Symptoms of Creativity Posted April 14, 2015 by Daniel Ostroff

While working on An Eames Anthology: Articles, Film Scripts, Interviews, Letters, Notes and Speeches, I encountered many interesting surprises, a few of which are included in the book.

For example, in June 1968, Charles Eames sent a letter to A. C. Spectorsky, Editorial Director of Playboy magazine. He was responding to Playboy’s request for 100 words on “sources of creativity.” I was not surprised that Charles took up Playboy’s theme in a way that reflected his own suspicion of “creativity.” He offered them this:

“Here are the one hundred words on sources or symptoms of creativity–I’ve often suspected that it must take a good case of the guilts to keep the creative types going at the rate they do–but one thing is certain–the really creative ones are much more at home with the restraints that surround their work than they are with the freedoms. Even when the restraints are not apparent they are apt to concoct some special ones as a guide. They are also absolute whizzes at finding neat relationships between what might seem to be extremely dissimilar events–an art which punsters, poets, painters and scientists appear to have in common.”

Charles and Ray Eames often emphasized that the real secret of design was in carefully identifying and working within constraints.

In their defining 1969 essay, Design Q&A, they stated very simply that, “Design is the sum of all constraints.”

They derived this insight from their observation of the history of great art, design, and architecture, which was produced under conditions of limited resources, and without electricity, plastics, or computers. They delivered this message at a time when designers and artists had too much freedom with new materials and new technology—our time.

You can read this letter and many more previously unpublished texts in An Eames Anthology.

Eames Playboy

Left to right, featured in this 1961 Playboy magazine photograph, are George Nelson, Edward Wormley, Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames, and Jens Risom.