In 2011 I visited Herman Miller's head office and was given a reprint copy of Robert Propst's 1968 book The Office: A Facility Based on Change. In it, he describes the rationale behind using a standing desk:
The most serious health problem in offices is the sedentary nature. Compelled by lack of choice, we are forced to conduct most office activity in a sitting position. The result, as medical studies and insurance data make clear, is a steady decline in vitality, energy, and general body tone....Man's physical machine has evolved to do many things well but no single thing continuously...Proportioning some of our work to standup work stations would do more than anything else to overcome sedentary decline. The office can be a kinetic, active, alert vigorous environment.
Herman Miller was the pioneer in standing desks, but curiously, they did not jump into the fray with new ones when the standing desk craze started. I asked why in 2013 and was given an answer that I really liked at the time; Mark Schurman of Herman Miller noted that the whole way we used offices was changing because of technology.
As a trend the sit/stand issue has obviously picked up momentum in recent years, but in some ways it’s ironic as the primary concern (sedentary work styles) has also been shifting, with the miniaturization and mobility of technology, coupled with flatter organizations and more emphasis on collaboration, increasingly leading knowledge workers to spend less time at a personal workstation.... This doesn’t mean standing work/desks are inappropriate, but it does suggest that at least for many it is perhaps less of an issue than it might have been 5+ years ago when most people were tethered to individual workstations by their technology needs.
I was also convinced that adjustable standing desks, or "sit/stand desks" as Herman Miller now calls them, were a problem, as studies showed that people tended to migrate to sitting most of the time, and that the desk top for sitting, where you pivot from one point, should be a different shape than the desk top for standing, where you can move easily from side to side. That's why I modeled my "Active office" after the 1968 Action Office II, with a wide shallow desk/ledge for standing and an old George Nelson desk for sitting. But I am still tethered by technology; even a notebook computer and a cellphone need a charger. I also designed my standing desk to be appropriate for my height, and find that I have to place my Apple monitor, with it's stupid fixed-height base, on Sir Bannister Fletcher's History of Architecture to get the height right.
So perhaps there is a need for adjustable standing desks designed by people who know ergonomics after all, to fit in what is still a tethered environment. Or perhaps too many people were asking Herman Miller "where's your standing desk?"
So they have come up with two systems; The Renew Sit-to-stand table, which looks pretty conventional and can work on its own or as part of a larger grouping; designed by Brian Alexander, who spent some time looking at how people use their standing desks. He found that different kind of work led to different interactions:
When people are focused in, they tend to sit for longer periods. When they stand up, it signals a shift in attitude, like a second wind. The various postures and frequencies are a direct reflection of the work they’re doing and what’s right for them.
Perhaps a bit edgier is the Locale desk and system, designed in London by Sam Hecht and Kim Colin of Industrial Facility. Here, the standing desk is part of a larger office system that is designed to promote collaboration, yet still provides some privacy, as the sound and privacy screen rises up with the desk, a clever idea.
During the design process for Locale, Hecht and Colin drew inspiration from their own office—a highly efficient space that accommodates different work styles and behaves like an energetic international neighborhood.
They also provide a little separation between the desks, allowing people to stand around them more easily, blurring the line between the private desk and the meeting table. It also makes it less awkward if one desk is up and the other down. In the video that I cannot embed, they explain how the deeper desk lets you put your tech at the back and have a real work zone at the front of the desk.
I particularly like this setup, not dissimilar from my own L-shaped arrangement. But in the end, what I like about this desk is that it doesn't look like a normal desk and work like a normal desk; it is sort of a semi-private meeting table, deeper and rounder than a conventional desk.
Locale helps organizations utilize and manage open office plans with a system that enables people to seamlessly transition between working together and alone, and in seated or standing postures. By removing visual and physical obstacles and condensing the architectural scale of an open office plan into a tightly knit neighborhood.
The desk might not quite be dead as I thought it was, but it is certainly evolving into something else.