AskDefine | Define cubicle

Dictionary Definition



1 small room is which a monk or nun lives [syn: cell]
2 small individual study area in a library [syn: carrel, carrell, stall]
3 small area set off by walls for special use [syn: booth, stall, kiosk]

User Contributed Dictionary



From Latin cubiculum, "bedroom", from cubare, "to lie".


  1. A small separate part or one of the compartments of a room.
    Most libraries provide cubicles for quiet study.
  2. A small enclosure at a swimming pool etc used to provide personal privacy when changing
  3. a small enclosure in a public toilet for individual use


A small separate part or one of the compartments of a room
A small enclosure at a swimming pool etc used to provide personal privacy when changing
a small enclosure in a public toilet for individual use

Extensive Definition

"Cubicle" is also used to refer to a toilet stall in a washroom.
A cubicle, cubicle desk or office cubicle is a partially enclosed workspace, separated from neighboring workspaces by partitions that are generally five to six feet high. A cubicle is partially or entirely open on one side to allow access. A cubicle's purpose is to isolate office workers from the sights and noises of an open workspace, the theory being that this allows workers more privacy and helps them to concentrate without distractions. Horizontal work surfaces are usually suspended from the partitions of cubicles, as is shelving, overhead storage, and other amenities.


The term cubicle comes from the Latin cubiculum, for bed chamber. It was used in English as early as the 15th century. It eventually came to be used for small chambers of all sorts, and for small rooms or study spaces with partitions which do not reach to the ceiling.
Like the older carrel desk, a cubicle seeks to give a degree of privacy to the user while taking up minimal space in a large or medium sized room. Like the modular desk of the mid-20th century, it is composed of modular elements that can be arranged in various ways with standard hardware or custom fasteners, depending on the design. Installation is generally performed by professionals, although some cubicles allow configuration changes to be performed by users without specific training. Cubicles are highly configurable, allowing for a variety of elements such as work surfaces, overhead bins, drawers, and the like to be installed, depending on the individual user's needs.
Some sources attribute the introduction of the cubicle desk to the computer chip manufacturer Intel Inc. during the 1960s. Its creation is generally attributed to Robert Propst, a designer from Colorado who worked for Herman Miller Inc., a major manufacturer of office furniture. It was based on a 1965 prototype and named the Action Office, made up of modular units with an open plan, an entirely novel system for the time.
An office filled with cubicles is sometimes called a cube farm. Although humorous, the phrase usually has negative connotations. Cube farms are often found in high-tech companies, but they also appear in the insurance industry and other service-related fields. Many cube farms were built during the dotcom boom.

Bad planning and cheap approaches

The cubicle desk is a much reviled and often mocked piece of office furniture in large part because of the expectations it invokes but rarely fulfills. An array of cubicle desks gives more peace and quiet to its users than if they were all working in an open office with no partitions, as is the case with many newsrooms and some other kinds of offices. However, promoters of cubicle desks often present them as magic ingredients which can make noise levels and other distractions fall to zero in any office after their installation.
As a result of this, scant attention is paid, most of the time, to the design and correct installation of specially designed baffled ceilings, acoustic floor coverings, staggered corridors and tactically placed enclosed meeting rooms. Without a global approach to all these elements, the cubicle desk offers only a limited form of visual privacy and no sonic protection whatsoever, since traditional suspended ceiling tiles are insufficient to prevent noise conduction in very large office spaces, despite their being sold as "acoustic" tiles. This global approach is lacking in most installations done in large companies or large government bureaucracies.
More recent academic studies have noted the disadvantages that the cubicle desk has brought to American corporate culture. While effectively reducing the amount of noise and distractions in the office environment, the cubicle has also produced a negative effect in the reduced amount of person-to-person communication among office workers. This unexpected result of cubicle installations has led to declines in company-specific corporate cultures, declines in morale, and production delays. Notably, productivity declines due to cubicle desks have become a recent concern in new office designs. As The Galt Global Review has noted, "researchers have been conducting studies in the area of workspace design for over two decades and the results are consistent: when workers spend a significant time isolated, whether alone in a cubicle or not seated closely to their co-workers, it reduces person-to-person communication among the members of an organization. This often affects morale and can lead to a decline in production."

