Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace

About 60 percent of Americans work in cubicles, and 93 percent of those dislike them. How did that happen? Nikil Saval, author of Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace, tried to answer this question during a recent lecture.

Saval began by summarizing his own work experience, one that we can all relate to, which involved receiving an assigned cube and his feelings of excitement at being able to personalize the three walled space. He soon transitioned to freelance work, a change that took him to loud, overpriced coffee shops. These work experiences precipitated his book, Cubed, that seeks to discover the changes in the workplace from employees at cubicles to today’s freelance worker.

He began his research with the 19th century when America saw the advent of clerical work, and as Saval explained, “a much-despised position by the public.” Even Walt Whitman wrote against men working in offices, while others painted them as weak and pale as compared to manual laborers.

As Saval moved on throughout the centuries he eventually landed in the 1950’s where the workplace gave rise to different pools/departments of work. Desks were grouped together (aka the accounting pool) and upper management had coveted offices on the perimeter surrounding this pool of desks.


In 1968 Robert Propst of Herman Miller worked to create the Action Office. The Action Office proposed to do away with the fixed furniture of the office, and instead, provide workplaces with flexible office components that could be combined to best fit the needs of the employee. Unfortunately, Action Office didn’t sell well, and gave rise to Action Office 2, which provided the workplace with the now oft-seen modular, interlocking three walls. All furniture manufacturers, eager to have a piece of the profits, began churning out three-walled cubicles without regard for the office or worker.

The lecture ended somewhat abruptly with a brief nod to Google and their innovative workplace design, but offered no blueprint for how we can refresh and do away with these “cubicle farms.” Fortunately, IIDA continues to celebrate workplace design through our competitions and pushes the industry forward through our industry round table discussions, while also stopping to ask how happy designers are in their workplace. Will cubicle farms be a thing of the past? Will open concept rule the workplace? Where do you think the future of the workplace is headed?


JWT Sydney Headquarters, designed by Geyer


Interior Designers have concentrated not only on designing aesthetically pleasing workplaces, but also focused on designing workplaces that promote employees’ health and well-being. The Huffington Post recently spotlighted the significance of workplace design via the article, “Workplace Wellness: 7 Workplace Design Experts Weigh in on the Next Big Thing,” by Amanda Schneider.

Of the seven designers highlighted and quoted in the article, five are IIDA Members including IIDA Fellow Joan Blumenfeld, FIIDA; as well as Marlene Liriano, IIDA; Angie Lee, IIDA; Nila Leiserowitz, IIDA; and Mark Hirons, IIDA. Each IIDA Member shared their perspective on what has precipitated the increased interest regarding workplace design, and why well-being in the workplace is crucial in today’s office environment.

IIDA has and continues to be a leading authority on workplace design, with the Association continually bringing together industry experts for robust and well-chronicled roundtable discussions, as well as workplace-focused design competitions. Stay tuned for IIDA Industry Roundtable 18 that focuses on the topic of “Workplace Well-Being,” addressing how it is essential to human intelligence, creativity, happiness, health, innovation, and productivity.

Header Image: JWT Sydney Headquarters, designed by Geyer

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This month Allsteel brings us three products for the DM Product of the Month.


IntelliForm™ back technology and advanced materiality allow this chair to embrace the user, providing consistent contact for personalized comfort. Appropriately scaled, Mimeo can be easily transported and visually integrated into multiple spaces. With its distinctive style and dynamic support, Mimeo delivers the spirit of design and performance that moves companies forward.


The simple, efficient functionality of Beyond movable walls offers built-in flexibility that responds to the constant rhythm of business change. With a large selection of aesthetic choices, move beyond permanent drywall solutions and rigid space planning to create flexible workspaces that are ready to reconfigure and walls that are easy to relocate for whatever change the future brings.


At the heart of Further is the hub, providing power and data support for a variety of applications, whether beam-connected or freestanding. Further’s signature trapezoid surface allows multiple configurations, provides unique user orientation that maximizes footprint efficiency, and accommodates focused or collaborative workspaces. Whether the planning approach is organic or linear, individual or team-based, Further can bring your design to life.

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FICTION: Only 28 states currently have laws that legally recognize interior designers.  Most states that recognize interior designers have Title Laws, and some states allow designers to stamp and seal their drawings for permits. To learn more about the laws and legislation in your state, visit our advocacy page here.

Use #IIDAAdvocacy to connect with IIDA Headquarters on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!


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FACT: Interior Design is the development and implementation of an interior environment that provides the highest level of safety, function and overall enhancement to the inhabitants’ quality of life. An Interior Designer is an individual who has been trained to identify research and creatively solve problems pertaining to the development of an interior environment, and who possesses the knowledge and skills to implement these solutions. Interior Designers apply their expertise of Design and the built environment to solving problems at the interior scale and at the level of direct human experience. To learn more, visit our advocacy page here.

Use #IIDAAdvocacy to connect with IIDA Headquarters over Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

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So much work and creativity goes into a perfectly crafted and insightful email. Unfortunately, there’s many instances when you look at the statistics of your email and you noticed something that’s equal parts deflating and disappointing – minimal click-troughs and much more unopened emails than expected. It may feel like an uphill climb to achieve the status of the upper echelon of email marketing, but in actuality, it’s not rocket science. Start with these four basic tips for effective email marketing.

Make it Count: Only send an email if you absolutely, 100 percent have something to say. If you’re filling your followers’ inboxes with unimportant or mundane information, they’re more likely to unfollow your business and unsubscribe from your email list.

Spam is for Eating, Not for Emails: OK, let’s be honest, no one really eats Spam, right? Check out this website to make sure you’re in compliance with BCP Spam Guidelines for businesses. You may be accidentally sending out email content that may appear to be spam when the email server vets the content. No matter how well-written or highly informative your content is, if the email isn’t within BCP compliance, you’ll face the pitfalls of the junk folder!

Develop a Voice: Each brand in every industry has its own unique voice it utilizes when addressing clients. Use the principle terms employed within your industry, and personalize them in order to create a more conversational tone. Write using a quicker pace! Long-winded emails will more than likely be discarded before the reader makes it through the second sentence. Also, adjust the flow of your email so the most important information is listed first.

Show Your Benefits: Don’t sell your service; sell your benefits. When you position your service as something someone can buy, its less attractive because you’re not showing the end results the user will achieve. Think about those fitness infomercials that litter your TV screen after midnight – they sell you on the six-pack abs and chiseled arms-not the actual exercise and work you have to put in to get them. Put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and think, “what am I going to get out of this service?” and construct your email with this thought in mind.