Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Ancient World of Modern Design

Charles and Ray Eames were a husband and wife team, a pair of powerhouse designers whose influence on design in general and modernism in specific is both significant and enduring. Many of their designs are still best-sellers, still pinnacles of modernism. They also produced and directed several dozen short films, some of which I saw this summer at a mini-festival inside a Design Within Reach store. I blogged about it at the time.

Seeing the films at the DWR store motivated me to rent the complete collection (six discs) of the Eames film oeuvre, and I've been watching them from time to time. (Always looking for inspiration on more effective ways of communicating a message.) In addition to some fascinating short films introducing mathematical concepts to young people, tonight's disc included "the fiberglass chairs: something of how they get the way they are". Although the film was made in 1970, it's fascinating to see how the world of how designs are created and shared, and then brought into physical reality has changed in 36 years. There are no computers in the film -- drawings are created using compasses, protractors and French curves. Workers pull raw fiberglass blanks from the forming molds by hand. Color is poured into the fibers from small pans filled with paint. Handwork is present at almost every step of the process.

On one hand, I can see how technologies in the worlds of design and manufacturing have greatly increased productivity. On the other, there is a certain nostalgia associated with watching things of beauty being formed in such a physically immediate fashion. The hands-on nature of creating something real simply permeates this film, and is what made it vastly compelling to me.

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