Versatile cubicle walls

On the positive side the cubicle desk offers an occasion for customization by its users which is not comparable to other desk forms, past or present. The secret is that it can transform all of the walls surrounding the white-collar worker into productive work surfaces, or nooks for personal expression. Because all of the walls are within grasp or reach all of the time, and because many of them offer holes and hooks for hanging small shelves, bulletin boards or other accessories, elements which were once placed only on the horizontal surface of the desktop can be moved to the vertical surfaces all around. While the makers of cubicle desks usually employ proprietary standards for their fasteners and accessory hooks, this has not stopped the makers of small-scale desktop accessories from producing and marketing myriads of pen holders, magazine racks, and other items which are made to fit the most popular brands of cubicle desk partitions.
Note that it is also possible to create a cubicle-filled office environment without the use of cubicle desks by combining traditional free-standing desk forms like the pedestal desk with special types of free-standing partitions. This kind of environment is often part of a general office landscaping effort which was popularized in the 1950s and the 1960s in Germany and the United Kingdom.

Explorations of the cubicle form

Some interesting R&D has been going on in the field of cubicles at the turn of this millennium. One of the most sarcastic critics of the cubicle has been Scott Adams, speaking through his comic strip, Dilbert. In 2001 he teamed up with the design company IDEO to create "Dilbert's Ultimate Cubicle" It had some whimsical aspects but there were also some very sound design ideas such as an original modular approach and attention to usually neglected ergonomic details like the change in light orientation as the day advances. Similarly, Douglas Coupland has coined the phrase "veal-fattening pen," in parody of the cubicle in his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture.
Between 2000 and 2002 IBM partnered with the office furniture manufacturer Steelcase, and did some very thorough research on the software, hardware and ergonomic aspects of the cubicle of the future (or the office of the future) under the name "BlueSpace". They produced several prototypes of this hi-tech multi screened workspace and even exhibited one at Walt Disney World. Bluespace offered movable multiple screens inside and outside, a projection system, advanced individual lighting heating and ventilation controls and a host of software applications to orchestrate everything.
In 1994 the designer Douglas Ball planned and built several iterations of the "Clipper" or "CS-1", a "capsule" desk looking like the streamlined front fuselage of a fighter plane. Meant as a computer workstation, it had louvers and an integrated ventilation system, as well as a host of built-in features typical of the ergonomic desk. An office space filled with these instead of traditional squarish cubicles would look like a hangar filled with small flight simulators. It was selected for the permanent design collection of the design Museum in the United Kingdom.
In 2006, New York City based office furniture company Fast Office became the first distributor in the United States to offer brand new cubicles at pre-owned prices with a three day shipping guarantee policy.

Cube farms in pop culture

  • Dilbert, the quintessential cube farm comic strip. Additionally, the term chronic cubicle syndrome was invented in the television series. This is a term used jokingly to tell about the effects of working in a cubicle for too long. In one point in the comic strip, there is even a cube farmer.
  • Office Space is a film about programmers distressed by their jobs working in a cube farm at a software firm.
  • Tron features a massive cube farm.
  • The Office television show from the UK featuring employees of Wernham-Hogg working in a mixture of desks and cubicles.
  • Thomas Anderson (Neo), the main character from The Matrix, works inside a cubicle that emphasizes his isolation from the world. A scene plays out in his office, amidst the cubicles.
  • The Drew Carey Show Much of the show was set in the titular character's cubicle in the fictional Winfred-Lauder department store. The cubicle was a source of much of the show's humour; it was remarked that it was, in fact, invented by the store's founder after discovering it "only took three walls to make a man feel trapped".
  • A song from Beatnik Turtle's third album: The Cheapass Album
  • "Cubicles", a song by American rock band My Chemical Romance
  • "Cubicle", a song by French band Rinôçérôse
  • Regina Spektor's song Consequence Of Sounds from her record Songs has the line "What if one of these days your heart will just stop ticking//And they sort of just don't find you till your cubicle is reeking?"
  • The punk rock band CUBICLE from Los Angeles, CA plays music about working in an office.


  • Adams, Scott. What do you call a sociopath in a cubicle? : (answer, a coworker) Kansas City, Missouri. : Andrews McMeel Pub., 2002.
  • Blunden, Bill. Cube Farm. Berkeley: Apress, 2004.
  • Duffy, Francis. Colin Cave. John Worthington, editors. Planning Office Space. London: The Architectural Press Ltd., 1976.
  • Inkeles, Gordon. Ergonomic Living: How to Create a User-Friendly Home and Office. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994.
  • Klein, Judy Graf. The Office Book. New York: Facts on File Inc., 1982.
  • Schlosser, Julie. Cubicles: The great mistake., 2006

External links

cubicle in German: Großraumbüro
cubicle in Spanish: Cubicles
cubicle in French: Bureau à cloisons
cubicle in Hebrew: תא משרדי

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1