I’m with you that it is overly simplistic to just go with “Cubes bad! Open Good!” although we won’t be able to go much deeper by throwing around “design rules”. My wife Kate and I have visited many spaces and we’ve seen many variations on these themes. Few cubes, but many things that get very close. When we get hired by spaces to dive in to questions like this we start by getting to know everyone. First and foremost, the people are the real driver, not the furniture, so you need to understand what they are asking for… even if you can’t trust the words they are using.
The pendulum in office design starts by trying to reduce distractions so everyone gets put in boxes. Then everyone is lonely so the walls come down and the space opens up… wash, rinse, repeat. To break free of this cycle you need to strike the right balance by looking at the best and worst of both scenarios. Design is more than furniture and paint colors.
The best way I’ve found to combine these two high-level points is to be present, pick a direction, and fine-tune the solution together with the members in the space. I know it might sound like a non-answer but it’s the only way I know that actually addresses the real elements at play here. I’m happy to talk more about how to facilitate things like this although I think that’s a topic for another thread.