In 1951, Charles and Ray Eames held a tea ceremony at their Pacific Palisades home with a whimsical mix of guests including sculptor Isamu Noguchi, poet Iris Tree, and actors Charlie Chaplin and Ford Rainey. Japanese actress and singer Shirley Yamaguchi participated in the event as a student. The tea master, Shizuye Sosei Matsumoto, was teaching Yamaguchi how to perform the tea ceremony for the film “East Is East.” Like everything done by the Eameses, the ceremony was a spirited artistic statement—a singular experience impossible to replicate.
The singularity of the experience recalls the Japanese saying “Ichi-go ichi-ye,” which in essence means “one time, one meeting.” Eames Demetrios, grandson of Charles Eames and head of the Eames Foundation, took this phrase to heart when considering a reenactment of the original ceremony. He and members of the Eames Foundation, tasked with preserving and restoring the Eameses’ home, thought reenacting the ceremony would be a compelling way to raise money for repairing the home’s floors.
Advancements come in all shapes and sizes. Some are big ideas, like the suspension material of the Aeron Chair that replaced the foam and fabric typical to so many office chairs. Others are smaller advancements, resulting in an improved process, or, in this case, a better way to build a chair.
A recent advancement on our SAYL Chair assembly line is saving time, money, and nearly 25,000 pounds of packaging materials a year. How? By developing reusable packaging, we’ve eliminated handling steps and material waste. Previously, the Y-Towers of the SAYL Chair were bundled, boxed, wrapped, and shipped to the facility with the assembly line. Upon arrival, the towers were unboxed, placed on a cart, and moved to the line. Now the Y-Towers simply arrive ready for assembly.
It’s part of our culture to look for advancements, whether they’re the Aeron Chair or a new way to package parts.
When Ray Eames entered this textile design in a 1947 competition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, she titled the print “Brown and Black Free Shapes on a White Ground.”
One might find the title a bit uninspiring, in light of the whimsical, other worldly creatures vacillating across the fabric. But considering Ray’s background in Expressionist painting—she trained with Hans Hofmann—the title makes perfect sense. Ray would have been more concerned with the basics of shape, color, and scale. And, perhaps, she would have expected others to be more impressed with her execution of these elements than with the vibrancy and character of her “Sea Things”— the name by which the textile is commonly known.
Whether you are compelled by the brilliance of her abstract composition or by her fanciful creatures, one thing is clear. “Sea Things” is yet another example of the creative, playful, and colorful mind of Ray Eames.
Bill Stumpf once said, “I know this sounds terribly self serving, but I design for myself. Who else am I going to know better than me?”
The outcome of Stumpf’s self-described “selfishness”? Empathic designs that can help everyone feel better as they work.
Stumpf and design partner Jeff Weber turned their own problems with the lack of physical harmony between themselves and their computers into a solution that benefits people who sit all day at a computer. The resulting designs—the Embody Chair and the Envelop Desk—work together to support the wrists, back, and eyes as the sitter moves through a range of postures. This concept, which we call concordance, helps people stay healthy and aligned as they work.
Asked how to measure a designer’s impact on society, Bruce Burdick, a designer himself, replied: “A designer’s influence on public opinion comes down to how the public utilizes their designs. They influence people’s perceptions of what a car, a desk, your clothing, or your house can be.” To this he added, “It’s the highest order of design to squeeze function and pleasure together so tightly that a person cannot separate them.”
Burdick established his reputation by pioneering the use of computers in exhibition design. Two of his exhibits, one on nutrition and the other on economics, are on permanent display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
For Herman Miller, Burdick challenged the very notion of what people thought office furniture could be. By designing a flexible system based on a central rail, Burdick allowed various elements—display, storage, work surfaces, and ergonomic tools—to be arranged and rearranged, creating infinite configurations and responding to individual ways of working. Named the Burdick Group, the system was ahead of its time and earned Burdick recognition from the Institute of Business Designers, the Industrial Designers Society of America, and Time magazine.
Today, the Burdick Group Dining Table is part of the Herman Miller Collection.