Niels Diffrient (1928 – 2013), designing to human scale

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In Memoriam: Niels Diffrient – anyone who’s been in the design world within the last 50 years will have come into contact with the work and ideas of designer Niels Diffrient who died last Saturday at the age of 84.  From his ground-breaking work on the 3-volume reference set Humanscale to his self-adjusting office chairs, Diffrient’s approach touched the entire design world.


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When the Humanscale reference set was published in 1974 and 1981 it made ergonomics part of design vocabulary.

It provided science-based illustrations and data that covered the full spectrum of body types, positions, behaviours and abilities. Informed by these “human factors,” designers could create products, furniture and spaces that are accessible to the greatest number of people.

His chairs, designed to adjust without levers or other mechanisms getting in the way “responded to a range of body types, from a slim five-foot woman to a broad-shouldered 6.6-foot man.”

For more, see his 2009 TED Talk explaining why he became a designer instead of a jet pilot, and his Wikipedia entry.  A little more on the books here.

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