Dieter Rams and Good Design @ SFMOMA

You might not know his name, but you’ve seen his products over the last 50+ years. He was the head of design at Braun and inspired countless designers including Apple’s SVP Jonathan Ive (MacBook Air, iPod, iPhone and iPad). But most notably, he promoted his concept of ‘Less, but better’; which is precisely my viewpoint on design.

A few decades into his career, he apparently became concerned with ‘an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises’ in the world. As a result, he formulated his ten most important principles for good design as a way to evaluate his own work and answer the question ‘is my design good design?’ Here they 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.

·         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.

·         Is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

·         Makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

·         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.

·         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.

·         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.

·         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 consumer.

·         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.

·         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.

There really isn’t much more to add. His points are complete, self-explanatory and apply to almost every type of design from web to interiors. San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art is now hosting an exhibition of more than 200 models and products by Rams and his team. Included amongst the Braun products are some of his designs from German furniture manufacturer Vitsoe. One of his designs, the Universal Shelving System, is still in production harking back to 1960! If you’re in the SF you can see the exhibit until February 20th, 2012 and it is well worth the time. And if you can’t make it here are a few samples of his iconic work:

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2 Responses to Dieter Rams and Good Design @ SFMOMA

  1. Thanks for posting this, Dave. He was a man ahead of his time and the design guidelines are just as relevant today; especially interesting is his interest in environmental friendliness.

    • David says:

      Exactly! When you see his work in person (all collected together) you do get a much better sense of his design personality. There is something very sensible about his approach!

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