Great Designs: Office Design Over the Decades


The modern office space is a very different environment from those which were once found in the 20th Century. The introduction of various technologies, informal work areas and remote working has turned the world of office design on it's head, changing the way we work and the design of our overall workspaces.


For our latest office fit out design blog, and part of our wider Great Designs series, we thought we'd take a look at how office interior design has developed over the decades, starting from the 1920s up until the present day. Take a look below to see what office spaces were once like and what they have evolved into...




We might associate a 1920s office with a small, poky little room inhabited by Humphrey Bogart, but many were large, open plan affairs like this one which housed employees of the courthouse in Seattle. Most of the work was done by hand, but the secretaries had to contend with heavy, clunky typewriters.


1920s-30s Office Space | Image Source: Seattle Municipal Archives - Photo ID: 167809


1920s-30s Office Space ~ Image Source: Seattle Municipal Archives - Photo ID: 167809




Little changed in the 1930s. Note how everyone here in His Majesty's Stationery Office is sitting on ordinary chairs, even though the office chair had been introduced into the UK in 1851. Legend has it that the famous naturalist Charles Darwin invented his own homemade version by putting wheels on his study chair so he could get to his specimens more quickly! 


1930s Office Space | Image Source:


1930s Office Space ~ Image Source:




1940s office were typically a very uniform and quite soulless workspace. However, judging from the wires sprouting from the machines on some of the desks, electrical help was on its way.


1940s Office Space | Image Source: Seattle Municipal Archives - Photo ID: 167809


1940s Office Space ~ Image Source: Seattle Municipal Archives - Photo ID: 167809




The rise and rise of high-rise buildings, together with the widespread use of fluorescent lighting plunged office workers further away from the windows in the 1950s. At least the lino floor in this building would have helped workers wheel their office chairs around their desks more quickly.


1950s Office Space | Image Source: Seattle Municipal Archives - Photo ID: 167809


1950s Office Space ~ Image Source: Seattle Municipal Archives - Photo ID: 167809




As this photo shows, office furniture became more design led in the 1960s. Not only were cultural attitudes changing in society and in the workplace - the first call centre in the UK was opened at the The Birmingham Press and Mail in 1965 - but new colours and shapes of furniture were made possible thanks to the application of new materials, especially plastic. And, of course, the fashion for mini skirts led to a boom in desks with modesty panels!


1960s Office Space | Image Source: Herman Miller


1960s Office Space ~ Image Source: Herman Miller




Although technologies were used increasingly in the 1970s, in Britain, it was the era of the three day week, strikes and electricity shortages. It’s estimated that the average office worker was only half as productive in the 70s than they are today! However, we have to applaud the 70s as heralding the invention of ergonomic furniture. In 1976, the revolutionary Ergon was the first chair designed with the physical health and comfort of the office worker in mind. It was easily adjustable and provided good spinal support.


1970s Office Space | Image Source: The Serendipity Project / Western Power Distribution


1970s Office Space ~ Image Source: The Serendipity Project / Western Power Distribution




The ‘80s saw the advance of computers, and word processors became a familiar sight in offices. In 1981, IBM brought out the PC which kick-started the trend, though workers had to learn different DOS systems for each type of processor until Microsoft invented Windows in 1985. The 80s also saw a surge in fax technology which revolutionised overseas communication. Call centre technology was also advancing, enabling Direct Line to be the first company to sell insurance entirely over the phone in 1985.


1980s Office Space | Image Source: Anna Fox / The Museum of London


1980s Office Space ~ Image Source: Anna Fox / The Museum of London




The technology boom of the 90s put a computer on every desk. Although the much talked about ‘paperless office’ has never materialised, office desk space decreased as though it had and interior design had to adapt. In the US, the cubicle became an economical way of squeezing more workers into desks - little wonder the most famous cartoon office worker, Dilbert, became so popular around the world.


1990s Office Space | Image Source: Fistful of Talent


1990s Office Space ~ Image Source: Fistful of Talent




This was the era of The Office which was filmed in a real office (though not in Slough). Not surprising then, that people could relate so closely to it. The popularity of laptops and WiFi have changed the way we can work. Many more of us are on the move and the interior design of our offices has changed. Hot desking is a term we now hear and use more often. Though it is unpopular amongst regular office workers, freelancers and business people on the move are making greater use of custom-built serviced offices. Technology has also brought about a sea change in the way we work. Gone are the rows and rows of desks that all look the same and elements of fun are being added in many offices, most famously at Google HQ.


Noughties Office Space - Google Offices, London | Image Source: HR


Noughties Office Space - Google Offices, London ~ Image Source: HR




Today’s office designs are wide ranging from budget home office to call centre style to luxury minimalism. Whatever your space and your budget, contact SEC Interiors to see how we can help improve your productivity by improving your workspace with a complimentary space planning and design service. Until next time.


Modern Day Office Design | SEC Interiors - Monarch Airlines


Modern Day Office Design ~ SEC Interiors - Monarch Airlines



Post by Adam Bissmire-Mullen