Charles & Ray Eames

A Communications Primer

Eames A Communications Primer - © Eames Office LLC, Los Angeles
  • Charles & Ray Eames
  • A Communications Primer
  • 1953
  • 16mm color film
  • 21’30”
  • - © Eames Office LLC, Los Angeles

Designer couple Charles and Ray Eames were known for their use of fiberglass, cast aluminum, and molded plywood in their aesthetic, functional furniture designs. They developed A Communications Primer (1953) as an educational film for use in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Georgia, where the couple lectured. The Eameses’ multimedia presentation, a seminal introduction to modern communication theory, was based on the Input/ Output diagram for the mathematical theory of signal processing presented in Claude Shannon’s book A Mathematical Theory of Communication (1949). 

In advocating awareness for the relationship between seemingly unrelated phenomena, the Eameses made Shannon’s theory understandable for future designers and architects, encouraging them to apply it in planning and design. Through film, graphics, typography, narration, and a musical score composed by Elmer Bernstein (1922–2004), the artists state that any message is transmitted by a signal through a channel to its receiver—as described by Charles Eames himself in his voice-over narration. Effective communication depends on reducing the signal’s alteration while it is being channelled. The degradation of a signal, defined as noise, can make the message incomprehensible to the recipient. By means of simple associations and diagrams filmed, cut, and edited by Ray Eames, the result is a modern perception of aesthetic beauty in which form, function, and content strike a perfect balance: A basic principle of color and composition, not only for the moving image but also in the couple’s designs, which influenced the postwar American lifestyle.

Petronela Soltész

Biography of Charles & Ray Eames

  • Born 1907 in Saint Louis, MO, USA / Sacramento, CA, USA
  • Died 1978 in Saint Louis, MO, USA / Saint Louis, MO, USA
Charles Eames briefly studied architecture at Washington University in St. Louis, establishing an architecture practice in 1930. Ray Eames came to New York in 1933, where she trained at the Hans Hofmann School and was among the first generation of Abstract Expressionist painters. The couple met at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan in 1940, where Charles headed the industrial design department. After their marriage in 1941 they moved to Los Angeles. After Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen’s (1910–1961) first experiments with molded plywood in 1940—winning the Museum of Modern Art’s 1940 Organic Design in Home Furnishings competition—they received a U.S. Navy commission for plywood stretchers and leg splints during World War II. With access to new techniques they developed a design vocabulary that was essential for their innovative postwar approach. Focusing on a sculptural aesthetic, functionality, affordability, and cutting-edge materials like plywood and plastic, the Eameses made significant contributions to modern design and architecture. They constructed their famous avant-garde house in 1949 in Los Angeles’s Pacific Palisades, as part of Arts & Architecture magazine’s Case Study House program. From the mid 1950s onwards the Eameses also worked as photographers and filmmakers.