It's the Cubicle's 40th Birthday

Born as the "Action Office," the cubicle has largely disappointed employees.


The cubicle was born 40 years ago this month. In 1968, it was not called a cubicle, but an "Action Office," invented by Herman Miller executive Robert Propst. (Hat tip to the Kansas City Star .)

From the Herman Miller website:

The Action Office system was the world's first open-plan office system of reconfigurable components and a bold departure from the era's fixed assumptions of what office furniture should be. With the Action Office system, Propst assailed traditional, complacent office design with a concept that fit the way people really work. Wildly successful, the Action Office system transformed the workplace, as well as Herman Miller and the entire furniture industry, which scrambled to copy it.

So what happened to this brave mentality of assailing complacent office design? Most cubicles today are dreaded components of our indoor, light-free, monotone, 9-to-5 lifestyle—no longer radical challenges to accepted tradition. And what might a real, radical "Action Office" look like?

Check out this prototype: Dilbert's Ultimate Cubicle. See: retractable hammocks and Murphy bed-style chairs; floor tile modules bearing fresh-cut grass or Oriental rugs; flexible wall modules offering space for books, an aquarium, a dartboard or a corkboard.

It's a dream, of course. What we've learned in 40 years is that "complacent office design" might have its occasional assailants, but most companies will choose to install the office furniture that is most cost-effective and space-efficient and most employees will work in it.