An Eames Anthology

Jun 2023

The book is collection of letters, notes, speeches, articles from and about Charles and Ray Eames.

The were contemporaries of Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and other modernist designers and architects. Unlike some of them, the Eames were not interested in creating a new style or being part of a movement. They were interested in solving problems and making things better.

Completing this book was unexpectedly bittersweet. It felt as though I had lived alongside these two wonderful people, immersed in their ideas.

Undoubtedly, it's a good book about the Eames family and their work. But more than that — it's a wonderful book about philosophy of design.

Many times they were able to capture the essence of what I believe in but don't have words for. Below are some of the pieces I liked the most.

The first step in design, that of determining the need, is a very hazardous undertaking. It is not simple, even the most sincere can easily confuse the actual need with the traditional idea of need and be led off on a hopeless tangent.
“Design today”, 1941
Design is a full time job.
“Advice for students”

I liked this short piece because I've been thinking the same for long. You can't just close your laptop and stop being a designer. The designer's approach to problem solving permeates his life. I don't know how it can be otherwise.

The objective is the simple thing of getting the best to the greatest number of people for the least.
Charles Eames to Eero Saarinen

This one is interesting because Herman Miller and Vitra (who are official distrubutor of Eames furniture in the US and Europe) price and sell their furniture as luxury items. One can even argue that replicas are closer to the original than what Herman Miller sells now.

Now, you may reuse something else, but if you do it sort of knowingly, as the best solution of that problem as you see it at the time, it's not a cliche. And anyone who would avoid using something just because it has been used before would be knowingly not creating the best solution, if in his mind he knew it was the best thing to do and he was not doing it because he knew it had been done before.
“Design today” speech, 1950
It would be nice if people improved on a piece of furniture when set out to copy it. Unfortunately, they are not usually concerned with quality.
“Charles Eames Says His Work is ‘Making Designs Better’”, 1960
To my mind crafts seem to suffer more from overdoses of originality in design rather than from lack of this.
“The making of a Craftsman”, 1957

The idea of design as a development of progressive sketches is romantic and not very accurate.

It is more an optimizing process that is apt to start from a series of hunches which are either developed or discared by purely intellectual means long before any skethch or model is made.

When these hunches finally begin to combine in such a way that they seem to satisfy more aspect of the problem than any one has a right to expect, then this is the beginning of a concept.

When the concept is formed it represents about 5 percent of the design effort — the remaining 95 percent of the effort being used to keep the concept from falling apart.

Ray Eames, Handwritten notes, 1964

And the best one is this Q&A with Charles Eames.