Good Design is as Little Design as Possible

Dieter Rams garden portrait by Philip Sinden

Dieter Rams (born 20 May 1932 in Wiesbaden, Hessen) is a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products company Braun and the Functionalist school of industrial design.

Rams began studies in architecture and interior decoration at Wiesbaden School of Art in 1947. Soon after in 1948, he took a break from studying to gain practical experience and conclude his carpentry apprenticeship. He resumed studies at Wiesbaden School of Art in 1948 and graduated with honours in 1953 after which he began working for Frankfurt based architect Otto Apel. In 1955, he was recruited to Braun as an architect and an interior designer. In addition, in 1961, he became the Chief Design Officer at Braun until 1995.

Ingeborg Kracht-Rams and Dieter Rams by Philip Sinden

Dieter Rams was strongly influenced by the presence of his grandfather, a carpenter. Rams once explained his design approach in the phrase “Weniger, aber besser” which translates as “Less, but better”. Rams and his staff designed many memorable products for Braun including the famous SK-4 record player and the high-quality ‘D’-series (D45, D46) of 35 mm film slide projectors. He is also known for designing a furniture collection for Vitsœ in the 1960s including the 606 Universal Shelving System and 620 Chair Programme.

Dieter Rams hallway by Philip Sinden

Dieter Rams hallway by Philip Sinden

By producing electronic gadgets that were remarkable in their austere aesthetic and user friendliness, Rams made Braun a household name in the 1950s. He is considered to be one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century.

In 2010, to mark his contribution to the world of design, he was awarded the ‘Kölner Klopfer‘ prize by the students of the Cologne International School of Design. In addition, as successor to the Bauhaus, Rams eventually became a protégé of the Ulm School of Design in Ulm, Germany.

Dieter Rams guest bedroom by Philip Sinden

Dieter Rams guest bedroom by Philip Sinden

Rams’ ten commandments of “good design”

Rams introduced the idea of sustainable development and of obsolescence being a crime in design in the 1970s. Accordingly he asked himself the question: is my design good design? The answer formed his now celebrated ten commandments.

Good design:

  1. 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. 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. 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.
  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. 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. 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.
  7. 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. 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.
  9. 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. 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.

Notable awards and accomplishments

Dieter Rams has been involved in design for seven decades. This is a list of notable awards and accomplishments.

  • 1960 Receives ‘Kulturkreis im Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie’ Scholarship Award
  • 1961 TP1 Portable record player and radio receives ‘Supreme Award’ at Interplas exhibition, London
  • 1963 F21 receives ‘Supreme Award’ at Interplas exhibition, London
  • 1968 Awarded ‘Honorary Royal Designer for Industry’ of the Royal Society of Arts, UK for ‘distinguished design in furniture and light engineering products’
  • 1969 620 Chair awarded ‘Gold Medal’ at the International Furniture Exhibition in Vienna
  • 1978 Awarded ‘SIAD Medal of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers’, UK
  • 1985 Awarded ‘Académico de Honor Extranjero’ by the Academia Mexicana de Diseño, Mexico
  • 1989 First recipient of the ‘Industrie Forum Design Hannover’, Germany, for special contribution to design
  • 1989 Awarded ‘Doctor honoris causa’ by Royal College of Arts, London, UK
  • 1992 Receives IKEA prize and uses prize money for his own ‘Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation’ for the promotion of design
  • 1996 Receives ‘World Design Medal’ from the Industrial Designers Society of America
  • 2002 Awarded ‘Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Commanders Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany)
  • 2003 Receives ‘Design Award ONDI’, Havana, Cuba for his special contribution to industrial design and world culture
  • 2007 Awarded Design Prize of the Federal republic of Germany for his life’s work
  • 2007 Receives Lucky Strike Designer Award from the Raymond Loewy Foundation
  • 2013 Awarded Lifetime Achievement Medal at London Design Festival 2013

Post Your Thoughts