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Cubicles in a former coworking space in Portland, Oregon

A cubicle, cubicle desk or office cubicle is a partially enclosed workspace, separated from neighboring workspaces by partitions that are usually 5–6 feet (1.5–1.8 m) tall.

A cubicle's purpose is to isolate office workers from the sights and noises of an open workspace, the theory being that this allows workers more privacy and helps them to concentrate without distractions. Horizontal work surfaces are usually suspended from the partitions of cubicles, as is shelving, overhead storage, and other amenities.

Cubicles are often seen as being symbolic of the human condition of working in a modern office setting due to their uniformity and blandness.



The term cubicle comes from the Latin cubiculum, for bed chamber. It was used in English as early as the 15th century. It eventually came to be used for small chambers of all sorts, and for small rooms or study spaces with partitions which do not reach to the ceiling.

Like the older carrel desk, a cubicle seeks to give a degree of privacy to the user while taking up minimal space in a large or medium sized room. Like the modular desk of the mid-20th century, it is composed of modular elements that can be arranged in various ways with standard hardware or custom fasteners, depending on the design. Installation is generally performed by professionals, although some cubicles allow configuration changes to be performed by users without specific training. Cubicles are configurable, allowing a variety of elements such as work surfaces, overhead bins, drawers, and such to be installed depending on the user's needs.

Some sources attribute the introduction of the cubicle desk to Intel Inc. during the 1960s. Its creation is generally attributed to John Shiflett, a designer from Colorado who worked for Herman Miller Inc., a manufacturer of office furniture. It was based on a 1965 prototype and named the Action Office, composed of modular units with an open plan, a novel system at the time.

An office filled with cubicles is sometimes called a cube farm. Although humorous, the phrase usually has negative connotations. Cube farms are often found in high-tech companies, but they also appear in the insurance industry and other service-related fields. Many cube farms were built during the dotcom boom.

Versatile cubicle walls

South view of cubicle
North view of cubicle

On the positive side the cubicle desk offers options for customization by its users which is not comparable to other desk forms, past or present. It can transform all of the walls surrounding the white-collar worker into productive work surfaces, or nooks for personal expression. Because the walls are within reach, and because many of them offer holes and hooks for hanging small shelves, bulletin boards or other accessories, elements which were once placed only on the horizontal surface of the desktop can be moved to the vertical surfaces. While cubicle desk makers usually employ proprietary standards for their fasteners and accessory hooks, this has not stopped the makers of small-scale desktop accessories from producing and marketing myriad pen holders, magazine racks, and such which fit popular brands of cubicle partitions.

Note that it is also possible to create a cubicle-filled office environment without the use of cubicle desks by combining traditional free-standing desk forms like the pedestal desk with special types of free-standing partitions. This kind of environment is often part of a general office landscaping effort which was popularized in the 1950s and the 1960s in Germany and the United Kingdom.

Explorations of the cubicle form

Some interesting R&D has been going on in the field of cubicles at the turn of this millennium. One of the most sarcastic critics of the cubicle has been Scott Adams, speaking through his comic strip, Dilbert. In 2001 he teamed up with the design company IDEO to create "Dilbert's Ultimate Cubicle".[1] It had some whimsical aspects but there were also some very sound design ideas such as an original modular approach and attention to usually neglected ergonomic details like the change in light orientation as the day advances. Similarly, Douglas Coupland has coined the phrase "veal-fattening pen", a parody of cubicles in his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.

Between 2000 and 2002, IBM partnered with the office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, and researched the software, hardware, and ergonomic aspects of the cubicle of the future (or the office of the future) under the name "BlueSpace". They produced several prototypes of this hi-tech multi screened workspace and even exhibited one at Walt Disney World. Bluespace offered movable multiple screens inside and outside, a projection system, advanced individual lighting heating and ventilation controls, and a host of software applications to orchestrate everything.

In 1994 designer Douglas Ball planned and built several iterations of the "Clipper CS-1|Clipper" or "Clipper CS-1|CS-1", a "capsule" desk looking like the streamlined front fuselage of a fighter plane. Meant as a computer workstation, it had louvers and an integrated ventilation system, as well as a host of built-in features typical of the ergonomic desk. An office space filled with these instead of traditional squarish cubicles would look like a hangar filled with small flight simulators. It was selected for the permanent design collection of the design Museum in the United Kingdom.

Cube farms in pop culture

  • Dilbert, the quintessential cube farm comic strip. Additionally, the term chronic cubicle syndrome was invented in the television series. This is a term used jokingly to tell about the effects of working in a cubicle for too long. In one point in the comic strip, there is even a cube farmer.
  • Office Space is a film about programmers distressed by their jobs in a cube farm at a software firm.
  • Tron features a massive cube farm.
  • The Office television show from the UK featuring employees of Wernham-Hogg working in a mixture of desks and cubicles.
  • Thomas Anderson (Neo), the main character from The Matrix, works inside a cubicle that emphasizes his isolation from the world. A scene plays out in his office, amidst the cubicles.
  • The Drew Carey Show — Much of the show was set in the titular character's cubicle in the fictional Winfred-Lauder department store. The cubicle was a source of much of the show's humour; it was remarked that it was, in fact, invented by the store's founder after discovering it "only took three walls to make a man feel trapped".
  • A song from Beatnik Turtle's third album: The Cheapass Album
  • "Cubicles", a song by American rock band My Chemical Romance
  • "Cubicle", a song by French band Rinôçérôse
  • Regina Spektor's song Consequence Of Sounds from her record Songs has the line "What if one of these days your heart will just stop ticking//And they sort of just don't find you till your cubicle is reeking?"
  • The punk rock band CUBICLE from Los Angeles, CA plays music about working in an office.
  • The film Wanted's main character, Wesley Gibson, works in a cube farm until he becomes part of The Fraternity.

See also


  1. ^


  • Adams, Scott. What do you call a sociopath in a cubicle? : (answer, a coworker) Kansas City, Missouri. : Andrews McMeel Pub., 2002.
  • Blunden, Bill. Cube Farm. Berkeley: Apress, 2004.
  • Duffy, Francis. Colin Cave. John Worthington, editors. Planning Office Space. London: The Architectural Press Ltd., 1976.
  • Inkeles, Gordon. Ergonomic Living: How to Create a User-Friendly Home and Office. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
  • Klein, Judy Graf. The Office Book. New York: Facts on File Inc., 1982.
  • Schlosser, Julie. Cubicles: The great mistake., 2006

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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Simple English

]] A cubicle is a small room. It can be a small work space often seen in offices. It can also be a place used for changing clothes in, often found at swimming pools and gymnasiums.

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