Take Your Pleasure Seriously Posted January 31, 2020 by Marlow Hoffman

Charles and Ray Eames shared many principles that we can take to heart. These principles shaped how the couple lived, worked, and approached just about any challenge that came their way.

Learn by doing, the Eameses suggested. Innovate as a last resort. Be willing to fail (in order to succeed). Iterate, iterate, iterate. Of Charles and Ray’s many philosophies, this may be the most important: “Take your pleasure seriously.” At a glance, one might read this superficially, interpreting it to mean, “Carve out time in your life to have fun.” But the idea goes far deeper than that. It means choosing work that you enjoy. It means doing a deep dive—taking the time to delve into your pursuits and explore them fully. It’s an encouragement to analyze objects, ideas, problems, and subjects from every angle with a playful, exploratory openness that allows you to reap the joys of the process.

Consider Charles’s 1933 trip to Mexico. He traveled there with little but the clothes on his back and a few art supplies. He hoped to regroup and find himself. Though he didn’t speak Spanish, he spent ten months on his own exploring remote towns, encountering friendly people, and soaking up the new landscape. He took in the markets and festivals, the small mountain churches, and big blue skies. Although he earned a bit of money through manual labor and selling his watercolors, he often went to bed hungry.

Charles’s time in Mexico was clarifying and brought what was important to him to the forefront: “At least, damn it, you’re not afraid to be broke!” When Charles returned home, he resolved never to take any job that he didn’t enjoy.

Thirty years later, he and Ray still maintained this philosophy. The Eames Office was known for taking its pleasure seriously. The couple only took on projects that were of interest to them, and once they signed on, they gave that endeavor their all.

In the late 1960s, an architectural firm commissioned the Eames Office to design exhibitions, graphics, films, and related materials for a proposed National Fisheries Center and Aquarium in Washington, D.C. Charles and Ray didn’t think hypothetically about the best way to care for an aquarium; instead, they put one right in their office for the first-hand experience.

They also went to the ocean to study various sea creatures and organisms. They gathered source materials. They took photographs, wrote notes, and collected specimen.

To give a sense of what they envisioned for this project, the Eames Office created a booklet as well as a film that showed the proposed location for the national aquarium, described the architectural plans, and led viewers through a model of galleries and exhibits. Charles and Ray had a profound respect “for anything that, through the hard work and discipline of the creator, led to an effortless and spontaneous experience for the user,” says the book An Eames Primer. This concept is one of the reasons the couple worked so hard to make a mere proposal come to life.

The examples of how Charles and Ray took their pleasure seriously are endless. That’s because the concept permeated everything they did. Each chair they designed—and each improvement applied to a product already in production—exhibited this notion. It didn’t matter if they were focusing on a film about toy trains, an exhibition about two of our most famous presidents, or spreading out a delectable picnic for friends to savor. The joy, the reward, the meat of the matter, resided within the process of fully pursuing something they loved.

Charles once said, “We worked very hard at that—enjoying ourselves. We didn’t let anything interfere with what we were doing—our hard work. That in itself was a great pleasure.”