Professor wins prestigious international design award

Author: Tom Coyne

Design EdlefsonExamples of Brian Edlefson's design work for furniture maker Herman Miller.

Edlefson Headshot 600Brian Edlefson

Brian Edlefson, a Notre Dame assistant professor of visual communication design, has won a prestigious international award for his design work showing how people can adjust their office furniture to shape their work environments.

Edlefson won an iF Design Award for user adjustment information he created for furniture maker Herman Miller. Edelfson’s design was selected by a 58-member jury of the iF International Forum Design in Hannover, Germany, from more than 5,500 entries submitted from 59 countries.

The award recognizes Edlefson for his “systemic, user-friendly approach to conveying complicated information” using hang tags attached to furniture to show how to make adjustments, as well as to provide information online for people who prefer to use a computer or a smartphone. Edlefson did the award-winning work through Thesis, Inc., the design consultancy he co-founded in St. Joseph, Michigan.

“This honor is very exciting, because it’s global in scope and extremely rigorous,” he said. “There are few academic journals on design, so this is a fantastic opportunity to be recognized by your peers.”

Herman Miller asked Edlefson to devise a way to inform architects, interior designers, and consumers about the ergonomic advantages of their products.

“There was a need to help a user sitting in the chair know how to adjust it to best suit them, because everybody wants to be comfortable when they're working,” he said. “It makes them more productive and eliminates long-term health problems.

“So they came to me and said, ‘We have these well-designed, well-regarded products, and people don't know how to use them correctly.’”

He hopes the award draws attention to Notre Dame’s design programs, which added three new faculty members this year — Edlefson, Scott Shim, and Neeta Verma. The Department of Art, Art History, and Design offers undergraduate and graduate programs in industrial design and visual communication design as well as a new design-thinking-focused minor in collaborative innovation.

In his classes, Edlefson plans to use his award-winning design project as an example of how to talk to multiple audiences and communicate without using language.

Edlefson, who received his BFA from Western Michigan University and his MFA from Yale University, said his Notre Dame design students have been incredibly impressive and interested in the interdisciplinary applications of design.

“They are really bright and curious about other areas that they inevitably bring to their design classes,” he said. “They may have a passion for literature or theatre or some other aspect that they’ve gotten while being at Notre Dame that then influences the path they take in design.”