Office design: the best and worst trends

We choose the office design trends that are making the office a happier and more healthy place to work – and the ones that are frankly a bit silly.

Main picture: The office of Lego PMD in Denmark, designed by Rosan Bosch and Rune Fjord; Photo: Anders Sune Berg

By Jamie Mitchell

Offices are not what they used to be - and that's largely a good thing. New technology as well as changing attitudes and working practices have led some (especially hip new media and tech companies) to go all out with the design of their offices, installing slides, play areas and even indoor farms. There's nothing wrong with trying to make the workplace more fun and less boring, but if you're the kind of person who hankers after the good old wood-and-leather sophistication of Fifties (recreated so brilliantly in the TV show Mad Men) you're likely to be nonplussed by sliding CEOs and colleagues bantering over the ping pong table. We choose some of the best and worst trends in office design.


Google Zurich

The Zurick office of Google, designed by Camenzind Evolution

We're not sure which was the first company to install a playground-style slide in its office, but whoever it was set a trend that's become so popular it's verging on cliché. Over the last decade, slides have appeared in the offices of big players including Google and Microsoft, and they're often to be found in the trendy offices of smaller creative agencies too. But while they look great in the photographs, does anyone actually use them?

Microsoft officeMicrosoft office in Vienna, designed by INNOCAD Architektur



The office of Lego PMD in Denmark, designed by Rosan Bosch and Rune Fjord; Photo: Anders Sune Berg

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, but games in offices should be used judiciously, and should definitely be placed away from the main work areas (as above). The last thing you want when you're struggling against a deadline is the sound of your colleagues thrashing each other at table football. On the other hand, taking a bit of time out to play a game is a great way to refresh your mind and boost creativity.

Open plan

In the old days, bagging a corner office was like landing on Mayfair on the monopoly board and many ordinary employees languished in partitioned spaces the author Dauglas Caupland called 'veal-fattening pens'. But a move towards a more egalitarian style of office design has seen 'cellular' offices shift towards the centre of the room so that they don't hog all the natural light from the windows. Open plan offices also mean people get to move around and talk more, which is good for building professional relationships as well as personal ones.

Bringing the outside in

Living wall

The Oxford office of British Gas, designed by Scott Brownrigg

Fake grass and trees can look naff in an office - but real, living foliage is finding its way into more and more workplaces - we don't jus mean a few pot plants. Living walls, staircases with built in gardens and even indoor farms are one of the hottest trends in office design. They look great and are good for your health - so, as long as these things are carefully maintained, what's not to love?

Pasona Urban Farm

An urban farm at the Tokyo offices of Pasona, designed by Kono Designs

Pasona Urban Farm An urban farm at the Tokyo offices of Pasona, designed by Kono Designs

The treadmill desk

Not a bad idea per se. After all, sitting at a desk for hours on end is clearly not the healthiest or most natural way to spend a large proportion of our lives. But are we really going to exercise while we work? Like those exercise machines at home, this seems likely to be a short-lived fad. Surely it would be better to provide company gym membership - or what about giving your employees one afternoon off a week to do exercise?



Photo: Acrylicize

Bare walls are unforgivable in a modern office, and art is a great way of adding visual interest to the workplace. There are even companies, such as London-based Acrylicize that specialise in creating bespoke artwork for offices, so there's no need to rely on clichéd prints or off the shelf 'art work'.


Photo: Acrylicize


Photo: Acrylicize

The office anywhere

selgas-cano-office-Iwan Baan

Selgas Cano office Photo: Iwan Baan

Developments in technology mean that it's now possible to set up an office pretty much anywhere, and this has had a radical effect on the way offices are designed. We've seen offices in tree houses, offices ion boats and, one of our all time favourites, an office in a situated in a transparent tube in a forest.

Co-working offices


A London branch of co-working space Club Workspace, designed by Studio TILT. Photo: JillTate

The rise of small start-up companies and freelance workers has led to a greater demand for flexible and shared office space, and 'co-working', where like-minded freelance workers and small companies share the same office space, has been one of the office success stories of the past few years. Co-working spaces have been springing up all over the place, but they've been particularly popular in areas where tech companies congregate, such as Shoreditch in London where Google has opened a Google Campus. The area is also home to Tech-Hub.

Themed meeting rooms

Beach huts office

Beach hut meeting rooms in one of Google's London offices, designed by Scott Brownrigg

The trend for fun meeting rooms designed to simulate 'creativity' and 'collaboration' has been a massive trend in office design over the last few years. We've had meeting rooms that look like tepees, telephone boxes, beach huts and even one made out of a London bus. But while there's nothing wrong with trying to jazz up the simple, boring box that usually serves as a meeting room, this is a trend that's in danger of getting out of control. After all, the office is still the office - no matter how much you try to make it look the seaside. And imagine getting fired in one?

Google Youtube office bus

The London offices of Google and You Tube, designed by Pitch Studios and Peldon Rose

Comfortable seating areas

Whatever your boss says, taking regular beaks at work is important, and standing around a water cooler or milling around the kitchen aren't really good enough. Enlightened companies know that if they provide their workers with comfortable well designed seating areas, they'll go back to their desks feeling refreshed and ready for work.

Themed 'breakout' areas

Innocent Drinks office

Fruit Towers, HQ of Innocent Drinks in London, designed by Stiff + Trevillion Architects

No one wants to work in a boring office, but creating breakout areas that resemble countryside picnic spots or parks is something that's tricky to get right. Done well, this can create an office that staff will be happy to turn up to; do it on the cheap, though, and your staff may feel like they've walked into a stage set for an armature dramatics society.

Recycling and reuse

shipping container office

99c office in Cape Town, designed by In House

Once upon a time, the perfect office would have been one full of brand new polished wood and chrome. Now, companies - and office designers - boast about how much recycled material and reclaimed elements they have in their offices. Reclaiming and reusing elements, such as this shipping container which has been used to create a meeting room in an office in Cape Town is also a popular tend.

What do you think? Do slides and games bring a welcome bit of fun to the office? Is exercising while we work the antidote to the obesity epidemic? Or would you like to see a return to more grown-up stylish offices?

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