Henry Dreyfuss

Henry Dreyfuss FIDSA is a past President of the IDSA (1965) and the organization recognizes him as one of their Chairmen Emeriti, they have a concise but thorough biography of Henry Dreyfuss in their site (IDSA, 1975), and it covers his work from the nineteen twenties to his death in 1972, touching companies and brands such as Bell Laboratories, General Electric, Hoover, Honeywell, Polaroid and the Deere & Company among others. He is a large corporation, large project designer and had a huge impact in the design profession in the United States. Deere & Company was founded in 1837, it is a well-known design-oriented company, in an area where some would argue design would not be a core function (farm equipment). An in-house design service for graphic design was established around the turn of the century, and hired Henry Dreyfuss as a design consultant for its tractors in 1936. In 1957 William Hewitt (President from 1955 to 1964), hired Eero Saarinen to design their new headquarters in Moline IL, a building that still stands today as one of Eero’s finest functional buildings, but by then henry Dreyfuss had been working with Deere & Company for 25 years, in its products, facilities, even stationary, he was the one to suggest Eero to William Hewitt . In research carried out by Peter Lawrence, President of the Corporate Design Foundation in 1987, Gordon Millar, Vice President of Engineering for Deere & Company, explained the role of Henry Dreyfuss in the organization:

Now the coordination of form and function and styling is handled through the Dreyfuss Organization. They serve as a consultant but it’s a very powerful role because nobody fools around much with what they recommend, although there is’ not a corporate edict saying they have to be used.  

The relationship works in a very positive way and we have an exceptionally fine and long-standing relationship with them. It started out with Henry Dreyfuss, through our Chairman’s office, and he influenced the motivation in our company to a greater degree, not only in style and form and colour and things of that nature but in pressing the limits of technology for our class of equipment. He was very much in favour of that and did an awful lot to foster that within our company. His associates have carried on in that tradition.

The advantage of it at the beginning was because we were so very much decentralized. To show you how far it went, we were so decentralized that one engineering department couldn’t get into another engineering department without a special pass. So, this (using Dreyfuss) was a way by which the top officer, our Chairman, could influence the design of the product and that was why it was so terribly powerful at the beginning… It provides a dimension you don’t have when you have a captive organization … They do provide a basis for the family resemblance of our machines through­out the world … and in years gone by they clearly provided a communications function.

Henry Dreyfuss began his formal studies as a 16-year-old scholarship recipient in New York where he took classes taught by designer Norman Bel Geddes, an early leader of the streamlining design movement. After making some money he travelled to Paris and north Africa, he was then hired by Macy’s to redesign poorly selling merchandise in New York City, but quit his job almost as he started and in the early nineteen thirties he opened his own design studio. Recently the Deere & Company published an article about the work of Henry Dreyfus with them, entitled ‘The Future According to Henry Dreyfuss’ 2020 9John Deere Journal 2020), in it they state that “Dreyfuss learned about people, their tendencies, their fears, their reservations, their ambitions, and their unbridled enthusiasm. He used those learnings to make the world more beautiful, and functional, through the products people interacted with every day”. Henry Dreyfuss worked with Deere & Company for 36 years, in 1972 at his memorial service, William Hewitt stated that about Dreyfuss that “Henry did more than improve the design of our machines, I have in mind a great many different ways in which he added significantly to the quality of our corporate performance. His contribution was so broad and deep that I can only refer to it… Henry re-designed our trademark, our graphics, and our corporate letterheads; he revamped our packaging of parts, helped improve our advertising and our corporate films, and often assisted in the selection of oil paintings, tapestries, and sculpture for our Administrative Center.”

His Title: The hidden persuader.

A phrase to remember: “People will more readily accept something new, we feel, if they recognize in it something out of the past,…most of us have a nostalgia for old things. Our senses quickly recognize and receive pleasure when a long-forgotten detail is brought back.”

Three qualities: Overarching, Detailed, Nostalgic