(smow) blog Design Calendar: 31st January 1961 – Charles Eames Granted Patent for a Side Flexing Shock Mount

“In the development and designing of furniture one prevailing problem is the means for securing parts of the furniture together particularly when the parts are made of thin materials such as plywood or metal. This problem is particularly difficult when a certain amount of twisting or give between the parts is desired so as to provide resiliency to one of the parts. In general efforts to solve this problem have failed.”1

So begins a patent application filed by Charles Eames on 28th July 1958. There is however good news.

“I have solved the problem by devising the shock structure of this invention.”

The US Patent Office agreed, and on 31st January 1961 Charles Eames was granted US Patent Nr. 2,969,831 for a “Side Flexing Shock Mount.”

Despite what one may believe when one reads fawning “design” articles, design isn’t about simply creating pretty objects in pretty colours for pretty double page spreads in pretty magazines read by pretty people.

Design is lot of hard work. Dirty hard work.

All too often the biggest impediment to achieving a desired functionality is the necessary system simply doesn’t exist. And so as a designer you must invent it.

In this specific case Charles Eames had a problem combining the seat and backrest of his Lounge Chair in such a manner that the backrest was free to move with the sitter’s body and so provide increased support and comfort.

Charles Eames had previously patented a shock mount – US Patent 2,667,210 – that served on the plywood chair group. However as the Side Flexing Shock Mount patent claim explains, such a mount is and was only suitable in static cases, in cases where “the shock mount is required to absorb only vibration and compression shock.”

With the Lounge Chair Charles and Ray Eames wanted, needed, movement.

And so invention was required.

With the Side Flexing Shock Mount the functionality comes through “an elongated block of resilient material having an elongated rigid member or insert secured thereto.” The steel “insert” moves with the movement of the backrest, and is supported and protected by the rubber “block”, thus allowing the “desired flexibility to the back of the chair while at the same time providing durability and strength due to the even distribution of the load.”

A simple yet effective solution to a serious problem.

And a shining example of how unromantic, how mundane, how bureaucratic, the designer’s lot is.

We obviously don’t recommend taking your Eames Lounge Chair apart to investigate the shock mount, just be thankful that Charles Eames understood his craft as well as he did. If he hadn’t, you wouldn’t now be sitting so comfortably. Nor could your children, their children, their children’s children…..

1, and all subsequent quotes, United States Patent Office, Patent Nr. 2,969,831 http://pdfpiw.uspto.gov/.piw?Docid=2969831 Accessed 30.01.2014

Charles Eames US Patent Nr 2,969,831 Side Flexing Shock Mount

Sketches from Charles Eames Patent Application for a Side Flexing Shock Mount. (Source: United States Patent Office)

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