Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer most known for his work with consumer products company Braun, and the Functionalist School of Industrial Design. He championed a “less is more” attitude towards design that is still highly regarded and is considered one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century. Here’s a look back at the many contributions over Dieter Rams’ seven decades in design.
Dieter Rams was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1932. At a young age he was strongly influenced by his grandfather, a carpenter, and an early interest in carpentry led to his training in architecture. The rest is history, or, goes something like this:
1947: Begins studying architecture and interior decoration at Wiesbaden School of Art
1953: Obtains a job with Frankfurt-based architect Otto Apel
1955: Applies for a job at Braun, a company he knows nothing about at the time, and is recruited by Erwin and Artur Braun following the death of their father to work for the company as an architect and interior designer.
1959: Begins designing furniture for Niels Vitsœ and Otto Zapf
1961: Dieter Rams is Braun’s Chief Design Officer, a title he holds until 1995.
Rams’ design philosophy was simple, and was explained in the saying “weniger, abet besser” which translates to “less, but better”. He was and continues to be an advocate for “an end to the era of wastefulness” in approach to industrial design. The products he designed for Brain over his many years with the company are marvels of industrial design and are still in use today, thanks to careful consideration towards how people live, and how they can live better.
Jonathan Ives of Apple fame spoke of Dieter Rams as “utterly alone in producing a body of work so consistently beautiful, so right and so accessible”, to which Rams responded, “I have always regarded Apple products – and the kind words Jony Ive has said about me and my work – as a compliment” and has said Apple is one of the few companies designing products according to his design principles. In fact, the calculator on your iPhone is directly inspired by Rams’ version for Braun.
In his 4 decades at Braun, Rams saw through one of the most well-articulated complete design visions in history. Throughout his life’s work, he has barely changed his conception and principles of design — and quite consciously so — because he believed them to be right back then and still believes them to be right today.
In the 1970s, Rams introduced the idea of sustainable development and of obsolescence being a crime in design. He asked himself: is my design good design? His answer lead to his much celebrated ten principles of good design. Good design:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Dieter Rams has so many notable contributions to the design world, and has been awarded countless achievements, including:
- 1960 ‘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 ‘SIAD Medal of the Society of Industrial Artists and Designers’, UK
- 1985 ‘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 ‘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 ‘World Design Medal’ from the Industrial Designers Society of America
- 2002 ‘Verdienstkreuz des Verdienstordens der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Commanders Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany)
- 2003 ‘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
(feature image source)