Powerful Design

The Eameses created the future we’re still living. What is the next generation of designers predicting?

When word came that Lucia Eames, daughter of Charles and stepdaughter of Ray, was willing to be interviewed by Metropolis, I was ecstatic. I had long hoped for this. When we met several years ago I was immediately charmed by her candor, lack of pretense, and knowledge of design. I knew she’d share valuable, indeed essential, information on the work and lives of two people who inspired designers everywhere. I once met an industrial designer from Leningrad (before the USSR disappeared and the city reverted back to St. Petersburg), who defiantly proclaimed that her hero was and will always be an American, Eames.

I’m not sure I told Lucia this, but a few years before we met I visited the house in Pacific Palisades built during her college years. As I approached from the driveway and caught a glimpse of that small, gleaming box, which had been seared onto my retina from years of looking at pictures of it, I had to fight to catch my breath. It was then that I understood why that Soviet designer was such a fan, why she had joined the ranks of countless others who have become Eames admirers—a state that can lead to endless mimicry and a general stagnation in design expression.

But, of course, that’s not what the Eameses were about. They were, as Lucia told us, about finding “joy and rigor between work and play.” They were about invention, about restless inquiry; they had an irrepressibly optimistic, American world-view. They were about connecting ideas and design disciplines to one another; they reached for the stars while exploring the earth they walked on. They were, in short, people who will endlessly inspire us, and challenge us to be better than we are.

As we planned the interview with Lucia, to mark the formation of the Eames Foundation set up to preserve the house and work of Charles and Ray for many years to come, we were also creating our annual look into the future. You may have noticed that we like to start each year with ideas that are at the cutting edge of design thinking, not pie in the sky speculations but work that is about to shape the way we experience our world.

As we plotted our predictions, we realized that we happened on an Eamesian Powers of Ten scenario. Just as that remarkable film took an unsentimental journey—with stops at various scales from the universe to the molecule—so our predictions go from space travel to nanotechnology and points in between. The graphic symbols we use to identify each shift in scale help illustrate Charles Eames’s observation, “Everything connects.”

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