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Desks Through the Decades: The 1970s to the 2020s

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Aah, the humble office desk. Many of us sit at one every day, without even batting an eye at how they’ve evolved through the years. But what’s changed over the years? Believe it or not, desks don’t look the same as they did “back in the day”. Diamond Interiors takes a trip down office memory lane to see how the reliable office desk has changed and adapted with the times.
1970s
First we stop off in the 1970s. As we moved away from the post-war boom and into the disco era, the open-plan office started to become more of a “thing”. It was either this, or clusters of cubicles known as “cube farms”. If you had a desk or office in the corner, then you were probably in charge; a higher wage = your own space. 
Office design and desks were starting to become more ergonomic and user-friendly, with more instances of built-in storage such as drawers, shelves, and cabinets, along with ergonomic features such as adjustable heights, lumbar support, and armrests. But there was still a lot of clutter to contend with, as intercoms, in-trays, desk bloggers, pen holders, and ashtrays became working day essentials. Typewriters were also the implement of choice, which meant a great deal of space was instantly taken up, along with a lot of the accompanying paper and ink.
1980s
Shoulder pads and perms: two things that are synonymous with the 80s. Of course, they were accompanied by a standable four-legged desk with a fixed set of drawers, often with a printer on wheels pulled up alongside.
Slowly but surely, typewriters were starting to be phased out in favour of computers – but not the kind we know and love today. These word processors were bulky, and if users needed more applications or features, that meant more physical additions to the computer – soon the whole desk was being taken up! 
Thankfully, towards the end of the decade, the screen and keyboard were separated onto different levels for better ergonomics. But that still meant working on tiny black screens with green lettering, and using good old floppy disks for storage. 
1990s
As the 90s took off, the internet was becoming more embedded in office life. Thankfully, most office workers were using computers full time at that point – no more typewriters. But office life in the 90s was very sedentary, with people sitting in static work positions often for hours at a time. Ergonomics made a little progress in this decade, but nothing like what we consider normal today. 
The cell office layout was still at the height of its popularity – probably due to the amount of space it provided – so the extendable desk was in its prime. If you were lucky, you may have even been treated to a corner add-on for more space. The U-shaped “easy to reach” desk allowed workers to sit in the middle and be able to have everything to hand without moving around too much. This decade was also when we first started to see laptops emerge due to their convenience, but certainly not the sleek and lightweight designs we know today!
2000s
As the millennium bug never reared its head, the new millennium did bring with it several office innovations. The first of which was a style of desk that was unheard of for its time, and is still popular to this day: the height-adjustable desk. While the design and build – and therefore cost – of these pieces varies from model to model, they all allowed people the ability to easily change their working position. 
The 2000s was also when people started to sit together in the office! Cubicles and private offices remained, for the most part, firmly in the 90s, as the emergence of the open-plan office became popular. Desks were clumped in twos or fours and could be divided by desk screens for privacy and soundproofing. Smaller additions such as cable trays and extra holes were added to make wire organisation much neater.
2010s
Comfort was the top priority of this decade. Companies were starting to take stock of office acoustics and the distracting and sometimes damaging nature of office noise. In addition to the highly popular sit-stand desks, ergonomic seating edged into the spotlight. The ordinary office chair was out, and pilates balls, desk bikes, and saddle chairs were in. Not only did these provide a different sitting position, but they also kept the body moving, as office managers everywhere started to focus on well-being.
2020s
The 2020s started off as a somewhat tumultuous time for working. 2020 opened with all office workers being mandated to work from home, and a skyrocketing number of people working remotely in the years that follow. Desks became smaller, more portable, and also adaptable for different lifestyles and preferences. We’ve also seen a huge surge in sit-stand desks and ergonomic desks becoming more affordable and accessible, as people adjust to a dedicated workspace in their own homes.
The Future…?
Many of us spend upwards of eight hours a day at our desks, and while the basic function of them hasn’t changed over the decades, they have certainly become much more user-friendly. Here’s what we predict we’ll be seeing more of in the future:
  • Adaptiveness: Get ready to personalise: desks will be adaptable to the user’s height, preferred sitting position, and the type of work they’re undertaking.
  • Technology integration: As well as better computers, it’s likely we’ll see more tech make its way into our workspaces. This could be in the form of sensors that are able to track our movement and productivity, or displays that can project information onto desk surfaces.
  • More flexibility: Remote working seems to be showing no signs of slowing down, so it’s likely that desks will continue to be easy to move around or adjust for different working needs. 

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