Why Eames Designs are Laboratory Tested Posted June 29, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff
Charles and Ray were so dedicated to service and performance that they encouraged their first partner, Herman Miller, to open a permanent Technical Center for ongoing product testing.
In 1958, the first Technical Center opened at the Herman Miller plant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. After explaining to Herman Miller management why there was the need for such a facility, Charles and Ray helped craft the mission statement, which was “to re-prove the validity of a design with regard to efficient production and to re-prove the engineering of a design. In addition to this task, the Technical Center puts every product in the Herman Miller collection through exhaustive tests in order to detect any flaws which could ultimately cause a breakdown in the product under normal and hard usage.”
Herman Miller embraced the idea of a Technical Center, and over the years, they expanded it. Below is a 1959 photograph of an Eames Aluminum Group Chair undergoing particularly vigorous testing.
Three years after the Technical Center opened, the husband-and-wife team started working on the Eames Tandem Sling Seating. Progressive Architecture magazine interviewed Charles to discuss the development of his and Ray’s new design,* and asked him supply some design drawings for the article. Instead, Charles provided this cartoon by Eames Office staff member Glen Fleck, which celebrated the many tests that the Eameses applied to the product.
Eames Tandem Sling Seating was part of the original furnishings of Dulles International Airport (pictured below), serving the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. It is still being used there 54 years later. It provides great service and long-lasting performance and therefore is used in hundreds of airports all across the globe, supplied by Vitra in Europe and the Middle East, and by Herman Miller in the United States and the rest of the world.
At the 1951 Aspen Design Conference, Charles gave a talk about the relationship of a designer to industry. He emphasized the very reason that product testing is so important.
“A consumer product may be so loaded with shelf-appeal that its victory over competition is immediate, up to and including the point of sale. But its true value will not be known until the consumer takes it home and lives with it. Then, one of two things will usually happen. If after he has gotten it home the object becomes a rich and contributing part of his life, it will take on a beauty and receive a love far, far greater than that which caused it to be picked from the shelf. If, however, in the proving laboratory of the consumer’s home the object proves a fraud or fails in a great degree to perform, it will inevitably take on a sick kind of ugliness—all the more so for its pretense to be beautiful. Nothing could be worse, or more deserved, for the conscious manufacturer than a switch” (An Eames Anthology, 97-99).
Charles and Ray’s way of putting this concept into practice was to help Herman Miller establish a Technical Center. Testing provides designers with information that they can use to make their products, in Charles’ words, “unassailable in the marketplace.” It maximizes the quality of experience the consumer will have with a product. You can read a detailed description of the tests Herman Miller currently applies by clicking here.
*Read the Progressive Architecture interview with Charles in An Eames Anthology, pages 232-237.