Dieter Rams (born May 20, 1932 in Wiesbaden, Hesse) is a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products company Braun and the Functionalist school of industrial design. He is the most important and influential designer of the post war era. As head of design at Braun he revolutionized the design of domestic technology and developed a design language that married technical innovation with a strict formal and functional elegance.
Rams studied architecture at the Werkkunstschule Wiesbaden as well as learning carpentry from 1943 to 1957. After working for the architect Otto Apel between 1953 and 1955 he joined the electronic devices manufacturer Braun as an architect and interior designer but became chief of design in 1961, a position he kept until 1995. In his forty-year stretch at Braun he designed (or oversaw the design of) hundreds of products from audio equipment, coffee makers, calculators and cigarette lighters to electric shavers.
Rams once explained his design approach in the phrase “Weniger, aber besser” which freely 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 the 606 Universal Shelving System and 601 chair by Vitsœ in 1960.
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 highly regarded in design circles and currently has a major retrospective of his work on tour around the world.
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.
He was radical in his use of materials but always determined on designing products that were fundamentally honest, as simple to use as possible and that worked as well as possible. Many of his designs are icons of modernist rigor but have exerted an influence far beyond the design cognoscenti (the debt owed Rams – and they would be the first to acknowledge it – by designers such as Jonathan Ive, Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison is enormous). Indeed, much of the stuff that surrounds you looks a lot like it does because of Dieter Rams.
Speaking of his involvement, Rams said, ‘Now, more than ever, when industrial design as a discipline seems to have lost touch with a clarity of purpose and focus, it is time to perhaps get back to a core of principles and strip away the superfluous once again.’
Back in the early 1980s, 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 ten most important principles for what he considered was good design. Sometimes they are referred as the ‘Ten commandments’.
Good design is 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.
Good design 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 whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ‘Things which are different in order simply to be different are seldom better, but that which is made to be better is almost always different. My goal is to omit everything superfluous so that the essential is shown to best possible advantage.’
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.
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.
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.
Recently Rams’ work has been reprised in the context of its influence on Jonathan Ive of Apple Inc. In the documentary film Objectified, Rams states that Apple is the only company designing products according to his principles.