I got introduced to the work of Dieter Rams rather late into my design education. This could, partly, be due to the fact that I was studying visual communication and graphic design and not industrial design. The only industrial designers I was familiar with at that point were the more contemporary ones like Philippe Starck, Jonathan Ive and James Dyson. As is usually the case with designers, I knew of them through some of their more well known work—Philippe Starck for his juicer for Alessi, Jonathan Ive for all the recent Apple products and James Dyson for his vacuum cleaners.
Apple in many ways is seen as biggest proponent of good design by my generation of designers. Apple made design a glamorous profession and it made the layman appreciate design. I have on several occasions had clients tell me that they wanted something unique and innovative exactly like Apple’s products, clearly missing the irony of their own statement.
However, it was the success of Apple and of Jonathan Ive’s designs that introduced me to Dieter Rams. Jonathan Ive has on several occasions talked about the influence Dieter Rams and his work had on him. The similarity of the design language of Braun's products from the 50s to 70s and the Apple's products of the 2000s is a testament to this fact.
It was with considerable amount of amazement that I first read about the Braun TP1. This portable transistor radio and phonograph looks rather contemporary for something that was designed in 1959. The same is true for many of the Braun products of that time. The secret to the age defying designs of many of Braun’s products from the 50s and 60s lies in the philosophy that Dieter Rams and his team at Braun believed and practiced—‘Weniger, aber besser’ which translates as ‘Less, but better’.
As there are no right or wrong answers in design, its a hard to measure good design. However, in the late 70s, Dieter Rams put down 10 principles for what can be considered to be good design. These principles which seem just as sensible now as they must have in the late 70s are-
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Design is now a popular profession. Much more than it ever was. A large part of this spurt in popularity can be attributed to the fact that companies and organizations are now forced to bring in something new to their products, services and offerings lest they get lost amongst the competition. It is the responsibility of designers to see that design does not get relegated to a mere marketing gimmick. As Steve Jobs once famously said—‘Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works’. Dieter Rams, I think, would agree.
You can download a free wallpaper with Dieter Rams's 10 Principles of Good Design here. Pick one to match your screen size.