Ten principles of good design

For over 3 decades, German industrial designer Dieter Rams was Braun’s Chief Design Officer, responsible for the style of a wide range of Braun products, from open reel tape decks to shavers. He even designed the Braun logo.

He often stated “Less, but better”.

As an advocate of the Functionalist School of industrial design, Rams believed that the design a of product should be based on its purpose. The aesthetics would reflect the product’s simplicity and functionality.

He was prolific in his production of exceptional designs, including: audio/visual equipment, radios, coffee makers, calculators, consumer appliances and office products, many which have become recognised classics.

Amongst these is the minimalist, Cylindric T 2 lighter (1968) and Braun Phonosuper SK 4 record player. Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot designed this product with an innovative clear Plexiglass lid, which displayed its function and prompted the name “Snow White’s Coffin”.

Wunderkind Apple designer Jonathan Ive admired Rams, and remembered vividly his first encounter as a young boy with a Rams designed Braun MPZ 2 Citromatic juicer. “The surfaces were without apology, bold, pure, perfectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless.”

Some of Ive’s designs pay a clear tribute to Rams work. The elegant simplicity and circular control of the Ive designed iPod Mini (2004), echoes the Braun T3 pocket transistor radio, designed by Dieter Rams in 1958.

In the 1970s, Rams introduced the idea of sustainable development, and the concept that obsolescence is a crime in design. In asking himself the question “Is my design good design?”, he formulated his now celebrated ten principles.

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.

In 1980, American inventor and designer Buckminster Fuller stated, “When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

This philosophy applies equally to conveying ideas as to products. Often, when designing an app, writing copy, producing a print ad, framing a photograph or planning a video, the most important decisions are those on what to leave out.

Restraint takes courage, but the best results derive from eliminating the extraneous to reveal the essence.

As Steve Jobs said, “Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

 

Reference:

To learn a more of Dieter Rams thinking, read his Designboom interview
To learn a more of Jonathan Ive, read his Design Museum interview

Books:

Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams edited by Klaus Klemp and Keiko Ueki-Polet, published by Gestalten. ISBN: 9783899552775.

As Little Design As Possible: The Work of Dieter Rams by Sophie Lovell, published by Phaidon. ISBN: 9780714849188

Sources:

View some of these designs in Pinterest.com

Dieter Rams portrait
Braun logo structure
Braun TG 60 ‘open reel’ tape recorder
Braun RT 20 ’tischsuper’ tube radio
Braun SK 4 ‘phonosuper’ record player
Braun T3 pocket transistor radio
Braun T2 cylindric cigarette lighter
Braun MPZ 2 Citromatic juicer
industrial design

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