Design legend Niels Diffrient is the creator of the Freedom Chair, a radical rethink of the way we sit today. Throughout his career, he's been a pioneer of ergonomic design — studying the human body (in all its shapes and sizes) and how to make it comfortable.

Why you should listen

Niels Diffrient is a pioneer of ergonomic design -- taking the radical approach of examining the human body as it interacts with furniture, and asking, Is there a better way to sit? His three-volume reference work, Humanscale, explores the relationship of spine to chair and other "human engineering" data necessary for highly specialized workplaces such as a cockpit or a truck cab, as well as aiding in the search for the perfectly comfortable place to sit down.

In the 1990s, Diffrient turned his attention to the office task chair. Working with the company Humanscale, he drew up the Freedom chair, a self-adjusting chair that mixed advanced materials (such as a gel seat pad) with good old-fashioned sketchbook design. The Freedom chair was part of a late-'90s revolution in design that turned expensive ergonomic office chairs into dot-com covetables. In 2004, Diffrient and Humanscale released the lighter and lower-priced Liberty task chair.

What others say

“Back in 1955, Diffrient (now a hale and hearty 71) was one of the first guys to x-ray a human spine in a chair, discovering and documenting what chairs do to people in real life. Before that, he reminisces when we meet, "We knew nothing, except what you'd see from a skeleton." Skeletons don't purchase much office seating.” — Bruce Sterling, Wired

Niels Diffrient’s TED talks

Niels Diffrient on the TED Blog

The week in comments

April 25, 2009

If we had to choose a theme for this week’s comments, it would be Interaction Now. Usually, the highlights are reserved for your one-off quips, but from the themes of the talks, to speakers commenting on their own TEDTalks, to lightning-fast replies on threads, it was all about talking it out. On Margaret Wertheim’s TEDTalk: […]

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Design

Rethinking the way we sit down: Niels Diffrient on TED.com

April 21, 2009

Design legend Niels Diffrient talks about his life in industrial design (and the reason he became a designer instead of a jet pilot). He details his quest to completely rethink the office chair starting from one fundamental data set: the human body. (Recorded at TED2002, February 2002, in Monterey, California. Duration: 17:20.) Watch Niels Diffrient’s […]

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