The questions and answers below were the conceptual basis of the exhibition Qu’est ce que le design? (What is Design?) at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais de Louvre in 1972. Questions by Madame. L. Amic, answers by Charles and Ray Eames.
— What is your definition of 'Design’?
Finding a solution to a problem, exchanging ideas, learning from failures, making.
— Is Design an expression of art?
I think art and design are truly different expressions with lots of grey zones and intersections. I feel like a designer.
— Is Design a craft with an industrial purpose?
The industrial aspect seems secondary to me. It is foremost a craft or a profession for the people. How to approach people can be very different—an industrial process could be one way to reach them.
— What are the boundaries of Design?
For me, the definition of design is quite broad. Most problems can be interpreted as a design task. Nevertheless, this implies the risk of exploding the idea of design itself.
— Is Design a discipline that concerns only one part of the environment?
Certainly not. The field of design is so wide, it is interwoven with every aspect of our environment.
— Is it a method of general expression?
As it is always connected to the zeitgeist, design reflects the utopia of a certain era.
— Is Design a creation of an individual?
No, because it never exists in a confined space.
— Is Design a creation of a group?
Always, because even when working by oneself, one always relates to the works others have done before.
— Is there a Design ethic?
I really hope so. As many others, I do have one. Questions of sustainability and social aspects always influence my decisions.
— Does Design imply the idea of products that are necessarily useful?
It depends on how you interpret the term “useful”. An object can be used to let your thoughts wander, surprise you or make you think about a question.
— Can Design produce works that are solely reserved for pleasure?
I cannot think of an example of such an object or project. Even if something is seemingly free of meaning or thought, it is a reflection of society and can be pondered upon. In a dialectic way, this can even be the starting point and the driver for a solid work.
— Does the form derive from the analysis of the function?
I think form is a strong tool and a safe start for an analysis of the function which can certainly be interpreted in various ways. Functionality is a highly subjective term. In my work, I would usually replace the word function with “process” and start a process to let it evolve and define the shape.
— Can the computer replace the Designer?
— Does Design imply industrial manufacture?
No, as it does not even have to be tangible and doesn't need to be reproduced. I think this is not at all a characteristic of design.
— Is Design used to modify an old object through new techniques?
To keep producing meaningful work, you have to keep an eye on the latest possibilities, experiment and find new and better solutions through them. This can result in a modification of an existing object but it could also mean creating something totally new. The dialogue of old and new in various ways is highly relevant to me and goes beyond modification—it actually makes my work possible.
— Is Design used to modify an existing model so that it is more attractive?
I am always working on things with the idea of continuous improvement in mind. This idea is not specifically directed towards market value or sales numbers but quality. I do not really define these moments in my work as it would describe something accomplished or finished. I rather see it as an ongoing process in which one step potentially informs the next.
— Is Design an element of industrial policy?
It certainly is. But my approach for design is not connected to the corporate world and marketing strategies. I actually never used design in this way. I would rather use my work to connect to people with a similar mindset.
— Does creation admit constraints?
We need constraints. Within a frame, one can build physical and intangible structures that are much more meaningful than the ones one could create in an empty space. “Anything goes” leads to super boring design.
— Does Design obey any law?
There are certainly laws and rules that one can learn and follow to reach better results. This is something classic design education can teach you. But when this knowledge gets mixed up with feelings, senses and expression, then there's a thrill. Only mixture can produce results that truly touch me.
— Are there Design trends and schools ?
Yes, but I still do not know which school I belong to.
— Is Design ephemeral?
No. Quality is a value that lasts. In these times of rapid change, many things quickly lose their meaning as the context changes, but it does not take away their quality. They can still be seen as good design. Design that mainly follows trends and tendencies—which never seemed admirable to me—soon loses its meaning.
— Should Design shift towards being ephemeral or permanent?
I do not think that design necessarily has to remain in its original shape for a long time to be valuable. Durability should certainly be a desired characteristic for the designer. An object might change over time, adapt and grow, learn with its changing environment.
— How would you define yourself with respect to a decorator? an interior architect? a stylist?
None of these categories is something I would be good at.
— To whom does Design address itself: to the greatest number? to the specialists or the enlightened amateurs? to a privileged social class?
Apparently, my work addresses itself to a variety of people with very different backgrounds and interests. I like to work in these different contexts and meet truly inspiring people through my work. I do not have categories in mind of who I want my work to address itself to. According to me, being inclusive is a quality. Who to address myself to is never the starting point of my work. I work along the ideas and look for relevant processes in a given context.
— After answering all these questions, do you feel you have been able to practise the profession of ‘Design’ under satisfactory conditions, or even optimum conditions?
I am never really satisfied with my work. That helps me move forward. I know I can do better and I enjoy the journey.
— Have you been forced to accept compromises?
Often. And I have mixed feelings about it. There is a big difference between collaboration and compromise. Collaboration is usually fruitful and empowering, it certainly makes an idea stronger. Compromise can sometimes be harder to accept and less satisfying. I try not to compromise too much, especially when it affects quality.
— What do you feel is the primary condition for the practice of Design and for its propagation?
Make sure to ask the right questions and have proper feedback, keep in touch with people and stay curious. Avoid routine.
— What is the future of Design?
There will be many futures of design. In a networked society that has lost its sense of linearity and progress, there are many simultaneous realities with various tasks and reasons to be. I would wish for design to be a persistent power in a society that embraces originality, sensitivity and venturesomeness.