Before the 1970’s office desks were simple affairs, usually rectangular, made from wood and with a writing area in front of the user. At about this time mainframe and so-called mini computers started to be used in business and office workers needed to have computer terminals on their desks. One of the most common terminals was the DEC VT52, a tiny monochrome screen in a huge box with a built-in keyboard.
Quite often this type of computer terminal had a mobile stand of its own, so that it could be wheeled around to where it was needed, or could be stood at the side of a desk. Initially they were used in laboratory and dedicated IT environments but they soon spread to offices where they were used for accounting, manufacturing and office automation. They were very expensive and often shared amongst users. As they dropped in price and increased in functionality they started to appear on more and more desks, with some rather bizarre variants, including ICL’s OPD (One Per Desk).
This terminal, incorporating a telephone, terminal and basic office functionality, was once every executive’s dream.
In order to accommodate this heavyweight hardware, office furniture had to develop. Desks became considerably deeper to accommodate the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) Monitors and chunky keyboards and desks developed into angled and wave configurations. The One Per Desk terminal on a standard rectangular desk meant that the terminal was the only thing on the desk, there was no room for anything else.
The revolution in office computing came about in the early 1980’s when IBM launched the IBM XT Personal Computer. The standard configuration was to have the monitor sitting on top of the system box, as shown in the picture. The depth of the unit, together with enough space to use the keyboard meant that office desks stayed very deep, and executives (who were often the first to get one, but the least likely to use it) had to have a separate computer desk at the side of their main desk. Since these PCs were unlikely to be networked at this time, many of the computer desks incorporated a separate area for the printer, almost certainly the ubiquitous Epson FX80 dot-matrix.
As we moved into the 21st Century, two trends had an impact on office furniture. Firstly, many office workers were now spending almost 100% of their time working on a PC, so the PC could finally take centre place on the desk. The second trend was the introduction of LCD monitors, which take up much less space that CRT monitors. This allowed for the re-introduction of smaller desks, with toolbars to support the monitors, finally freeing up desk space.
Call centre furniture is now totally orientated towards computers and telephones, with whole rooms full of this type of furniture.