Charles and Ray Eames: User Experience Extraordinaires

If you are a mid-century furniture buff (or you just like watching Mad Men, visiting Apartment Therapy, or have a Pinterest account), you probably know the name Eames.

Or if you don’t know the name, you know the look:

Eames molded plastic chairs
via Herman Miller

Yup, that Eames.

Well if you are a bit of a neophyte, to furniture design such as I, what you may not have realized was the name Eames actually refers to two people – the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames, who collaborated on nearly all the amazing design work for which they are known.

I recently watched the documentary Eames: The Architect and the Painter, which was an OK film — but what I found particularly interesting was some of the insights on their philosophy on how art and life are intertwined.

My knowledge of Eames design was limited to furniture, but over the course of the documentary I discovered that their contributions extended to far greater reaches.

Charles once said, “eventually, everything connects” — architecture, furniture, film, toys, photography, exhibitions — all of their work is tied together as part of the Eames experience. Eames the “brand” signified creativity, innovation, but most importantly there was no sense of elitism.

They believed in an egalitarian approach of wanting to bring the best, to the most, for the least (their partnership with Herman Miller was an example of that) — no doubt providing direct inspiration to companies like IKEA. Through their careers, they worked with the biggest companies of the day (IBM, the US Bicentennial Commission, even the US government itself, for the American National Exhibition in 1959 in Soviet Russia) on the most ambitious projects. They were creative powerhouses who never felt that they were “selling out” by working with the Man — it was simply the best way to bring joy and beauty to the widest audience possible.

Charles also once said that “design is the appropriate combination of materials in order to solve a problem,” and that’s what Eames design is all about — solving a problem, whether the problem is how to make a comfortable chair out of plywood, or how to convey the spirit of America in a sincere way to Russians during the Cold War. Consider the Eameses as user experience extraordinaires.

If anything, this film gave me a new appreciation for the Eames name and the thinking that went behind some of the greatest designs in the last 100 years.

Watch the trailer for “Eames: The Architect and the Painter”: