Design Today Should Be More Yesterday

17Jun07

Charles Eames was born 100 years ago today.

I was reminded of his life and work in a Toronto Star article marking this special anniversary. The author draws an analogy between the Eames’ fibreglass chair and the evolution of design in society. He points out that the Eameses were among the first designers to actively promote democratic design. He stresses their continual effort to minimize the cost of their furniture to achieve their desired goal. Even going as far to say that they viewed design as a moral duty: “to make affordable, quality products without sacrificing aesthetics.”

However in closing, he points out that Charles Eames lived to see his chairs being coveted as design icons, selling well above their original price. This made me think of the contrast in the perception of deisgn by the general public and designers. Where the Eameses viewed their work as democratic and serving a function, the public elevated it’s status because of its aesthetics. While this is okay (I understand the importance of aesthesis in creating successful design) it has led to some unfavourable consequences.

As exemplified in the article, today we embrace the work of designers like Karim Rashid. His work reflects the shift that has taken place because of more recent changes in society and design. Affordability is no longer a problem for designers; we can manufacture countless products at a minimal cost to the consumer. Affordability is now a problem because it has led to design for pure aesthetics. We still live in the age of design as an aesthetic.

If the Eameses taught us anything it’s that it is possible to design “affordable, quality products without sacrificing aesthetics”.  The fact that their work still remains relevant today is a testament to their vision. I doubt we will say the same for the majority of today’s affordable furniture.

Photo: Richard Winchell

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