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Scott Adams: Designing Dilbert's ultimate cubicle

Scott Adams (left) and Fred Dust, IDEO's lead designer
Scott Adams (left) and Fred Dust, IDEO's lead designer  


Scott Adams is the creator of the “Dilbert” syndicated comic strip, which appears in 2,000 newspapers in 56 countries. In 1995, the Dilbert web site (dilbert.com) was the first syndicated comic strip to go online, and is the most widely read syndicated comic on the Internet. Adams joined the CNN.com chat room from California.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today, Scott Adams, and welcome.

ADAMS: Hello, everyone.

CNN: What is the role of the cubicle in corporate America?

ADAMS: I think the cubicle is an evil plot by management to keep people's egos in check, and keep pay low.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Adams, can the Ultimate Cubicle be used in a home office? How would it guard against unwanted intrusion by children and pets?

ADAMS: I think you would need to add a "stun" option for use at home, because you can make co-workers leave you alone, but not pets and kids. My cat is all over my keyboard right now.

INTERACTIVE
Here's your tour of Dilbert's Ultimate Cubicle. Click here  for an interactive gallery of views from Scott Adams and Fred Dust's collaboration.
 

CNN: What prompted the idea for Dilbert's Ultimate Cubicle?

ADAMS: I get thousands of e-mails every year with complaints about cubicles, so it doesn't take a genius to figure out there is an opportunity for improvement. So United Media (my syndicator) and I teamed with IDEO, an innovation design firm, to build the Ultimate Dilbert Cubicle.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What do you think of a chimer when someone enters your cubicle

ADAMS: I think a chimer would be annoying. I prefer a motion detector that will make your PC screen switch from game to work when anyone approaches.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: If you had worked in one of these cubicles while you were in the cube-force, do you think it might have made you more willing to stay?

ADAMS: Yes. Dilbert might never have been created if I had a good cubicle during my corporate jail term.

CNN: Tell us about the design process. How did you come up with some of these ideas?

ADAMS: IDEO has a design process. First they built cubicles for themselves to use because they had not lived in them themselves, so they felt the pain as typical cubicle dwellers. Then there is a controlled chaos that is better known as the brainstorming phase where every wild idea in the world is tossed out, and for that they bring together people from all sorts of disciplines within the company. I participated in that, representing the typical cubicle whiner. Ideas are then whittled down in smaller groups and "rapid prototyping" is done. I'm skipping some steps but that's the basic idea.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What ways are there of convincing companies to budget for it?

ADAMS: I think the Ultimate Cubicle won't be for cheap companies. It will probably show up in high tech companies first, where employees are highly paid and valued, and will start as relatively "bare" walls. Then modules will be added over time, either as service anniversary rewards or as rewards for good work, or by scavenging parts from downsized employee cubes.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How do you think corporate America is likely to react to the Ultimate Cubicle? Do you think companies will begin to acquiesce after workers demand it, or does it represent too big of a threat to the corporate hierarchy?

ADAMS: I don't know how corporate America will react. I expect that like most things it will start with a few, and once employees see that a good cubicle is possible, they might start demanding more. But it will take a long time.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What if your boss gets a Dilbert Cubicle? Will he still be a pointy haired boss?

ADAMS: Nothing changes the pointy-haired soul.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What are your thoughts on some of these "progressive office" concepts, such as open work areas and having a "leader" instead of a manager?

ADAMS: My cat is blocking my screen -- one moment -- AAAAGH! Better now. My quote on open office is this, "I cried because I had no office until I met a man who had no cubicle." As for leaders, that's a way to get someone to do more work without extra pay. Team leaders are suckers -- they'd admit it if asked.

Scott Adams investigates the
Scott Adams investigates the "snap hammock"  

CNN: What is your favorite feature?

ADAMS: I like the "snap hammock," the cooler for your lunch, and the daisy that perks up when you are in the cubicle and wilts when you leave.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: I temped once in a spare basement room of a company. Does the ultimate cubicle have sunlight simulation?

ADAMS: Yes, it does have sunlight simulation. It's hard to tell from the photos, but the top row acts like the sun crossing the sky. Each module lights in progression like the sun moving during the day. It doesn't have the UV feature for reducing sadness, but it could.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. Adams, why "Dilbert?" Why not John, or Steve, or Boris? [laughs]

ADAMS: Don't you think "Dilbert" is funnier than John?

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Isn't this the ultimate irony, talking, or typing to the creator of the cubicle situation comedy as I sit here in my cube?

ADAMS: I applaud you for getting paid and not doing work. Well done.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Can we expect to see you help develop more products for cubicle workers in the future? There's quite an untapped market there, and you definitely have the information on what office workers want.

ADAMS: Maybe. You're right, I have the information. We'll see how the cube goes first.

CNN: How do you think bosses will respond to things like the boss monitor and the punching bag with the boss's face on it?

ADAMS: Most cubicles are built from the perspective of management. Dilbert's Ultimate Cube is built from the employee perspective. So whoever's perspective isn't used won't like it, either way. But some bosses have a sense of humor.

CNN: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

ADAMS: I hope that someday you can all have your own Ultimate Cubicle, because I have to say that my own happiness is greatly enhanced by not being in a box anymore.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today.

ADAMS: Thanks for joining me. and have a great Labor Day.

Scott Adams joined the CNN.com chat room by telephone and types for himself. This is an edited transcript of the interview which took place on Thursday, August 30, 2001.






RELATED STORIES:
RELATED SITES:
• IDEO -- with a popup about Dilbert's Ultimate Cubicle
• Dilbert Zone, the official "Dilbert" Web site
• The Dilbert Store
• Dilbert's Desktop Games

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