Niels Diffrient, who died of cancer on June 8th, had an obituary published on Sunday in the New York Times. While reading about the remarkable products designed by Diffrient in his long career as an industrial designer, a quote from his wife caught our eye:
“He had two books, the Sears Roebuck catalog and the Bible,” Ms. Hernmarck said of his early childhood. “The Bible didn’t interest him, but the Sears Roebuck catalog — that immediately interested him.
Mr. Diffrient spent hours drawing his own versions of items from the catalog. Two decades later, after Mr. Diffrient had attended art school, he applied his interest in consumer products as an assistant to the architect and designer Eero Saarinen, who hired him to help design chairs for Knoll.
It seems the Sears catalogue sparked the creativity of Mr. Diffrient as a child in much the same way it did for storyteller Harry Crews, who passed away a year ago. The idealism of the catalogue’s designs, as well as its plenitude of products, must have been striking to behold for people who lived in rural areas during the early twentieth century.