Loading... Please wait...

Have a Furniture or Design Question?

Contact a Furniture Consultant

Office Furniture Blog

The History of the Cubicle

Cubicles allow multiple employees to inhabit one shared space, while still providing them with some level of privacy. While they’re a popular space-saving solution for open workspaces everywhere, you might be surprised to learn that wasn’t what they were originally intended for.

Robert Propst, a designer for Herman Miller, began designing the cubicle in 1964. Propst wanted to find a better solution to the large bull-pen style offices he had worked in. The Action Office, as he called it, would feature a large desk, vertical filing system, partitions, and a dedicated space for making phone calls.

The design of the Action Office was revolutionary. Not only did it offer both privacy and space, but its adjustable nature allowed workers to choose between a sitting or standing desk.

Despite its efficient and futuristic design, when the Action Office was released in 1968, it was a total bust. “The executive market was extremely hard to penetrate,” said Joe Schwartz, former marketing chief for Herman Miller. A few orders came in from Canadian employers, but most businesses found the design too expensive to economically house multiple employees.

The Cubicle Reinvented

So Propst set to work on a cheaper design: Action Office 2. Easily installed and made of cheaper materials, Action Office 2 featured an enclosed, modular desk that ushered in the era of affordable workspace solutions. And, even though its height was no longer adjustable, the orders poured in.

Action Office 2 quickly became one of the most popular products in the office furniture world. In 1985, it was named the most successful design of the last 25 years by the World Design Conference. By 1998, over 40 million Americans were working in variations of the Action Office 2 design, now nicknamed “the cubicle.”

The cubicle did go through some tough times. In the 1980s and 1990s, buyouts and mergers became normal. These decisions, while advantageous to the growth of many companies, resulted in massive layoffs. Workers began to think of cubicles as career graveyards; places they might be sent before being fired.

Today, there is ambivalence towards the cubicle. While some see it as an efficient way to house a team of workers, others find them distracting, unattractive, and boring. Prior to his death, Propst himself said he felt his creation had become “monolithic insanity.”

Despite mixed emotions towards the modern day cubicle, nobody can dispute the fact that designing and producing new versions has become a very profitable, $3 billion a year industry. That said, they aren’t for everyone and they aren’t the only way to create an open workspace.

If cubicles aren’t your style, there are plenty of alternatives, from the upscale Blade Series Six-Pack Workstation to the sleek and affordable Steelcase Workstation Desk for one. Whatever your office needs might be, Office Furniture Source has a solution for you. For help designing your new workspace, contact us online or give us a call at 

comments powered by Disqus

Back to Top