Every year the Eames Office, heirs to the legacy of the great designers Charles and Ray Eames, celebrates the Powers of Ten on 10.10. This year is special, being 10.10.10.
Jamer Hunt at Fast Company suggests that the film is probably more relevant and important than ever, particularly in this era of Google Earth, where everyone with a computer is basically remaking the movie every time they use it. He discusses the lessons we can learn from the movie and apply in our everyday use.
We've become very practiced with scaling in and out of satellite images of our earth, using those funny, awkward sliders on the edges of Web maps to peer in on our homes, our cities, and Area 51. But this mass application of Powers of Ten is not the reason we should celebrate the film today. Instead, we need to approach it conceptually, at the level of scale.
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, 10^1 to 10^5. 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.
I have tried to make this case when discussing green design: you can't look at it without discussing scale and context. Read Kaid Benfield's post What does 'net zero' mean? Sprawl by another name? to see how unless you zoom out and look at scale, you wouldn't that a so-called "net zero" community isn't. He uses Google Earth and Abogo to make the case that scale is everything.
Jamer Hunt concludes:
The challenge, then, is to deploy the necessary conceptual analytics to figure out at what power of ten it is optimal to intervene. The Eames have simply illustrated the conundrum; it is our responsibility to figure out what to do next.
More on Charles and Rae Eames: Watch three versions of the film at The Power of the Power of Ten (including the Simpsons version) where I also wrote:
Some say that the photograph of the Earth floating in Space shot from Apollo 8 kick-started the environmental movement, showing that we were all in it together on such a small blue marble. Others have said that Charles and Ray Eames' Powers of Ten taught us about scale, our small place in the universe.
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