The next quote on the site (www.generalist-ink.com) further clarifies the fact that this story is presented in a new way – a “dynamic communication product that avoids typical book limitations”.
Diffrient was raised from humble beginnings: educated in art, architecture and design; he worked with Eero Saarinen; he was friends with Buckminster Fuller, to mention a few. The collective effect of these wide-ranging experiences throughout his life helped him convert from a specialist to a generalist over time. Even though Diffrient’s autobiography centres on design, there is great wisdom contained within these pages for both designers and laymen.
Diffrient’s desire to improve people’s interaction with
his autobiography is no surprise. In the mid-seventies, he co-authored three related segments of ergonomic reference material that was designed with a clever, easy-to-use, interactive format that had never been used before.
In doing so, he converted dull, laborious
research material into a robust experience that is actually enjoyable. This ergonomic series is well known among designers as ‘Humanscale’ 1-3, 4-6, 7-9. It is
an easily used ergonomic tool that remains invaluable to this day, almost 40 years later.
Diffrient’s next publication – based on a design conference he ran in 1975 – was titled Dimensions of Experience: Understanding and measuring human experience in the designed environment. Today, with all the talk of user experience, one would think that designing for the human experience was a new idea. However, it is obvious that Diffrient was well ahead of the times.
With these two publications, he alone has provided useful information to designers in more ways than any other designer. Moreover, his latest publication, Confessions of a Generalist, provides insightful wisdom as it is not so much about design research in itself as it is about the issues that have nourished his mindset and fuelled his determination.
Not many designers give much thought to the act
of reading or the most beneficial way to convey information. However, like everything else that Diffrient has designed, his newest publication follows his unique methods, which always begin with an unwavering focus searching for the most appropriate solutions to
improve the human experience in the best way possible.
Years ago, I was so impressed when Diffrient demonstrated his unique exoskeletal design for his, then, newly designed Freedom Chair. It embodied many
of his inventions of never-before-seen engineering solutions for the office seating industry. These types
of remarkable advancements were not his first by any means. He has always been a pioneer at the forefront improving usability issues.
Designing Freedom Chair’s engineering features was necessary in order to ensure the proper ergonomic performance, which in turn created the most adjustable
and comfortable chairs made. His mechanical solutions allowed for intuitive adjustability while eliminating the need for users to memorise manuals or spend hours trying to figure out how to adjust their chairs.
Freedom Chair uses intelligent solutions that almost
automatically adjust the chair to the person, which creates a pleasant experience, eliminating the frustrations people feel when they are forced to contort to the deficiencies and shortcomings of a badly designed solution.
I remember Diffrient saying something like, “How can anyone argue with a chair that has been designed
in the best way possible to accommodate the ergonomic requirements for the best sitting experience?” Moreover, Diffrient does not linger on the designed experience alone.
His newest design, the World Chair, not only evolves newer ergonomic solutions to the highest standards within a given category, but he has also made the chair the lightest of its kind in the world while solving myriad problems regarding assembly, shipping costs, etc, all of which further enhance the business performance for the company.
As he discusses in great length in his autobiography, Diffrient’s dedication for evolving more meaningful design methodologies began when he started working with Henry Dreyfuss in the mid-fifties.
Recently, Diffrient told me: “It was a time when most designers
were using a crude approach for understanding people. Dreyfuss really put design into a real per-
spective. He opened my eyes. Right away I stopped drawing forms at the beginning of the process. Instead, I looked for new paths to research. Some people
felt that research would hold you back, but for me
it opened the doors to new forms.”
Because of his design methodologies that evolve pathways for new areas of research, Diffrient’s design solutions not only work well, but they are always based on his unique engineering solutions, which are essential to the performance of his designs. In fact, visiting his studio one can witness the seriousness of his research because hidden from view is a wall that is totally covered, top to bottom, with utility and design patents.
As the title suggests, Diffrient’s generalist attitude evolved from years of direct involvement in numerous diverse design projects, which included, but is not limited to, 747 aircraft interiors, the American Airlines Corporate Design Program, John Deere tractors, high
tension electrical towers, numerous Polaroid cameras including the SX-70, various telephones for Bell and AT&T, and several Knoll and Humanscale chairs.
This kind of cross-fertilisation, mixing various design experiences, goes deep into the Diffrient design process. As such, learning from various specialists eventually develops a generalist’s mindset based on an increased breadth of the mind with ever-widening interest that gives designers enormous advantages.
In turn, Diffrient’s generalist capabilities evolved real credibility for the design profession. Confessions of a Generalist is an outstanding read full of explicit and helpful information. If there is only one book on design that designers should read, this is it.