many jobs, leading to its adoption by companies like IBM and J.C. Penney and U.S. federal agencies as a way to reduce office expenses and offer employees more flexibility.


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