Niels Diffrient

U.S.A. (1928–2013)

One of the century’s preeminent American designers, Niels Diffrient endeavored throughout his storied career to emphasize the “human factors” of industrial design, using ingenuity and intuition to bring consumers products that met their needs. His emphasis on accommodating the human form was codified in the three-volume Humanscale, an influential sourcebook for designers that examined the movements and dimensions of the human body.

From his early work with Eero Saarinen and Marco Zanuso onward, Diffrient was recognized for his integrity and vision with numerous accolades and citations, and he served as designer or consultant to the Fortune 500’s leading companies. His quest to create workplace environments that were fitted to the needs of their users is exemplified by the Freedom Chair, a high-performance task chair that senses the weight of the user and automatically adjusts to provide optimal support without an array of knobs and levers.

Through his career, Diffrient designed all types of equipment, including computers, exhibits, trucks, airplane interiors and corporate identity programs. He was also broadly published in the field of design and human factors, most notably as co-author of the aforementioned Humanscale. Additionally, Niels spent eight years as adjunct Professor of Design at UCLA and was a visiting critic at the Yale University School of Architecture for two years.

In the field of furniture design, most notably ergonomic seating, Diffrient won a total of 24 awards, including two Best of Show. He held more than 20 mechanical and design patents for his furniture design, both in America and abroad, and he received honors from many organizations, including The American Institute of Architects, the Industrial Designers Society of America and an honorary doctorate from ArtCenter College of Design. In 1996, Niels was named one of the Top 40 Design Innovators by ID Magazine and received the Chrysler Award for Innovation.

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