Fifteen Things Charles and Ray Eames Teach Us

Ray Eames on the front cover of 15 Things Charles and Ray Eames Teach Us

I’m a huge fan of Charles and Ray Eames.  Not just their furniture and design, but their philosophy on life; especially their insights into human perception, understanding, and knowledge.Perhaps most appealing is how they carried out their life’s work with elegance, wit, and beauty.

Charles and Ray believed that industrial design could improve people’s lives; I believe the same thing about urban design.  Indeed, I see the two as interrelated.  While the following list is meant to look at the design of object, many, if not all can also be applied to designing good places; and ultimately, great cities:


1.  Keep good company

The artists, the designers,the writers, the architects, the painters, the business minds who sanctified the profession, brought respect to the craft through their actions and work.


2.  Notice the ordinary

… the plain, the commonplace, the mundane make a far more wonderful cast of characters than we give them credit for.


3.  Preserve the ephemeral

…the importance of preserving ephemeral moments that would otherwise slip away. Forever lost.


4.  Design not for the elite but for the masses

“The motivation behind most of the things we’ve done was we wanted to give them to someone else.”


5.  Explain it to a child

…not in a textbook way, but through experience.


6.  Get lost in the content

The tougher the subject, the more ardently they pursued it.


7.  Get to the heart of the matter

Take it or leave it, they seem to say. The idea speaks for itself.


8.  Never tolerate “O.K. anything.”

The Eameses fought for good design, not just in their own work, but in the work of others.


9. Remember your responsibility as a storyteller

George Nelson had selected the Eameses to create this story of America, on behalf of the U.S. government, for the first cultural exchange with the Russian people since the Bolshevik Revolution.


10.  Zoom out

[see] frameworks not as confining constructs, but as a playful means to understanding our world.


11. Switch

Was it that the Eameses were more talented, or merely less focused on the rules of the game?


12. Prototype it

We see their obsession with testing every detail… One idea at a time.


13.  Pun:

Charles borrows the sound of some words, and slams them against the initials of another.


14.  Make design your life… and life, your design.

finding fuel in the process of discovery…


15.  Leave something behind.

And you realize what a legacy they left behind-whether intentionally or not-as it lives through the people they touched and worked with.

Excerpts from an essay by Keith Yamashita (PDF)

Charles Eames on the back cover of 15 Things Charles and Ray Eames Teach Us


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Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.

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