I’ve found a fascinating TED talk by the late Niels Diffrient, an industrial designer and a pioneer of the ergonomic chair.
As a child in the 1930’s, Diffrient fell in love with the romance of aeroplanes, drawing them, making models and even studying aeronautical engineering. Eventually, he ended up designing office chairs with the same careful attention to detail he paid to aircraft. As he says in his talk, while aeroplanes were shaped by the wind, the human body shapes chairs.
Diffrient died in June 2013. Edward Tenner, an author and historian, wrote about the designer’s work and said he adapted ‘the material world to our bodies’. His ergonomic chair, with its three-dimensional back support, drew on tailors’ cloth-cutting skills to create form-fitting clothes.
Before them, there came linen armourers in the 14th century, who first made the close-fitting padding that warriors wore under their suits of plate armour.
Thinking about all this, I realised that buying an ergonomic chair isn’t just about having the right posture and preventing a sore back. It’s investing in a way of looking at the world and design in general, giving people like Niel Diffrient the chance to create something practical and perhaps even romantic.