If you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that Dieter Rams dispenses introductions. Then if you haven’t heard of him, you’re probably not as much into Design as you thought you were. Dieter Rams’ 10 Design Commandments, or his 10 Principles of Good Design, have been broadly broadcasted among everyone trying to build a more functional and aesthetically pleasantly world.
Driven to share his knowledge and decades of experience to the next generations of creatives, the legendary designer gave film director Gary Hustwit never-before-granted access to him and his work. The documentary Rams: The First Feature Documentary About Dieter Rams is financed by a KickStart campaign, which was launched by Hustwit himself. Hustwit is also the maker of Design acclaimed documentary trilogy Helvetica, Objectified and Urbanized, and says: “I’m also interested in exploring the role that manufactured objects play in our lives and by extension the relationship we have with the people who design them.”
As we hug our popcorn bucket and impatiently wait for the launching of Rams The Documentary, let’s go through the Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Design never to be forgotten. After all, who can ever get enough of good Design?
Back in the late 1970s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him: “An impenetrable confusion of forms, colours, and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design?
1. Good design is innovative
The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
The 606 Universal Shelving System, from 1960, is a modular system that can be adjusted and extended to individual needs. It is part of the collection of The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
“They wanted their furniture to last longer. They wanted to avoid built-in obsolescence. They would not pander to fashion. Their furniture would be discrete, and it would be adaptable. So that you as the customer could: start with less, add to it, rearrange it, repair it, take it with you when you move and most importantly reuse it.” Mark Adams, managing director of Vitsœ.
2. Good design makes a product useful
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
The Braun ET66 Calculator (1987) by Rams and Dietrich Lubs is an icon of modern design. Long after the calculator went out of production, it would gain renewed fame when serving as the inspiration for Apple’s calculator app in the first iPhone.
3. Good design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
Dieter Rams designed the Tischsuper RT 20 Radio in 1961, and it is the ultimate example of Rams’ maxim “Less, but better.” The minimalistic RT 20 perfectly combined circles with the rectilinear, dispensing any extraneous details or decoration.
4. Good design makes a product understandable
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
The Braun SK4 is what the company called a “Phonosuper”: a radio combined with a record player. In 1956, similar products were made of wood and decorated with unuseful decorative ornaments. Hans Gugelot and Dieter Rams wanted to remove any superfluous elements and design products, not furniture. Every detail had to have a functional purpose and it was designed to pioneer a new contemporary language of design.
5. Good design is unobtrusive
Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should, therefore, be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
Launched in 1968, the T2 Cylinder cigarette lighter, which pioneered the use of a magnetic ignition device, is one of Rams’ all-time favorite Braun products. A smoker himself, Rams has stated that he loves to design lighters as “small sculptural objects.” New York City’s Museum of Modern Art has a T2 as part of its permanent collection.
6. Good design is honest
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
In 1958, Gerd A. Muller’s designed the S60 shaver for Braun.
“If I had something to do in this world again, I would not want to be a designer. Because I believe, in the future, it will be less important to have many things and more important to exercise care about where and how we live.” Dieter Rams
7. Good design is long-lasting
It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.
Rams beliefs are that most responsible designs are those that outlived you. So in 1962 he designed the 620 to be a modular system that could grow and shrink as your needs changed, for it is more like a system of parts that an upholstered monolith.
8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.
Designed in 1955, the Braun SK2 came about as a reflection from Artur Braun and Fritz Eichler that radio users were tired of “inflated grandeur” and desired simple, functional products. Relative to other devices of their day, Braun and Eichler’s omitted any unnecessary features, allowing the product to quietly impress and to hand the user the power of its function.
9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
While this might be a stretch, a fan uses less energy than an air conditioner. Considering that temperature control in large spaces, like an office, is far from efficient and therefore isn’t optimizing energy use. The HL Desk Fan was designed by Reinhold Weiss and Jürgen Greubel in 1971.
10. Good design is as little design as possible
Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.
Back to purity, back to simplicity.
The Speaker L2, 1958: Minimalism at its best.
“I didn’t intend these 10 points to be set in stone forever. They were actually meant to mutate with time and to change. But apparently things have not changed greatly in the past 50 years.” Dieter Rams
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