Henry Dreyfuss is not a household name, but his designs are objects that fill and beautify our homes like the Royal Quiet de Luxe Typewriter, the Westclox Big Ben alarm clock, the Western Electric desk, vacuum cleaners for Hoover and the AT&T desk and Princess line phones, the round thermostat for Honeywell (cloned by Nest though still in use). He lead the forefront of American industrial for decades until his death in 1972.
Dreyfuss’s name has a second “s” because his family were German Jews. French Jews Julia Louis Dreyfus of Seinfeld and Veep fame have just one. He was born on March 2, 1904, New York City, little else is known about his parents or family. A glaring oversight, he is not part of the Jones 1000.
At the Start
In 1921 at Dreyfuss designed sets for stage presentations at a Broadway motion-picture theatre by 1927 a store commissioned him to study its merchandise, assess its attractiveness, and make drawings indicating improvements that the manufacturers could make. He made the study but refused to undertake the design because disagree with his overguiding approach — that design is part of the process and not “paste” on design afterwards; most notably Steve Jobs of Apple agreed.
Industrial designers were often trained traditionally as architects, now called the visual arts profession, and now work as part of a larger creative team. That was not true in Dreyfuss’s time where he typically worked alone, and brought his designs to the manufacturing & marketing teams for review. His concern was to to produce products where “form followed function” as in the credo of the great American architect Louis Sullivan (born September 2 1856 Boston, Massachusetts) and his famed student Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8 1867 Wisconsin)
Unlike Sullivan and Wright, Dreyfuss worked mainly on appliances or “things” and not buildings. Nonetheless, he kept the same idea of the Chicago School in mind — that the designs while stressing utility should be pleasing so that people would use and enjoy them. He said that “when the point of contact between the product and people becomes a point of friction, then the industrial designer has failed.”
His book The Measure of Man contains extensive data on the human body and its movements. His approach to industrial design is described in his book Designing for People(1955, 2nd ed. 1967). An important theorist in the field of human-factors engineering, or ergonomics, Designing for People published also that year, discusses his service-(focal determinator Moon in the 6th house of service and serving) oriented philosophy.
On Oct. 5, 1972, Dreyfuss, along with his wife cum business partner, Doris Marks Dreyfuss, died of carbon monoxide poisoning from the fumes of their car parked the garage of their Pasadena California home. They had left a left explaining their actions so homicide would not be suspected. They requested their family doctor be notified and witness their bodies. The Dreyfuss’s reasoning was Doris’s terminal illness, found the sympathetic Pisces (Pisces 27 rising “a harvest moon”) in affinity with her pain and heart sick over her coming loss; they had 3 children.
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