“Mad Men” Office Cubicle Comes Full Circle

In the “Mad Men” heyday of the 1960’s, designer Robert Probst developed a modular, reconfigurable workstation – the now-despised office cubicle. Probst’s early cubicles were created as a system of adjustable wall panels, modular storage, and desk surfaces. They were intended to give workers the freedom to customize their space as they desired, with panels that could be angled outward for collaboration, or angled inward for semi-privacy. So why did Probst’s creation become isolating, dehumanizing “cubicle farms?” As explained in Business Insider, companies’ cost-cutting measures forced Probst’s flexible design into rigid homogeneous layouts. The visionary inventor came to loathe the corruption of his original intent, calling cubicles “rat-mazes.”

Probst died in 2000, but if he were alive today, he’d be astonished by the reimagined workspaces that have recently blossomed from his early idea: mobile, modular workspaces that can be quickly switched between private and collaborative space. Such companies as SwiftSpace, with their “Power of One” program for individualizing workplaces, are at the leading edge of this second wave of Probst’s vision. He’d be proud to know he was just a little ahead of his time.


Photo by T. Beyer