Office Design Trends Part 1: Throughout the Decades - Criterion Industries

July 02, 2015

Clothes aren’t the only things that are influenced by fashion – office design is also buffeted by the winds of change in style and taste. We take a look at prevailing commercial office design trends throughout the decades, from the 1950s to the present day.


The 1950s Office

The 1950s was dominated by a sense of corporate standardisation. Influenced by the Fordist method of manufacture, the idea was to impart a sense of solidity and efficiency. There was also fascination with the new possibilities granted by developments in technology. For example, the advent of air conditioning and fluorescent lighting meant offices could become completely autonomous and separate from the outside world, with no requirement for natural light and fresh air.

Accordingly, office interiors tended to feature heavy, solid furniture and regimented rows of desks in an open environment, with suspended ceilings containing lighting and air circulation equipment.

The look: Solid, reliable, monolithic.


The 1960s Office

The 1960s was a time of great social change, in which old perspectives and ways of doing things were being challenged and rejected. In response, design craved modernity; to break with the past and reach into the future.

This led to a modernist minimalism, where design was pared down to its most essential elements. However, there was also a sense of fun from the increasingly influential elements of youth and popular culture, resulting in bright pops of colour and texture.

The look: Fresh, clean, modern.


The 1970s Office

If the 1960s was a time of social change, the 1970s doubled down on this. Concurrently, there were some radical ideas circulating in terms of office design trends. In contrast to the conformist ‘50s, the experience and comfort of the individual became a greater concern. Ecological considerations also started to gain greater currency. This resulted in innovations such as ergonomic design, recycling, and efforts towards sustainability. An experimental spirit abounded, which was also reflected in the changing colour palette, which widened, to say the least!

The look: Experimental, high-tech, colourful.



The 1980s Office

The 1980s saw huge strides in technological development, with new communication and information processing devices requiring space in the office. At the same time, with business-focused political policies taking hold across the globe, this decade represented a time when corporate was king. Accordingly, commercial and executive office design took on a modernist, futuristic aesthetic, dominated by sharp, clean lines and materials that underscored a hard-edged look, such as metal and glass. Colours were bold and bright, with a strong focus on accents and a graphical sensibility.

The look: Sharp, graphic, bold.



The 1990s Office

The 1990s saw a contraction from the “bigness” of the decade that preceded it – in both design and economy. The aesthetic trend of the 90s moved away from the perceived excess of the 80s and towards a more functional and utilitarian design. The open office became increasingly popular as companies sought to promote collaboration as well as flexibility. Developments in computer technology also continued to move forward in leaps and bounds, cutting down on the amount of paper and storage required. This contributed to a growing “lightness” in office decor as the workspace became more and more liberated from physical equipment; it’s no accident that the concept of hot desking, in which workers share work stations rather than each having their own, was first introduced in the 90s.

The look: Functional, flexible, cubicle.



The “Noughties” Office

A new type of workplace was forged by businesses known as dot coms and start-ups which were predicated on a different approach to work; dot-com workers tended to be young, entrepreneurial and keen to reform practice and behaviour in the workplace. The notion of work-life balance began to blend with the design of the workplace itself with innovations such as slides between floors instead of stairs, and bowling alleys and arcade games onsite. This is referred to by some commentators as the “office is a playground” approach, characterised by an anarchic spirit and a “nerf-guns and skateboards at work” kind of atmosphere.

The look: Open office, innovative, free-spirited.



Inspiration from the past, for the future

What decade’s style would you choose as an influence for your office fitout? Which time period had it going on, and which had no clue? Let us know in the comments!

In our next blog, we’ll take a look into the trends of the 2010s through to today and beyond. Stay tuned to find out where commercial office design trends went next – and where they might be headed in the future!


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