Why Did Charles and Ray Eames Make Models? Posted June 7, 2016 by Daniel Ostroff

Charles and Ray Eames created models of every element of their designs. The discipline of modeling was part of their process, whether they were making furniture or communicating ideas.

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This Eames drawing, often referred to as the Design Diagram, was created for a 1969 exhibition at the Louvre entitled, What is Design?  Charles and Ray mailed it to the exhibition curator to augment their answers to a series of questions she had posed.

Before selecting this final version, the couple made seven different diagrams with varying graphic elements. (See all the drawings in the gallery below, and learn more about them in An Eames Anthology, 282-283.)

Charles and Ray took modeling very seriously, with a discipline not unlike that of scientists testing numerous formulas to find the right one. They made models in the same size and of the same material as they intended to use in the final product. Drawing the design diagram on paper was obviously low cost, but the Eameses’ commitment to modeling could be quite expensive if they planned on making the final design in a material such as aluminum.

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Charles and Ray created the Eames Aluminum Group Chair in 1958. As part of the design process, they made 13 different cast aluminum variations of the antler-shaped seat support. When they ended up choosing the first one they’d designed for the final product, an Eames Office model maker complained to Charles that the other 12 had been unnecessary and a needless expense. Charles demurred, and pointed out that without making and testing all 13, they would not have known that they had best one.

Given the couples’ dedication to a learning-by-doing process, it’s not surprising that Eames designs, in both seating and communications, still work for us today.

A print of Charles and Ray’s Design Diagram is available in the Eames Shop. The Eames Aluminum Group Chair, with its original antler design, is available from our longtime partners, Herman Miller and Vitra.

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