Any time spent with the work of Charles and Ray Eames is time well spent. Especially their films. No one brought human warmth into cold Modernism like the Eames. I really can’t recommend The Films of Charles & Ray Eames enough. Goods (my favorite). Day of the Dead. House: After Five Years of Living. And of course, Powers of Ten

A recent post by Jamer Hunt does a nice job of discussing how the ideas embodied in Powers of Ten can be applied to design problem solving on a practical level.

Increasingly, designers are shifting scale from rethinking artifacts (whether buildings, posters or toasters) toward whole systems thinking. I would call this a scale shift from, let’s say, 101 to 105. Prompted originally by environmental thinking and more recently by the rise of networks and globalization, we are starting to recognize that it is impossible to design things in isolation from the larger systems that they live within—whether those are systems of resource extraction, manufacture, distribution, consumption, or waste.

Hunt is speaking to designers, and generally to those who design physical things. For these folks, working within this “scale shift” is incredibly important and reasonably teachable. Hunt is shifting scale himself with his focus on the implications of Powers of Ten for designers; but, this way of looking at the world is a broadly applicable skill.

Stepping back to view an increasingly bigger picture provides valuable insight to any type of problem. Any painter knows to step back from the canvas and look at it from across the room. Any teacher knows a hungry child can’t learn. Any security expert recognizes—if not fully understands—the global and historical complexities that lead individuals to commit heinous acts. But only the Eames could so elegantly express an idea this complex, making us feel startlingly inconsequential and strikingly complex at the same time.

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