Dieter Rams and 10 principles for good design

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.

Black and white portrait of Dieter Rams

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.

image displaying several braun products that Dieter Rams designed

Rams became a protégé of the Ulm School of Design (successor to the Bauhaus) luminaries Hans Gugelot, Fritz Eichler and Otl Aicher.

He quickly became involved in Product Design — famously adding the clear perspex lid to the SK4 radiogram in 1956 — and was appointed head of design at Braun from 1961 to 1995.

image showing Braun’s product: SK4 radiogram in 1956 designed by Dieter Rams

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.

portrait of Dieter Rams working on his desk at Braun
portrait of Dieter Rams with a colleague working on a product
portrait of old-age Dieter Rams taken couple of years ago

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.

image displaying Dieter Rams’ 10 principle of good design items with a right side portrait of him

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.

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