This blog is from Danielle Charlap, our Associate Curator.
Whenever I take groups through the Designing Home: Jews and Midcentury Modernism exhibition, everyone shares a knowing look when we get to Henry Dreyfuss. Whether or not visitors recognize Dreyfuss’s name, they certainly recognize his designs. We are lucky to have four of his products on display: the Honeywell Thermostat (c. 1953), Big Ben Alarm Clock (1939), Princess Phone (c. 1959), and Oxford Sink (1945).
Dreyfuss was incredibly committed to making modern design user-friendly. To better understand how humans interacted with products, Dreyfuss studied the body and movement. He even created two graphical representations he named Joe and Josephine whose measurements were based on his research. He used this information to think about how to make products as ergonomic and practical as possible for their owners.
We see Dreyfuss’s user-centered approach reflected in his thermostat and phone design. Trying to help homeowners avoid unsightly crooked thermostat installations, Dreyfuss thought to make the thermostat round. This shape also comfortably fit in the user’s hand for easy thermostat adjustments. And not only did Dreyfuss’s Princess phone have a light-up dial to make it easier to see, but the same number dial could also be used as a night light. No wonder these products have remained popular for so long!