Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams

One of the great things about working in the SOMA (South of Market) district of San Francisco is the ability to take advantage of free days at the San Francsco Museum of Modern Art, or SFMOMA, on the first Tuesday of each month.  I try to make it each month, but all too often find myself too immersed in a project or struggling to meet a deadline, and push it off until the next month.  But today i made it happen, and i’m so happy i did.    After enjoying a Blue Bottle espresso on the Museum’s rooftop garden, as is my custom on each visit, I went immediately to the Dieter Rams exhibit on the second floor.

One of my favorite personal favorites

I won’t go into detail on Dieter Rams, as there are thousands of web blogs and volumes of books dedicated to the man and his design ethos.  But whether you’ve heard of him or not, you will undoubtedly recognize his design aesthetic and its influence on everything from Apple products, to furniture to kitchen appliances. He is probably most well known for his Universal Shelving System at Vitsoe and sleek and minimalist appliance designs while a product designer at Braun  (Steve Jobs famously used to tour the Macy’s kitchen department to draw inspiration from Braun for his next product idea, and much has been said in the blog world about the uncanny resemblance of Rams’ designs in Apples products).

But what impresses me most are Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of Good Design.  I had come across these before, but seeing them printed on the pristine white walls of the museum alongside the beautiful products in which they are manifested, really drove it home for me.  The genius of these principles is that they apply not only to consumer products like appliances, electronics, and furniture, but to all facets of design, including architecture, lighting design, and running shoes (to name a few that are more dear to my heart). I’m keen to  integrate these principles into my own design work with more intention after attending this exhibit.

Take a moment to read them below, if you haven’t already, and see if they resonate with you.  At the very least, maybe it will help you understand why you paid so much for your iPhone.

Dieter Ram’s Ten Principles of Good Design:

  • 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 are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. 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 clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. 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.
  • 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.

“My aim is to omit everything superfluous so that the essential is shown to the best possible advantage”

“There is no longer room for irrelevant things.  We have no longer got the resources.  Irrelevence is out.”

– Dieter Rams

Bay Area residents can check it out in person:
Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams
at the SFMOMA until February 20.


3 thoughts on “Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams

  1. I like it that you have the custom of grabbing an espresso on the rooftop garden
    before you head to your exhibit – it seems the perfect way to enjoy that special exhibit. I also like Dieter Rams principle that good design is “unobtrusive . . . Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression”. Self-expression – so important!

    Nice post – thanks for this vicarious visit to the Dieter Rams exhibit at the SFMOMA.

  2. Pingback: The Intersection of Arts and Technology « standing on the shoulders of giants

  3. Pingback: The Intersection of Arts and Technology | standing on the shoulders of giants

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