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Who Invented Cubicles?

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  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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The question of who invented cubicles is one without a firm answer. Many sources credit Robert Propst, who invented an open office system as a designer for a furniture company, Herman Miller Inc., during the 1960s. Propst, who died in 2000, reportedly denied inventing the cubicle, however. Instead of crediting — or blaming — Propst, it might be more accurate to say that cubicles evolved from Propst's ideas about office environments.

A Better Arrangement for Offices

In the early 1960s, Propst looked at way that typical offices were organized, with desks in orderly rows that did little to express the individuality of the worker and had to be kept in pristine order. He felt they had a clinical and demoralizing feel, and he believed that partitions would offer workers privacy, a little less noise and a chance to express themselves in their own office space. The end result was Herman Miller's Action Office series of furniture and other office equipment, including movable walls that led the way for cubicles.

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Propst’s intent was to provide an unfashionable blank slate that could be customized for each office worker. Pictures could decorate the walls, and each worker's space could be in any condition of order without affecting the overall appearance of the entire room. Propst came up with the idea of semi-enclosed spaces and suggested communal spaces for workers, although those did not materialize in all companies that adopted cubicles. By the late 1960s, they had become popular in many offices, even if their form was not what Propst intended. With the use of movable partitions, offices could be rearranged and work spaces added or subtracted as needed.

Criticisms

Cubicles have been frequently criticized. Some workers lament their lack of space or privacy. Others say that being in a large room full of workers in cubicles creates many distractions. Critics say that the walls of a cubicle do little to provide privacy and that they limit communication between workers as well as the workers' ability to see their surroundings. A cubicle subculture — or anti-cubicle subculture — had come to the fore by the 1980s. Comic strips such as Dilbert and films such as Office Space mocked the restrictive space of cubicles and the imperfect office environments that they can create.

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anon149263
Post 13

If you could ignore the sounds around you, it would still be subliminally perceived as an acoustic subliminal distraction. That cannot cause any problem except possible fatigue.

But visual subliminal distraction is a problem because it triggers an attempt to startle.

There are people who can't ignore movement in peripheral vision and they can't have this problem. They must move or turn to a position where the movement no longer happens in their peripheral vision. That's what a cubicle does.

They became popular when the IRS allowed their lower cost cost as furniture to be charged off quickly against profits as compared to stick and brick rooms.

anon148384
Post 12

Maybe his intentions were good, but as i sit this very minute trying to read and comprehend a contract, i can hear the idle chatter of office mates. Therefore, i am unable to concentrate or comprehend my contract.

Employers please take note: cubicles are a very, very bad idea if you want productive employees. Hear me: offices- private offices. Doesn't take much to put up four walls and a door! I can show you how if you need help! As much as i would like to work, i can't get a thing accomplished!

anon105319
Post 11

My interest began when my wife had a psychotic mental break thirty days after the University of Alabama changed her office, eliminating Cubicle Level Protection.

Propst did deny he invented the cubicle but a page dedicated to him at Herman Miller Inc claims it for him. He did have an open office system. But knowledge workers using that first prototype began to have mental breaks. The cubicle was the solution to stop it by 1968.

Each semester there is a list of college students who vanish. A very few are recovered in altered mental states. I have a new page devoted to one who didn't.

Joseph Morse vanished in the spring of 2003 from Georgia Tech the last day of

school. Four years later it was learned he died a suicide in Miami, Florida the next day. His roommate sent me diagrams of their computer locations in the dorm room. He, but not the roommate, had created the same situation that caused mental breaks forty years ago.

No school provides Cubicle Level Protection or warns students.

anon104913
Post 10

Robert Propst is responsible for the design of the Action Office. He is not, and did not, take responsibility for the bastardization of his design into the cubicle.

I have seen "Researcher" post this on every site about Robert Propst and the cubicle, with the explanation that they know this because they were an engineering student at the time. I don't understand their obsession with this point.

anon90303
Post 4

Sadly most people don't realize the impact of psychologists in American industries, but we IO psychologists have always considered the effects of changes in the workplace on employees.

Researcher
Post 3

Think of how simple the "special circumstances" of those first prototype workstations were. Now, how many other places might they be created to cause psychological problems?

Qi Gong, Kundalini Yoga, hospital ICU's, and a seminar from Landmark Education, 'est,' all produce these mental events. In each case a different reason for the mental break is given but the circumstances for Subliminal Distraction can be shown to be there and cause the same problem as those 1960's workstations.

There are problems of missing college students and strange suicides involving college students. They have the same behaviors as knowledge workers in business offices so that there is the "opportunity for Subliminal Distraction exposure." one of the cases goes back to

Miami of Ohio in 1953. Bones found in July 1953 are being re-evaluated today as Ron Tammen, the missing student from 1953.

If you use a computer outside a correctly designed cubicle you can be at risk.

There should be nothing that moves, or light that blinks, in your peripheral vision as you use your computer. That movement must be close enough and large enough to be detected.

Exposure is painless, invisible, and silent. The subject is never aware anything is happening to them. They act on the delusions caused by the mental break.

bigmetal
Post 2

interesting! i never considered the psychology concerning cubicles before. i mean, i realized that they're not the most desired workplace environment, but psychotic behavior? wow!

Researcher
Post 1

Robert Propst denied he invented the cubicle. He is partially correct. He invented an open plan office design. 'The Action Office 1' was introduced in 1964 but modified by adding side vision blocking panels to create the 'Action Office System' by 1968.

Propst's bio on the Herman Miller website claims the invention of the cubicle in 1968. That bio credits Propst. He gave interviews in which he denied that.

The reason for the change was that workers using the first prototypes, Miller does mention early prototypes, began to have mental breaks.

The human vision startle reflex had caused these temporary episodes of confusion and psychotic-like behavior.

The cubicle blocks side or peripheral vision preventing the subliminal detection of threat movement by a concentrating worker.

How do I know this? I was an engineering student in the 60's when this happened. I encountered it in classroom discussions.

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