Niels Diffrient on Designing the Diffrient Work Chair

The master of modern ergonomics talks about the ultimate form of market analysis.

When you design for people, you should really know what you’re doing to them both physically and psychologically. But what I learned through application is that this knowledge can become a superb form of market analysis. It is fundamental: if you know what people do, how they do things, what their reactions are—and if you can measure all this—then you have a foundation reference for what they could use or want. You don’t have to go out and ask them, or track previous sales records, or determine what products are selling well.

For my new task chair for Humanscale—which was ten years in the making—I realized that people needed more comfort with less complication. By that, I mean fewer but­tons, levers—everything. It’s silly to produce a sitting machine that weighs more than 60 pounds and produces just a couple of movements. The Diffrient Work Chair, as it is called, will be Humanscale’s simplest, lightest low-cost chair. It’s half the weight of comparable chairs on the market and performs virtually all of the comfort standards. I eliminated a lot of the machinery, making as much of it automatic as possible. It just flexes in place and still does everything a task chair should do. Of course, along the way I was thinking about how to make elegant forms that go with the way the chair works, but human compliance ultimately drove those forms.

Essays on Good Design

The Children of Raymond Loewy
By Deyan Sudjic

Within the Product of No Product
By John Hockenberry

The Real Driver
By Niels Diffrient

Product Panic: 2009
By Bruce Sterling

Rekindling the Book
By Karrie Jacobs

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