Charles Eames’ Ultimate List of Advice for Design Students

Eames Advice for Students

A fusion of art, technology, science and philosophy is apparent in legendary design duo Charles and Ray Eames’ work. For more than four decades, they helped shape nearly every aspect of American life. Passion easily exuded from their iconic furniture to their architectural design, and certainly was felt, in the handwritten love letter with which Charles proposed to Ray. Their Enduring genius was not only articulated in the deeper philosophies behind their iconic designs but, also in letters, interviews, and public talks. In 1949, Charles Eames gave an enlightening talk to the students of UCLA. The influential duo’s trailblazing ideas on design, and also pictures of his handwritten notes, is presented in An Eames Anthology: Articles, Film Scripts, Interviews, Letters, Notes and Speeches by Charles and Ray Eames (Yale University Press). Under the heading “Advice to students,” his notes for a 1949 talk read:

Make a list of books

Develop a curiosity

look at things as though for the first time

think of things in relation to each other

always think of the next larger thing

Avoid the “pat” answer – the formula

Avoid the preconceived idea

Study well objects made past recent and ancient

but never without the technological and social condition


Prepare yourself to search out the true need – Physical, Psychological

Prepare yourself to intelligently fill that need

the art is not something you apply to your work

the art is the way you do your work, a result of your attitude toward it

design is a full time job 

it is the way you look at politics

funny papers

listen to music

raise children

Art is not a thing in a vacuum –

No personal signature Economy of material Avoid the contrived

apprentice system and why it is impractical for them

no office wants to add another prima donna to its staff

no office is looking for a great creative genius

no office – or at least very few

can train employees from scratch

there is always a need for anyone that can do a simple job thoroughly

there are things you can do

to prepare yourself – to be desirable

orderly work habits

ability to bring any job to a conclusion

drawing facility


a presentation that “reads” well

willingness to do outside work and study on a problem…

Primitive spear is not the work of an individual nor is a good tool or utensil

To be a good designer you must be a good engineer in every sense: curious, inquisitive.

I am interested in course because I have great faith in the engineer, BUT to those who are serious (avoid putting on art hat) Boulder Dam all’s great not due engineer

By the nature of his problems the engineer has high percentage of known factors relatively little left to intuition “

The original documents are in the “Charles and Ray Eames Papers,” Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Copyright Eames Office LLC.

The Eameses generously contributed to the world of ideas and shared their principle, that “design should not be an act of creative self-expression but rather a process of problem solving.” 

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