Design by Charles Eames

A short film, made in 1972, that expresses Charles Eames’ approach to the design process.

Tom Kupka
Tom Kupka
Jul 9, 2016 · 3 min read

The questions are asked by Madame L’Amic of the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Palais de Louvre in Paris for the exhibition “Qu’est ce que le design?” — What is Design?


What is your definition of “Design”, Monsieur Eames?
One could describe Design as a plan for arranging elements to accomplish a particular purpose.

Is Design an expression of art?
I would rather say it’s an expression of purpose. It may, if it is good enough, later be judged as art.

Is Design a craft for industrial purposes?
No, but Design may be a solution to some industrial problems.

What are the boundaries of Design?
What are the boundaries of problems?

Is Design a discipline that concerns itself with only one part of the environment?

Is it a method of general expression?
No. It is a method of action.

Is Design a creation of an individual?
No, because to be realistic, one must always recognize the influence of those that have gone before.

Is Design a creation of a group?
Very often.

Is there a Design ethic?
There are always Design constraints, and these often imply an ethic.

Does Design imply the idea of products that are necessarily useful?
Yes, even though the use might be very subtle.

Is it able to cooperate in the creation of works reserved solely for pleasure?
Who would say that pleasure is not useful?

Ought form to derive from the analysis of function?
The great risk here is that the analysis may be incomplete.

Can the computer substitute for the Designer?
Probably, in some special cases, but usually the computer is an aid to the Designer.

Does Design imply industrial manufacture?
Not necessarily.

Is Design used to modify an old object through new techniques?
This is one kind of Design problem.

Is Design used to fit up an existing model so that it is more attractive?
One doesn’t usually think of Design in this way.

Is Design an element of industrial policy?
If Design constraints imply an ethic, and if industrial policy includes ethical principles, then yes — design is an element in an industrial policy.

Does the creation of Design admit constraint?
Design depends largely on constraints.

What constraints?
The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the few effective keys to the Design problem: the ability of the Designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible; his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time, and so forth. Each problem has its own peculiar list.

Does Design obey laws?
Aren’t constraints enough?

Are there tendencies and schools in Design?
Yes, but these are more a measure of human limitations than of ideals.

Is Design ephemeral?
Some needs are ephemeral. Most designs are ephemeral.

Ought Design to tend towards the ephemeral or towards permanence?
Those needs and Designs that have a more universal quality tend toward relative permanence.

How would you define yourself with respect to a decorator? an interior architect? a stylist?
I wouldn’t.

To whom does Design address itself: to the greatest number? to the specialists or the enlightened amateur? to a privileged social class?
Design addresses itself to the need.

After having answered all these questions, do you feel you have been able to practice the profession of “Design” under satisfactory conditions, or even optimum conditions?

Have you been forced to accept compromises?
I don’t remember ever being forced to accept compromises, but I have willingly accepted constraints.

What do you feel is the primary condition for the practice of Design and for its propagation?
A recognition of need.

What is the future of Design?
(no answer)


Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store