What is it About Eames Design Anyway?

design, exhibitions, inspirational people

Charles and Ray Eames seem to have come up in my posts a lot lately – about their documentaries and that time Ice Cube had something to say about them. What’s the big deal about them anyway? Weren’t they just some high-end, mid-century furniture designers? Isn’t this a graphic design blog? Who cares about furniture?

Photo from the Herman Miller website.

Well, lesser known today, but just as important in their body of work and contributions to American design, is the graphic design and exhibition work of the Eames. To familiarize yourself with the graphic and exhibit design work, I would start with Mathematica, the 1961 exhibition commissioned by IBM. Though the actual typography is now fairly dated, they managed to use text and flat image on varying levels to create 3D space and multiple-tiered informational systems. The wide use of floor, ceiling and wall space brought a depth of information that was sure to capture the attention of viewers of all interest levels.

This image and more information on Mathematica found in the Exhibit Files.

And then there are the patterns. Oh the patterns. If you’ve ever stepped into an Ikea, you have seen knock offs and ideas inspired by the Eames patterns in many of their textiles.

This image is not from Ikea, but is from Blik Wall Decals.
Beautifully organic yet graphically simple shapes. Easily translated and understood on any scale. We can learn a lot about scale and line weight restrictions from these versatile shapes for use in our age of technology dictating graphically usable space.

And the furniture has inspired graphic designers from all walks of life.


A quick Etsy search of “Eames chair” turns up only 74 furniture options, but 200 art options, including the one by Jan Skacelik above. The simple yet bold colors, textures and lines attract artists and viewers from both ends of the spectrum. The one above is labeled for a baby room – startin’ ’em early! I think it’s the versatility of the Eames work and the simple resourcefulness that continues to inspire people.

Lastly, I have to mention the films of Charles and Ray Eames. Some are childlike in tone and content, but I believe this was just another experimental method they tested to explain their philosophy and ideas to the masses. They’re fun. You definitely finish the films feeling the love and inspiration they had for design, not to mention for each other. I especially love the film for Eero Saarinen about Dulles Airport expansion. Order the films at Eames Office or catch them on Netflix. Dated, sure, but cutting edge for their time and still unique and thought provoking today.


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