The Desk

The Desk

One of the ‘hottest’ industries and highly-discussed design topics in the past few years has been the Future of the Workplace. Regardless of sector, many companies are racing to get ahead of – or just catch up with – the evolving Future Workplace, and many firms around the world are looking to play a role in defining how these Future ideas actually play out, especially when it comes to office design.

We decided to look into the evolution of a small unit of measure in the workplace: the Desk. Desks and work surfaces are the building blocks that, when made in various forms and arranged in different configurations, lead to entirely different workplace cultures. From antique portable desks to the ubiquitous office cubicle, we trace the history (and future) of the Desk:

Some of the noticeable trends:

From the antique lap desk which acted as both a sloped writing surface and a portable storage case, to the cavernous cubicle which is a complete mini-office unto itself, the standard desk size has grown substantially to accommodate our changing utensils, devices, and storage needs. However, after several decades of the dreaded ‘cubicle farm’ environment, many companies opted for an open-office layout with smaller, collapsible surfaces like the sawhorse trestle desk. As information becomes digitized and lives on the cloud, we need less physical storage and instead need surfaces that can move with us.

Another note is the difference between desks that are multi-functional and can transcend decades, versus desks that highly-specialized for a particular use and time. The field desk can be unfolded and serve many purposes on the battlefield, and the trestle desk is made for improvisation and modification in many office environments. On the other hand, the bureau plat contained drawers specifically made for quills and ink wells, and the rolltop desk had pigeonhole compartments and nooks for letters and envelopes.

Future of the work surface

As our workplaces has evolved, our work surfaces have followed suit:


1. Our tools are smaller. Over the decades, our resources have become more compact which means we can work within a smaller footprint. Our work surfaces used to physically hold everything – now it’s all in our tablets and phones.

2. We blend work and play. We used to work in a tight 9-5 schedule with regimented water cooler and break time. Now, our work days stretch into the night and play gets seamlessly folded into the mix.

3. The workplace is informal. The new workplace emulates college campus life and this new thinking leaves formal workstations in the past.

4. We are transient. Liberated from the confines of the physical office and workstation, we can work anywhere – and we do.

Unless our world becomes more Minority Report-like, we will continue moving towards a smaller agile surface that is either portable or versatile. Desks are already made of lightweight, durable materials and have wireless charging abilities so they can migrate with their owners. Integrated touchscreens and smart technology enable users to expand capabilities beyond their individual devices. What’s next?

What if you could work while reclining? What if the ergonomics of your desk automatically responded to your posture and needs throughout the day, and throughout the years? What if desks encouraged body movement/exercise and generate power? What if desks become simple surfaces that respond to a gestural interface?

As many leaders, scientists, and creatives have said before, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

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