Mad Men Modern

Design trend parallels between TV series portrayal of 1960’s commercial office and today’s creative workplace.

After much encouragement, I recently joined millions of viewers in watching the Mad Men television series on AMC. Since its premiere in 2007, Mad Men has acquired an impressive following and been credited with influencing fashion trends and cultural style. According to the Guardian, this popular series has led to a rise in sales “everything from tortoise shell glasses to fedoras” as well as the “return of the suit.” The show has caused an upsurge in the demand for mid-century modern furnishings. But will it have a similar effect on commercial workplace design trends?

Many of the scenes in Mad Men take place at an advertising firm in a New York City high-rise in the early 1960’s. If you are predisposed to noticing office design, you will see there is a predominance of private offices, with secretarial desks guarding the doors. If you look past the proverbial mahogany executive desk, you will notice each office suite includes a casual lounge seating area where dramatic brainstorming sessions might take place or sofas where creative types might catch some shuteye after an all-nighter preparing a pitch. You will also notice a predominance of glass – not only between private offices and open work areas, but even between offices. The open office areas have no cubicle panels – ‘workstation’ meant a desk with a typewriter. When Season 4 opens in the brand new ‘modern’ office, the design is slick and white, transparent and boundary-breaking (the conference room is missing a table!).

Although some of reasoning behind the design may be to assist in the filming or provide a variety of backdrops for the scenes to take place, it is still intriguing to consider how today’s workplace design trends might have influenced the writers and producers of the series. We have been re-introducing lounge settings into today’s corporate offices and espousing the benefits of interior glazing in the workplace. Office furniture design trends seem to support this direction as well.

Whether or not this image of a workplace ‘back then’ draws parallels or contrasts with that of today, it is clear that workplace design always plays a big part in how work we work.


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