I vividly remember looking at a diagram drawn by my grandparents, Charles & Ray Eames, while talking with August de los Reyes. A design manifesto of sorts, the diagram consists of three overlapping circles, representing the “interests and concerns” of the designer, the client, and society as a whole.
As I pointed out the part that overlapped for all and read aloud from the diagram “This is where the designer can work with enthusiasm and conviction,” August looked on as he did so many other times–with a big smile, a visible sense of wonder, and that unmistakable sparkle in his eyes.
Like so many in the design community and beyond, I was heartbroken to learn of August’s passing due to complications from COVID-19. I was so moved by his family’s tribute to his remarkable life. Much has and will be said about his extraordinary career, but I’ll remember August most for his warmth, generosity, and keen insights.
In late-2016, Pinterest co-founders Evan Sharp and Ben Silbermann brought their new Head of Design up to visit my home, affectionately known as the “Eames Ranch,” after my mother, Lucia Eames. Beyond our conversation about my grandparents’ diagram, I recall our experience together that day—the questions August asked, his curiosity about the archival material, and his love for the colors and textures of the folk art that we viewed together. Most of all, I remember how he listened and took it all in.
In the years that followed, I visited August’s design teams at Pinterest and then at Google. I attended talks that he gave for Herman Miller and other companies, finding each deeply engaging, with his mix of brilliance, eloquence, and dry wit. He consistently and passionately focused on why design should be inclusive to all, and how a design solution for one person could be beneficial to many. He highlighted the design of several everyday objects that we often take for granted as examples of “love stories.” So simple, so powerful, and the personification of August.
August and I would have a flurry of communication whenever we would cross paths in person, while sharing other wide-ranging interests—from architecture and design magazines to desserts as well. We talked of our favorite restaurants, and more than once I sent him a cheesecake from my favorite place here in Petaluma, Calif.
August’s last visit to the Eames Ranch was in March 2019, to participate in The Design Vanguard retreats, which were these marvelous, intimate events that we hosted around design and ethics. Like every other time he visited, August gravitated to that same diagram on the wall in our gallery, and that nexus of those seemingly disparate interests “for the benefit of all,” I still recall him saying.
So I was not surprised when, just a couple of months after his last visit to the Eames Ranch, an email from August popped up, saying:
“I wanted to let you know that the Design Vanguard meeting at the Ranch had such a profound effect on how I view my work. I’ve decided to quit my job at Google, and join a social impact start-up, called Varo, that helps women and under-served communities gain financial security—all because of the reflection that you, John, and the others sparked during those two days in Petaluma.”
Whether in his groundbreaking work at Microsoft, Pinterest, Google, or Varo, August truly took to heart the essence of my grandparents’ diagram, and their challenge that designers work with conviction and enthusiasm.
The design community feels dimmer with the loss of the bright light that August brought to the world. I hope we can honor him by someday, somehow fully realizing the dream that he, like my grandparents, advanced for design that is truly inclusive.
Rest in peace, August.
In lieu of any gifts or flowers in his memory, August’s family asks those who want to honor him to build on his life’s legacy and advocate for inclusion and empathy with a bias towards action in all aspects of their work and daily lives.