Niels Diffrient

Product/Industrial Designer / United States / Niels Diffrient Product Design

(1928–2013) Niels Diffrient started his studies in Aeronautical Engineering, changing to Art and Painting followed by Design and Architecture, in which he received his degree from Cranbrook Academy. He was then granted a Fulbright fellowship to live and work in Milan, Italy. While there he designed a sewing machine with the Architect Marco Zanuso, which won the Compasso D’Oro at the Milan Triennale. He also worked with the architect Eero Saarinen where he assisted in the design of office seating for Knoll, which remains in production after 50 years. He was subsequently a partner in the office of Henry Dreyfuss, which created designs for long-term clients Bell Telephone, John Deere, Polaroid, Singer Sewing Machine, American Airlines, Lockheed Aircraft, Honeywell, Gates Learjet, Hyster Lift Trucks, and more.

In 1981 he initiated his own practice for consulting and developing designs for licensing in the commercial furniture field. His furniture designs have been produced by Knoll International, Sunar Hauserman, Howe Furniture Company, KI International, and currently, Humanscale Corporation. These designs have all won awards totaling 38, which include two Best of Show and 18 gold and top awards. He also holds more than 46 mechanical and design patents for furniture alone.

Diffrient's work has been published broadly in the fields of design and ergonomics, most notably in the three-volume compendium Humanscale. He taught design at UCLA for eight years and at Yale University School of Architecture for two years. In addition, he has been the recipient of four research grants from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Graham Foundation.

Diffrient has received many honors, including Fellow of the Industrial Designers Society of America; Honorary Doctorate from Art Center College; Honorary Royal Designer from the Royal Society of Arts, London; Institute honors from the American Institute of Architects; Honorary Doctorate from the College of Creative Studies; the Daimler Chrysler Award for Innovation; the National Design award in product design from the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum; Legend Award from Contract magazine; and Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Interior Design Institute.

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