Dieter Rams: Less but Better

Dieter Rams is one of the legendary figures in German industrial design – a name that is recognized by experts all over the word, a name that is included in all textbooks just like his products are to be found in all respectable design museums. He is extremely productive – he has designed more than 500 electric appliances for Braun only, the company that he identifies himself with. His “Ten Principles of Good Design”, formulated back in the 70ies of the 20th century are relevant today too and are referred to as “The ten commandments of design”. At the time he formulated these principles Rams was deeply concerned about the state the world was in – he defined it as “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” He was aware of the fact that he too contributed to the surrounding environment and tried to define good design in ten points. Then he was going through the most creative period in his career – during the 60s and 70s his work contributed to the development of Braun which launched a new generation of electric appliances, defined by perfect functionality and design unaffected by time.

Dieter Rams was born in 1932 in Wiesbaden. He acquired the skills of paying attention to detail and the obsession with perfection as a child while learning from the work of his grandfather who was a carpenter. Dieter also studied carpentry while he was studying architecture in his native town. Upon graduation he worked briefly in Otto Apel’s studio and in 1955 he found the job of his life – started as a designer in Braun – an electric appliances manufacturer. One of the first tasks of the 23-year-old Rams was to propose a project for the modernization of the company interiors of the company, manufacturing innovative products.

On one of the drafts for Braun’s new offices he drafter on the wall the concept of something that would later become one of the 20th century most characteristic piece of furniture – 606 Universal Shelving System. Designed by Rams in 1959 for the new German company Vitsoe & Zapf (currently the British Vitsoe), it has been manufactured since 1960 and is still successfully sold. The system made up of simple metal shelves, hung on the wall, is so perfect in its discreetness and multifunctionality that Jasper Morrison – one of the most successful British designers nowadays says “there is no point in trying to design another one”. When in 1959 Rams asked Erwin Braun for permission to design furniture for Vitsoe & Zapf, he replied: “Yes. It will help the market of our radios.”Rieter Rams is an example of a designer who has built the identity of a company – in this case the company is Braun – to the extent that when he speaks about the company he uses first person plural pronouns.

“We are economical with form and colour, prioritize simple forms, avoid unnecessary complexity, do without ornament. Instead [there is] order and clarification. “

As the chief designer of the company from 1961 until 1995 Rams largely formed the modern German industrial design and the principles of functionalism. His coffee makers, radios, calculators, audio-visual equipment, electric shavers (invented by Braun), watches and office equipment are living legends. Rams introduces the transparent cover of the record player, the bulging buttons on the radios (before that these buttons were concave), the slanted handle of the hair-dryer to make it more comfortable for drying your hair at the back. Recently Rams’s name has been mentioned more often because of his influence on Sir Jonathan Ive – Apple’s design director. The third in superiority in the company hierarchy, called “the driver” in Apple openly declares his respect for Dieter Rams. On his part, the great professional says in the documentary Objectifield that Apple is the only modern company that creates design in accordance with his own principles.

This year, the program of the second edition of the Melba Sofia Design Festival gives us the opportunity to meet up close the genius of the designer with “Rams” – a documentary about the artist, but also a portrait of the essence of consumerism, materialism and sustainability. You can see the movie on November 10th from 18 o’clock in Generator’s space as part of the special film program of the festival. In addition to the curious film pieces, the event will bring together notable global representatives of product, interactive and graphic design, illustration, media and visual communication. Learn more at www.melba.bg/festival or follow MD for more information.

We warm up the movie minutes with The Ten Principles of Good Design.

According to Dieter Rams good design is:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 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. 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. 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.
  9. Environmentally friendly— Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
  10. 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.

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