Dieter Rams was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1932. He was strongly influenced by the presence of his grandfather who was a carpenter. Rams’s early awards for carpentry led him to train as an architect, as Germany was rebuilt in the early 1950s.
Prompted by an eagle-eyed friend, Rams applied for a job at the German electrical products company, Braun, in 1955. He was recruited by Erwin and Artur Braun following the death of their father and his job was to modernize the interiors of the company that was launching revolutionary electrical products.
Dieter Rams introduced in Braun a systematic design, linked to form and function, its varied products represented a utilitarian aesthetic, coming from the Ulm school. He made a significant contribution to Braun’s image, driving a new design approach focused on functionality.
The objects were reduced to the essential and stripped of any distracting elements in order to simplify the product. “The aesthetic clarity of Braun’s products is the result of the logical ordering of the elements and the search for a simple and harmonious totality.”
Rams has radically changed the way we perceive electronic objects, with his experience and his modular way driven by clean and uncluttered lines. He implemented a new aesthetic style that would serve as inspiration for future generations. His designs have as their main objective to improve people’s quality of life, by creating extremely functional, durable, and useful products that convey emotions that consumers identify with.
Together with his design team, he was responsible for many of the seminal domestic electrical products — and some furniture — of the 20th century.
Back in the late 1970s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him — “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors, and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design?
As good design cannot be measured in a finite way, he set about expressing the 10 most important principles for what he considered good design.
1 — Good design is innovative
The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.
2 — Good design makes a product useful
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over the years his work has been recognized with the title of Royal Designer for Industry, by the Royal Society of Arts in London. Also being awarded the SIAD medal by the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers in London and the World Design Medal by the Industrial Designer Society of America.
In 1995, he published the book “Less but better” reporting his design philosophy and his main products produced at Braun. His work has a quality that distinguishes it from the vast majority of industrial design in the mid-twentieth century.
Dieter Rams is a pioneer in showing how design can have a strong orientation by creating innovative solutions that respond to everyday problems, so design only works for Rams when looking for a solution for humanity. His attitude towards design has led many people to identify with his philosophy of “less, but better”, about getting rid of excess, visual pollution, and living only with what is necessary.
He is an excellent reference in terms of design, but above all a great example of a design leader who revolutionized the history of Braun.
You can download this poster image, print and hang it on your wall as a reminder.
— That’s it for this edition. In a world where change must be made, design can have an important role to communicate, educate and promote that change. And designers have a big role to make a difference in our society.