Design Influences: Dieter Rams
Dieter Rams is an industrial designer, born in Wiesbaden Germany in 1932. At the end of World War II he studied as an interior designer at the Weisbaden School of Art and after graduating worked as an architect and interior designer until 1955, when he was hired by the consumer goods manufacturer Braun. Working with Braun, Rams went on to design some of the company’s most famous and iconic products, such as the SK4 (informally referred to as ‘Snow White’s Coffin’), the first combination radio/phonograph to be made with a transparent acrylic dust cover. Rams became the company’s lead industrial designer in 1966, and stayed in that position for thirty years, the whole time working with the team at Braun to develop and market consumer goods that fulfilled his criteria of ‘good design’.
“By concentrating on the ‘bare necessities’, by order and harmony, by renouncing all that is unimportant and superfluous we meet with products of high complexity. They are beyond all modern trends. They express the essence of design. Countless Braun models were produced - unadulterated for years and years.”
(Dieter Rams, Weniger Aber Besser, pp. 26-27)
After being promoted to the position of lead industrial designer, Rams became very concerned with the effect that designed goods had in the world (especially in terms of designed obsolescence) and developed working criteria for ‘good design’ based on principles of sustainable development, functionalist aesthetics, honesty, and integrity.
Gutes Design ist innovativ (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.
Gutes Design macht ein produkt brauchbar (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.
Gutes Design ist ästhetisch (Good Design 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.
Gutes Design macht ein Produkt verständlich (Good Design 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.
Gutes Design ist unaufdringlich (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.
Gutes Design ist ehrlich (Good Design is honest): It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
Gutes Design ist langlebig (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.
Gutes Design ist konsequent bis ins letzte Detail (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 consumer.
Gutes Design ist umweltfreundlich (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.
Gutes Design ist so wenig Design wie möglich (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!
Since I became aware of Braun products and Rams’ deliberate and lucid approach to designing consumer goods I have been very interested in the methods and process behind the objects. I’m particularly impressed by the aesthetic restraint employed in Rams’ designs, as well as the subsequent subtlety and timelessness the objects’ features exhibit. Such timelessness do these objects possess that when I first saw a photo of the SK4 I was astounded that it had been designed in 1956.
“Fritz Eichler added that [Braun’s Hi-Fi stereo] sets were supposed for ‘people who do not consider their flats as stages for their unfulfilled wishes and dreams, but as places that are simple, tasteful, and practical.’” (Dieter Rams, Weniger Aber Besser p. 31)
In proper observance of functionalist design there is little or nothing that is not wholly purposeful, deliberate, and consequent in Rams’ work. This rationalist austerity stands in stark contrast to much of the product design that I’ve grown to know in my lifetime; so much ephemerality, fashion, and superfluous decoration. Many of Braun’s products have been cataloged in modern art museums as icons of modern design.
Weniger, aber besser. Zurück zum Puren, zum Einfachen!
(Less, but better. Back to purity, back to simplicity!)