Office Interior Trends That Never Took Off


When it comes to design, there are times when borrowing trends and taking inspiration from the past is a good idea. We often find ourselves looking back to tried and tested concepts. Over the years some office design trends have made the office a happier, healthier place to work – but some were less of a success story.

Companies may feel obliged to keep pace with the latest office design styles, but we’re here to remind you that just because a trend is having a moment doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, or that it’s right for your business!

With our help you can strike the balance between an aesthetically pleasing place to work that also meets your team’s needs.

It’s all about the balance – like the one we’ve achieved here in our own offices – even if we do say so ourselves!

Now, take a stroll through office history with us as we discuss some past trends that didn’t stand the test of time…

Industrial chic

In the 1950s early offices were based on more of a production line layout, as a throwback to the factory floor, which most people were used to back then. This was the decade where the experimentation with office design truly began. Open-plan, less rigid and more flowing layouts started creeping into the office landscape and businesses witnessed a boost in productivity.

Industrialising the office recently came back in quite a big way. The trend for exposed brick, unpainted walls and chrome have seen a huge increase in recent years. This may be trendy and yes, often still common and quite pleasant, but if not done correctly, this style can create a cold office environment that looks shabby quickly.

The industrial touches in the West Barn Co offices have been cleverly balanced with cosier, softer finishes and natural materials to stop them from appearing harsh or unfriendly.

A monotonous layout

Office life took a bit of a turn into the 1980s and we saw ‘cubicle farms’ become quite the trend du jour. As technology became more prevalent in office life, employers needed sturdy desks to hold the weight of those hefty computers and fax machines, whilst also capitalising on every square foot available.

We now know that encasing staff into their own modular environment, in rows upon rows of bland, personality-less cubicles, isn’t the most inspiring way to work. Motivation drops and stress levels increase.

This can even happen in an open-plan office where everything begins to look the same and there’s no opportunity for alternative working environments. This all creates an uninspiring environment that often makes employees feel claustrophobic and trapped at work. For tips on how to create better spaces for collaborative working, check out our past post on the topic here.

We’ve successfully incorporated a modern take on cubicles in the new Firmenich offices, complete with faux greenery, to offer employees privacy and the opportunity for head-down working.

Playground vs Practical

Slides were a fun little flash in the pan, weren’t they? A slightly bizarre trend that became so popular it’s verging on cliché, saw companies desperate to make themselves seem quirky and fun began opting for slides instead of stairs in the office – we’re looking at you, Google! See Google’s Zurich office, designed by Camenzind Evolution, here.

The novelty soon wore off as, unfortunately, they cost an absolute fortune to install. It turns out it might’ve been wiser to invest that money in better break-out spaces or free snacks! For better ideas, see our previous post to find out how to do the ‘fun office’ right

Walking and working

Ah, the treadmill desk. Whatever next? Well, it wasn’t a bad idea per se; we accept that sitting at a desk for a large proportion of our lives isn’t good for us. Walking whilst working seemed like a healthier idea at the time, but in reality, no one actually wants to exercise at the same time as they’re trying to work.

Much like buying a Peloton for your spare bedroom as part of a New Year resolution, treadmill desks became an expensive but short-lived fad. We suggest providing employees with a gym membership or yoga classes and perhaps giving them a little time away from their desks each week to do that, rather than forcing them to multitask!

Completely open plan offices

Controversial because overall open plan offices have been largely praised and are still usually the most desirable way to layout a workspace. We’re certainly not arguing that.

However, this one is also dependent on finding the balance and making an office completely open plan (as was the trend initially) can actually be detrimental to productivity. Simply putting all of the desks together in the centre of one anti-hierarchical room without any dividers, zoning or walls is no longer how things are done.

The Firmenich Offices boast a plethora of different working zones, catering for various types of working and collaboration.

Privacy is important in the workplace. The best employers know to offer separate zones for different tasks, for example when you need to make an important phone call or hold a private meeting.

A successful open plan office has a good flow to it, allowing employees to get up and move around the space, colliding and chatting when they like, while also benefiting from pods or zones for head-down work. Combine the ‘we’ space with a little ‘me’ space and you’re onto a winner – something we’ve also covered in more detail in a previous post where we featured some of our favourite examples of breakout spaces.

We made sure that the team at the Netsells office in York had a choice of places to escape to for privacy, as and when they required.

Avoiding the trends

The way we work has certainly changed dramatically over the years. We’ve gone from sitting in regimented formations, tapping away on massive computers, through to beanbags and pool tables, and businesses are often still figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

At Ben Johnson Interiors we pride ourselves on crafting innovative, future-proof designs for all manner of business types and industries, from local start-ups to leading multinational corporations, we love improving the daily lives of workers across the globe.

If this post has given you an insight into the office design services we offer and you’d like to learn more about how we can work with you to improve the effectiveness of your space, just get in touch to discuss your requirements. We’d love to be involved.