Charles and Ray Eames did not design a typeface. They did, however, leave a philosophical template for a font collection worthy of their name. Extensive research and close correspondence with the Eames family clarified our mission to honor their aesthetic while maintaining the timeless relevance and functionality that characterizes their legacy.
We derived a clear framework for this project from the way Charles and Ray used type in their illustrations, films, layouts, exhibitions and ephemera. Since much of their design work refers to the rich typographic tradition of Victorian printing, the typeface would incorporate a wide selection of styles that reinforce the utilitarian, mirthful and beautiful tangents of the Eames oeuvre.
Before drawing a single letterform we embarked on a journey that took us far beyond the low-hanging fruit of published material and internet searches. Our process of building a foundation for Eames Century Modern started with breakfast meetings at the kitchen table of the Eames House and took us through in-depth tours of their studio and living space, visits to the archives of Herman Miller in Michigan and Vitra in Weil am Rhein, and quality time in a cramped carrel at the Library of Congress. We took every opportunity to learn even more through our nearly constant interaction with the Eames family and Eames Office employees of past and present.
Only then did we pick up our flexible pointed pens and begin to draw, employing a hint of nostalgia and a set of blinders (so as to ignore the typographic fads of the last three decades). The goal was to create practical text fonts in medium “workhorse” weights, then incorporate more playful traits at the heavy and thin extremes. On the light side of the spectrum we created wiry thin strokes that show visible contrast at large sizes. An extreme black weight with very little counter space and heavy bracketed serifs provides the dramatic anchor for the family. The italic styles took on a life of their own with emphasized serifs, graceful curves and dramatic negative shapes. Their rhythm, angle and playfulness offer a thoughtful tribute to Ray’s writing samples and correspondence.
Charles and Ray were always quick to point out that good ideas are worthless without the willingness to execute them in a way that they can have a broad appeal and become universally practical. A modern typeface needs to fulfill a wide range of design challenges and user needs. Carefully-weighted small caps, nine different figure styles, ligatures, contextual alternate forms and thousands of lines of computer code form the molds from which a truly practical yet uncommonly beautiful typeface is cast.
No study of the Eames legacy is complete without taking note of the bold stencil lettering used throughout their work. A new stencil font based on the heaviest weight of Eames Century Modern takes the curvature of bent plywood and abstracts the shapes into type. This artful interaction of sculptural contours can easily stand alone or work together as an illustrative typographic system. In a nod to Charles and Ray’s infatuation with circus imagery, we penned three elephantine numeral fonts whose woodcut-inspired forms leave a tastefully pachydermic impact on any layout. Fanciful figures from Ray’s January and December 1943 Arts and Architecture covers were the impetus for a more delicate set of numbers. All four figure sets boast a rich array of currency symbols, punctuation and a sophisticated fraction feature.
The Eames’ pragmatism was always tempered with their love of adornment, so this collection would not be complete without a host of carefully drawn ornaments and a galley of frames. These elements are sure to provide dignified directional stability and exquisitely cultivated closure to any design project.
House Industries is proud to present this typographic tribute to Charles and Ray Eames.
typeface design Erik van Blokland & House Industries · art direction Andy Cruz · typeface direction Ken Barber & Andy Cruz · typeface mastering Tal Leming · catalog design Bondé Prang · photography The Eames Office, The Herman Miller Archive, Carlos Alejandro, Cheryl Savala · eames exhibits Erik van Blokland, Ken Barber, Ben Kiel