In 1961, pioneers of twentieth-century design, Charles and Ray Eames wrote “The details are not the details; they make the product,”. Almost sixty years on these words still hold true today.
In all facets of design, the devil (or divine, depending on your point of view) is in the detail. Paying attention to detail forms an integral part of the design process and can be achieved in a variety of ways...
The Golden Ratio | proportion and scale
Closely related to the Fibonacci Sequence (in which each term is the sum of the previous two), the Golden Ratio describes the perfectly symmetrical relationship between two proportions.
Approximately equal to a 1:1.61 ratio, the Golden Ratio can be illustrated using a Golden Rectangle. This is a rectangle where, if you cut off a square, the rectangle remaining will have the same proportions as the original rectangle.
Used to bring a pleasing, almost unseen balance to a variety of aspects of design, this design detail is ever-present all around us, from big brands, everyday products and, of course, throughout the natural world.
When applied to furniture design, it comes down to proportions that most people find comfortable or pleasing to the eye. These proportions are ingrained from our day-to-day lives and influence how we perceive a product.
For example, this Golden Ratio Chair unashamedly embraces the principle to the fullest, with elegant, modernist lines that appear perfectly balanced and in proportion to the naked eye, thanks to the reassuring ratio from which it takes its name...
Unity | the harmony of component parts
Unity in design focuses on the creation of harmony between all parts of the piece; it aims to create a cohesive whole that is an improvement on the sum of its parts.
The emphasis is on the interconnection of the parts, be it the physical components, the combination of materials to unite the piece or the intricacies of fixings, every element is introduced with purpose and to become part of a harmonious whole.
Image: Eames Office
It's a principle evident when we return to the iconic Eames couple and their Eames Contract Storage (ECS). This was a system of storage, study, and sleeping units designed in 1961 to provide all of the furniture needed in a dormitory or institutional residence. It had five parts: three closet variations, one desk unit, and a bed which could be combined in a variety of ways.
When describing the furniture Charles and Ray wrote: “The details are not the details, they make the product just like the details make the architecture. The gauge of the wire, the selection of the wood, the finish of the castings–the connections, the connections, the connections. It will be in the end these details that provide service to the customers, and give the product its life.”
The couple paid attention to the detail, how the component parts could come together to optimal effect and ultimately, how bringing these details together would be valuable to their customer.
Emphasis | an invitation to focus
Any item without a point of focus loses appeal quickly, the draw of its design is almost immediately lost. You need an anchor.
Bringing together the scale, proportion and component parts of an item into a balanced, harmonious whole still requires finishing with a focal point to elicit that elusive attraction towards it.
An integral part of the piece, its emphasis communicates the aesthetic quality of the product. It invites the onlooker to engage with the piece, pay attention to it, explore it and draws out a reaction (good, bad or indifferent).
This focus can be achieved in a myriad of ways - a contrast of colour, texture or material, the introduction of individual detail, the breadth of negative space - to define the finished piece from its contemporaries and bring it to life.