Even though Humanscale, the timeless infographic masterpiece created by human-driven design pioneers Henry Dreyfuss Associates, was originally intended for industrial designers, architects, and engineers, the only real requirement to use (or simply play with) this ingenious system of measurements is to be human.
A fascinating design gem with over 60,000 bits of ergonomic and human engineering statistics was meticulously—and we mean meticulously—designed by Niels Diffrient and Alvin R. Tilley in 1974, based on Dreyfuss’ The Measure of Man and Woman: Human Factors in Design (published in 1960). Unfortunately the original Humanscale manuals have been out of print since 1991, and existing relics, if you can even find one, are prohibitively expensive.
Fortunately, IA Collaborative, a global design and innovation consultancy (which works with clients such as Nike, FedEx, and United Airlines) is now reissuing Humanscale as one of the first projects in its new Ventures Program; and it’s working with the original printers to re-release the rare books at an affordable price, making them more accessible to professionals and students alike. 18 months ago, Dan Kraemer, IA’s founder and chief design officer, created the Ventures program as an “in-house incubator” to encourage entrepreneurial employees to pitch their own ideas, which is how designer Luke Westra and design researcher and strategist Nathan Ritter brought the Humanscale reissue project to life.
The manuals cover a wide range of information, including legibility principles, body measurements of women, men, and children, guidelines about sitting (and standing) at work, requirements for the handicapped and elderly, and much more in-depth human behavioral explorations. The aim is to help designers conceive, sketch, prototype, and create products to optimize human comfort and security, whether it’s an airplane cockpit or a rocking chair.
From a graphic designer’s perspective, Humanscale is a precious reference of pre-computer information design that ingeniously distills a complex range of data into an accessible and practical toolkit consisting of three separate sets, each comprising one booklet and three double-sided selectors. Each of these selectors contains a rotating disc with intricate and beautifully laid-out data that designers can move to set the attributes of the person they’re designing for.
With more and more emphasis being placed on user-driven design, these manuals are as timely as they are useful. “Design today has more influence than ever before,” says Kraemer. “It shapes our most important experiences. Humanscale has the power to ensure those experiences are human-centered.”
While some of the data has inevitably changed since the 1970s, most of the information is still surprisingly relevant today, and provides a valuable starting point for all designers—after all, the human body hasn’t changed that much in only a handful of decades. Humanscale joins the ranks of the Standards Manual’s acclaimed (and similarly crowdfunded) reissue of the NASA and NYC Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manuals, and the awaited reprint of the 1977 Environmental Protection Agency Graphic Standards System; and it’s the latest initiative in the commendable mission to democratize information and sustain human creativity by making valuable works by the people, easily available to the people, and for the people.
Support design history and back the reissue of Humanscale on Kickstarter.