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Friday, 6 November 2015

Designing the Automated Office 1984

I took some photos out of an old book, Designing the Automated Office (by Pulgram and Stonis). Mostly it's the usual early 1980s normative design guideline book with scientific-looking diagrams and measures, but it also has nostalgic photographs of cute terminals and overtly neat environments. Published in 1984, the material reeks more of late 1970s stuff, not very visionary or with the latest trends. Unix, CP/M and Xenix are the only OS mentioned, it's as if personal computer revolution had not happened at all.

Sorry for the poor quality, these are simply mobile snaps. Maybe improved later...

A company that worked on computers would probably be an early-adopter...
Not a huge expert on offices, but I've worked in some and been involved with it as a topic. Office space trends are obviously always in transition, but what's particular about this era is that the layout of the office still remains fairly traditional, yet is invaded by computer terminals and equipment. Soon after, developments in computer applications among other shifts started to erode the traditional office space layout, too.

Old CAD workstations prove that Apple didn't invent GUI. Design-metaphor ought to have become the generic GUI metaphor, and not the desktop! 
It seems to have been terminals all the way. Most of the stuff has probably been thrown into the bin since, and is not that noteworthy. The outer designs are fascinating, though, as there seems to have been broader ideas about what a computer terminal in an office ought to have looked like, before it all settled into grey rectangular boxes in the 1980s.

Another cute, if repetitive, semi sci-fi environment.
When discussing future offices, a lot of expectations are put on voice recognition (as still is) and "smart walls" with text recognition (we are still waiting). In 1984, it may not have been hard to predict that video projection would become commonplace, but they sort of missed the mark on what would be reasonable complementary technologies. I've yet to see any really sensible smart wall product for office. Possibly this is because although smart walls are feasible now, the settings in which they were envisaged for are not really there anymore.

I'm wondering if that's a microwave oven or some kind of information superhighway.

Prior to computers the office kinda was the "computer", so as computers matured the office as an environment started to become a bit redundant. There's some indication of this in the book, as portable computers and gadgets are discussed. These are a bit naive in hindsight, but what else they could have imagined?
Typing "please come in", the text would handily appear outside the door, where the client was waiting...