Dieter Rams: Ten commandments for good design

Dieter Rams' residence

Dieter Rams' residence by Todd Eberle

Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products company Braun and the Functionalist school of industrial design. Among other things, he is credited with influencing Apple Computer’s products.

Many of his designs — coffee makers, calculators, radios, audio/visual equipment, consumer appliances and office products — have found a permanent home at many museums over the world, including MoMA in New York. For nearly 30 years Dieter Rams served as head of design for Braun A.G. until his retirement in 1998. He continues to be a legend in design circles and most recently designed a cover for Wallpaper magazine (2007),

How does Rams’ define good design?

  1. Good design should be innovative — It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty just for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must clearly be seen in all of a product’s functions. Current technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.
  2. Good design should make a product useful — The product is bought in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose, in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimise the utility of a product’s usability.
  3. Good design is aesthetic design — The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Good design will make 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 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Good design is long lived — It does not follow trends that become out-dated after a short time. Well designed products differ significantly from short-lived, trivial products in today’s throwaway world.
  8. Good design is consistent in every detail — Nothing must be arbitrary. Thoroughness and accuracy in the design process shows respect towards the user.
  9. Good design should be environmentally friendly — Design must make contributions towards a stable environment and sensible raw material situation. This does not only include actual pollution, but also visual pollution and destruction of our environment.
  10. Good design is as little design as possible — Less is more – because it concentrates on the essential aspects and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity

Some of Dieter Rams’ quotes on design –

I hate everything that is driven by fashion. From the beginning it was hating the sixties American way of styling. Especially the cars. They changed their styling every two years to sell new ones. Which has nothing to do with good design.

Furniture is a commodity – and not the content of life in itself. Furnishings that are an end in themselves, that impose themselves, and grab your attention are oppresive.

My aim is to omit everything superfluous so that the essential is shown to the best possible advantage.

Question everything generally thought to be obvious.

Having small touches of colour makes it more colourful than having the whole thing in colour.

Good design is making something intelligible and memorable. Great design is making something memorable and meaningful.

A product must not claim features – more innovative, more efficient, of higher value – it does not have. It must not influence or manipulate buyers and users.

There is no longer room for irrelevant things. We have no longer got the resources. Irrelevance is out.

We make every effort to impart a simple, clear and balanced beauty to Braun products so that they will retain fascination and appeal for years to come. For us, the aesthetic quality of a product is ultimately it’s utility. Because it is certainly unpleasant and tedious to be confronted day-in, day-out with products which are confusing, which literally get on our nerves, and with which we cannot relate.

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21 thoughts on “Dieter Rams: Ten commandments for good design

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