ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW:
DIETER RAMS’ 10 PRINCIPLES FOR GOOD DESIGN
Designing the most iconic products of the twentieth-century, Dieter Rams is one of the world’s greatest living designers. An industrial modernist whose timeless designs have influenced modern culture - and continue to do so - Dieter Rams’ ideology and work emphasise the power of good design. His Ten Principles for Good Design remains a blueprint guideline for creative thinkers and designers worldwide, immortalised in contemporary culture as his designs have been.
World Receiver “travel 1000” by Dieter Rams, 1978 | Photo: Andreas Kugel © Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation
Design is a thinking process.
“I think good designers must always be avant-gardists, always one step ahead of the times. They should - and must - question everything generally thought to be obvious”, states industrial designer Dieter Rams. His process and approach is one that has become the cornerstone of design history. His influence is incomparable.
Rams was born in 1932 in Wiesbaden, Germany, during a time of growing uncertainty. The Third Reich was beginning to emerge, and Rams’ parents believed he would be safer with his grandfather in the countryside for his earlier, formative years. Rams’ grandfather was a carpenter, and the master joiner played a hugely influential role on Rams’ thoughts on design.
Dieter Rams © Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Archive
Under a short carpentry apprenticeship with his grandfather, this was where Rams first learned the practical art of furniture-making, and where his appreciation on function and form grew. His grandfather’s advice of “Weniger, aber besser” - “Less, but better” - was a statement that would inform the rest of his design work and life.
Studying architecture and interior decoration at the Wiesbaden School of Art, Rams graduated architecture with honours, going on to work for Frankfurt-based architect Otto Apel. In 1955, renowned company Braun hired Rams as an architect and interior designer, little to their knowledge that this was the start of a long-serving, monumental partnership between the two. His design ethos was evident, appointed as Chief Design Officer only 6 years later, a position he held for decades (until 1995).
“Product design is the total configuration of a product: its form, color, material and construction”. Rams got straight to the point. Less, but better.
Hi-fi system by Dieter Rams, 1965 | Photo: Andreas Kugel © Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation
Radio-Phono-Combination “SK 4” by Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot, 1956 | Photo: Andreas Kugel © Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation
World Receiver “T 1000” by Dieter Rams, 1963 | Photo: Andreas Kugel
© Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation
Automatic slide projector by Dieter Rams 1956 | Photo: Andreas Kugel
© Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation
At Braun, household goods such as juicers, radio, television, calculator, table lighter and hair dryers all exercised this approach. Rams’ design for the Braun T-1000 Shortwave Radio Receiver combined a sleek aesthetic with innovation of its time, its simplicity concealing inner complexity. The T41 pocket stereo designed in 1959 was later coined by Rams as the “first Walkman”, whilst his P1 pocket record player designed in the same year was equally as conveniently functional as it was aesthetically-pleasing. He introduced over 500 iconic products.
His design approach included the use of considered graphic design and materiality along with the pillars of form and proportion to create cohesion and consistency. Rams’ designs would need to speak for themselves, but not shout, and more importantly easily understood without instructions. Through his humanistic approach, he would explain “You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people. For design to be understood by everyone it should be as simple as possible.” No matter what nationality or language someone spoke, Rams’ designs were understood within a matter of seconds: what they were for, how they were meant to be used.
Dieter Rams in the studio of his house in Kronberg 1975 | Photo: Marlene Schnelle-Schneyder © Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Archive
Product range presented by the company Braun, around 1965 | Photo: Braun Werbeabteilung © Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Archive
It’s important to note that Rams’ tenure at Braun began in Post World War II Germany when citizens needed basic items in their homes after most was destroyed during the war. Household goods were in demand, with production in full swing, but Rams always ensured to design them with longevity in mind. Designed in such a way to allow space for “real life,” products were also intended to last generations, repairs and all. Carpentry by nature holds these same ideals in countless ways. Based on practicality and problem-solving, the skilled trade is also guided by foundations of longevity and designs are constructed with the possibility to repair, if needed. Rams’ formative years spent with his grandfather were indeed impressionable.
By the late 1970s Rams’ thoughts were informed by the state of the world around him and his dedication to utilitarianism expanded. As he described, it was “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises”. As a designer, his awareness as a contributor to the production of this ‘noise’ led him to ask himself: is my design good design? Through this, his own conclusively-devised blueprint became a revolutionary guide for many.
Vitsœ exhibition space in the Hochstraße in Frankfurt around 1970 | Photo: Ingeborg Kracht-Rams © Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Archive
Whilst at Braun, Rams would also implement his design ethos for furniture design company Vitsœ (at the time name Vitsœ + Zapf). His genius design for the 606 Universal Shelving System (also held in MoMA modern and contemporary art collection) and 620 Seating System were modular and ahead of their time, both versatile and efficient in production and existence. Vitsœ continues to produce them, now proudly in the United Kingdom, in an equally considered purpose-built production facility, respecting material, form and function.
Vitsœ’s 621 Table – now injection-moulded in Britain – was originally designed by Dieter Rams
in 1962 along with his 620 Chair Programme | Studio (ID216) 621 & 620 ©Vitsoe
620 Chair Programme Designed by Dieter Rams for Vitsœ in 1962 | Studio (ID1367) 620 ©Vitsoe
Rams’ influence has stemmed from his earliest years at Braun and continued all the way up until now, guiding leading designers such as Jony Ive - directly seen in his work at Apple - and even Steve Jobs himself. Now, in the twenty-first century, Rams’ design principles seem all the more urgent and necessary. Within our world of mass-production, his timeless designs grow in relevance and importance every day. Dieter Rams himself is now 89 years old, and has seen the development of consumerism rise daily, with the product designer continuing to voice his concerns for our insatiable appetite to constantly acquire new products. The world has finite resources, and human consumerist behaviour is not sustainable, as is the methods of construction and production.
Rams’ holistic design ethos is imperative, now more than ever. His Ten Principles continue to remain ever-relevant, with Rams’ specific design methodology a consistent blueprint for designers, architects and creatives worldwide. Consume less, but better. This is the universal power of good design.
606 Universal Shelving System by Dieter Rams for Vitsoe (ID5843) ©Vitsoe
Text: Monique Kawecki