David Huff

1931 - 2014

David Huff, Professor Emeritus of Marketing and Geography at the University of Texas at Austin, and giant in the field of applied geography, passed away on August 15, 2014, aged 83.

David L. Huff was born in 1931 in McMinnville, TN, then spent an idyllic boyhood on Lake Oswego, OR. At first he struggled to find a college or career that held his interest, trying many jobs and five undergraduate universities, plus a stint in the Army.

His academic motivation and interest was finally sparked at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA, at a time when quantitative geography was just emerging. Throughout the time of his MBA and PhD, he was strongly influenced by early analytical economic geographers and early quantitative sociologists, game theorists and rational choice theorists. He emerged from this exciting time in graduate school as a holistic quantitative social scientist. His doctoral thesis work from 1959 to 1962 in modeling trips to shopping centers and stores was published in 1963.

Huff’s first teaching position was at UCLA where he was very quickly promoted to tenure as a business and marketing professor because of his early accomplishments. It was here in 1964 that he developed the Huff Model to forecast market share and retail attractiveness. It is based on the premise that when a person is confronted with a set of alternatives, the probability that any particular item will be selected is directly proportional to the perceived utility of each alternative.

The model is an excellent example of a bridge between geography and business. It soon entered the textbooks and was used by academicians and practitioners throughout the world. Its popularity and longevity can be attributed to its conceptual appeal, relative ease of use, and applicability to a wide range of problems, of which predicting consumer spatial behavior is the most commonly known.

For the last 50 years the Huff Model has been taught in courses across marketing, economic geography, economics, retail research, urban planning and decision theory. It has been widely used by market analysts and planners to locate convenience stores, shopping malls, and other types retail establishments. It continues to be the standard model for the industry and is now incorporated into GIS systems.

Among Huff’s other academic contributions were the application of multivariate graphic displays to market analysis, the formulation of objective measures for delineating market areas, the development of computerized systems to monitor economic activities geographically, and the derivation of planning regions for the geographic delivery of health care and economic services.

After UCLA Huff took a Fulbright Lectureship at the Université d’Aix-Marseille in France which started a life-long love of French culture. He then moved to the University of Kansas as Director of the Center for Regional Studies but this position did not allow him the time he needed to do basic research so he readily accepted an offer from the University of Texas to become Century Club Centennial Professor of Business Administration where he remained until retirement.

In addition to his work in academia, Huff consulted for dozens of agencies including the U.S. Department of Transportation, Resources for the Future, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Bureau of the Census, and National Endowment for the Arts, as well as for numerous state and regional offices. He has advised hundreds of business firms on various aspects of market area analysis. In 2003 he was invited by Esri to become a technical advisor, using his expertise to develop advanced predictive models and review existing analysis capability in Esri’s business analysis products and services.

During his academic career, Huff received numerous teaching awards and much prestigious professional recognition. For example, the AAG awarded him the James R. Anderson Medal in Applied Geography in 1988, and he was the recipient of the Distinguished Mentor Award from the National Council for Geographic Education in 1998 in recognition of his long history of successful mentoring of master’s and doctoral students.

David had remarkable standing in the profession. He was a man who loved his work, was always full of enthusiasm, and generous with his time and talent. He will be missed by many, not only colleagues and friends, but also business professionals and the whole applied geography industry.

He leaves behind his wife of 61 years, Suzanne, his children Nancy, Karen and David, as well as 10 grandchildren and a growing brood of great-grandchildren.