History Lesson

A fresh look at Charles Eames’s answer to the question,

Charles and Ray Eames believed in an interactive design process. The famous Eames diagram drawn by Charles and shown in the 1969 exhibition Qu’est-ce que le Design? (What is Design?), at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, illustrates the subtle layers of overlap intregal to their work.

In describing the diagram Charles once said, “We have founded a very helpful strategy to restrict our own work to subjects that are of genuine interest to us and of equal interest to the client. If we were to work on things or in ways that we knew were not legitimate concerns to both of us, we probably would not be serving our clients or ourselves very well.

“Throughout the work for various clients, the unifying force is common interest, plus a preoccupation with structure, which comes from looking at all problems as architectural ones. The diagram also includes a critical changing area that represents the concerns of society as a whole. None of these areas are static. As client and designer get to know each other, they influence each other. As society’s needs become more apparent, both client and designer expand their own personal concerns to meet these needs.” Conference speaker and Herman Miller marketing manager John Berry suggested a fresh look at Eames’s conceptual diagram, which is part of the Herman Miller Eames archives.

In a filmed interview done for the Paris exhibition, Eames shed light on the clean, sharp thinking that helped produce the conceptual diagram. (Excerpts from the interview are below.)

Is design an expression of art?
I would rather say it’s an expression of purpose.
It may, if it is good enough, later be judged as art.

What are the boundaries of design?
What are the boundaries of problems?

Is it a method of general expression?
No, it is a method of action.

What is your definition of “design,” Monsieur Eames?
One could describe design as a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.

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