The office through the decades: 1960s

John Fogarty is our recently retired Director of Design. In an industry career spanning five decades he has witnessed wholesale changes to office life. Drawing on this experience he has created for us a decade-by-decade series on the subject; the 1960s is the second decade to be explored.

A decade of massive social and economic change - the sardonically named Establishment Club and the satire boom it spawned, the explosion of work by the “angry young men” in literature and theatre and “kitchen sink” dramas on TV - all combining to challenge the existing social order and make Britain a place where new ideas could flourish.

This spawned the pop culture of the Beatles and the Stones in music, Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki and Ossie Clarke in fashion and the work of named designers in product and furniture; such as Robin Day, Terence Conran and Ken Grange.

In furniture Hille engaged Robin Day to develop a whole series of ground-breaking products and in 1968 Conran merged his company with Rymans to form the Ryman Conran Group.

The drab, industrial look of the 1950s was at last shaken off as developments in materials technology created brighter, stronger colours in paint and textiles and particleboard became far more widely available and cheaper. Computer Numerical Controls (CNC) fitted to brake and turret presses meant that - for short production runs - sheet metal storage manufacturers no longer had to carry the twin burdens of high dedicated tool costs and excessive low-value-added component movement.

With positive effect on office productivity, in 1961 Eliot Noyes designed the Selectric golfball typewriter for IBM and in the same year Britain’s Control Systems brought out the first electronic desktop calculator, the not-so-snappily named ANITA (A New Inspiration To Arithmetic/Accounting). This featured the same push button layout as a comptometer but no other moving parts. Despite costing a staggering £355 ($1,000) - the equivalent of £4,800 ($8,000) in today’s money - it sold well. Amazingly however, having initiated the whole trend, the British company then squandered the opportunity to develop the mass market; losing out initially to the Italians (Olivetti) and later to the Japanese (Toshiba).

IBM Selectric Typewriter by Eliot Noyes and ANITA Electronic Calculator by Control Systems

In 1964 Bisley added the F-series cabinet and two-door cupboard to its growing office equipment/storage portfolio of wastepaper tub, letter rack and card-index cabinet.

Plan files and F-series cabinets, wastepaper tubs, letter trays and card index cabinets
Plan files and F-series cabinets, wastepaper tubs, letter trays and card index cabinets

Recently discontinued A-series cupboard; in a direct development line from the 60s original