By Richard Silberman, Writer/Researcher, IBM Communications
Eames Demetrios can remember visiting his grandparents, the husband-and-wife design duo Charles and Ray Eames, at their studio when he was a boy to watch them work on Powers of Ten, the classic educational film they made for IBM in 1977.
Today, as director of the Eames Office, Demetrios is devoted to preserving and extending the legacy and work of his grandparents. In addition to creating some of the most iconic furniture designs of the 20th century, they made more than 15 films and designed 30 exhibits for IBM in a relationship that began in 1953 and spanned three decades.
Demetrios considers it his mission to communicate Charles and Ray’s visionary ideas to as wide an audience as possible: “As beautiful as the objects are that Charles and Ray created, the ideas behind them are just as beautiful and just as important and relevant today.”
The Eames approach to problem solving
Demetrios considers his grandparents problem solvers at their core. “Charles and Ray approached every problem on a situation-by-situation basis and found and applied the best possible solution for it,” Demetrios said. “They never tried to force a specific design style on all the things they did.”
For example, the visual style of Powers of Ten is different from every other Eames film because it is completely appropriate for the content. Two of their most iconic designs — the biomorphic plastic chair and the rectilinear Eames House — were designed at the same time, but Charles and Ray did not attempt to impose either style on the other, Demetrios explained.
“Their work was always about finding smarter ways of doing things,” Demetrios said. “Charles and Ray believed that when you truly try to address the fundamental need of any situation, the best solution will come to the fore.”
Introducing a new app: Minds of Modern Mathematics
The enduring strength and relevance of the Eames/IBM partnership — and of Charles and Ray’s ideas and design philosophy — is evident in a new iPad app released today titled Minds of Modern Mathematics.
The free app is based on a famous timeline showing the history of mathematics from 1000 AD to 1960 that Charles and Ray designed for IBM in 1961 as part of the landmark museum exhibit, Mathematica: A World of Numbers…and Beyond. IBM later gave away posters of the timeline, then known as Men of Modern Mathematics, upon request to anyone from academics, to schools, to the general public.
Watch a demo of the new Minds of Modern Mathematics iPad app
The timeline’s celebrated design features short biographies of great mathematicians and wondrously depicts the interplay between mathematics, culture and history. It illustrates how math helped shape society and influenced advances in art, science, music and architecture.
“We’ve taken Charles and Ray’s original 2-dimensional design and turned it into a compelling interactive experience that everyone will enjoy,” Demetrios said. “The amazing thing is that the original content is still as hypnotic and engrossing as it was 50 years ago.”
The app features hundreds of images plus a collection of short films by Charles and Ray, including the original IBM Mathematics Peep Show. The “peep show” is a series of playful two-minute animated lessons on a variety of mathematical concepts.
From the earliest days of their partnership, IBM and the Eameses shared a commitment to popularize math and science and make them accessible and fun for all. Demetrios, in teaming with IBM to create Minds of Modern Mathematics, is keeping that tradition alive and well.
“It’s particularly fitting that we’ve released this app in the centennial year of Ray’s birth,” Demetrios said. “The timeline represents an incredible act of both visual and intellectual design, a feat Charles and Ray were able to pull off again and again.”
What the world needs now: Powers of Ten thinking
For communicating Charles and Ray’s ideas, Demetrios puts particular emphasis on Powers of Ten, the Eames’s most acclaimed and influential film.
The 9-minute documentary, which is included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, depicts the magnitude of the universe in factors of 10, taking viewers on a visual journey from the outer edges of the cosmos to a proton within an atom in a white blood cell. The film vividly illustrates the nature and importance of systems and the relative size of things.
“So many of the world’s challenges are problems of scale,” Demetrios said. “Anyone who wants to take on the world’s problems can gain some crucial perspective and insights from Powers of Ten.”
Living in the Age of Choices
Charles Eames, who is credited with helping usher in the Information Age, said that after the age of information comes the age of choices — and that’s an apt description of the world right now, Demetrios explained.
“Today the issue is not about generating and accessing information; it’s how do we model it and use it in a meaningful way so that we can do the right thing for humanity and the planet,” Demetrios said.
“The whole idea of building a smarter planet would have resonated with Charles and Ray because it’s about making things better by really trying to address them deeply,” Demetrios said. “That’s exactly the kind of passion they brought to everything they did.”
Read more about “Minds of Modern Mathematics” at IBM Research.