Dieter Rams: The Documentary

Words: Sam Wittwer
Images: Courtesy of Gary Hustwit

July 10 2016

From Apple’s Johnny Ives to Kenya Hara of Muji, the influence of Dieter Rams permeates our visual culture. And although his 10 Principals have helped define ‘Good Design’ for the better part of a century (ever think, “Wow I love my iPhone calculator? You can thank Rams for that), little is known about the life of the largely private designer. But that doesn’t stop Rams from being the subject of exhibitions, monographs, biographies, and, now, a documentary.

Gary Hustwit, the man who brought us Helvetica and Objectified, introduced his newest work, Rams, earlier this month with a Kickstarter campaign. Rams is first full length feature documentary on Mr. Rams, and will dive deeply into the life and work of the legendary German designer.

Rams’ designs have been impacting us for the better part of a century, thanks to simple lines and high functionality. He has been quoted as saying that he wants his designs to be sustainable. “By that I mean the development of long-lasting products, products that don’t age prematurely, which won’t become out of style,” says Rams in a 2015 interview with Fast Company. “Products that will remain neutral, that you can live with longer.”

Rams is also known for his “10 principles for good design,” a list which serves as a timeless source of information and inspiration for designers. According to Rams, good design is innovative, makes a product useful, aesthetic, makes a product understandable, unobtrusive, honest, long-lasting, thorough down to the last detail, environmentally-friendly, and – perhaps most notably – good design is as little design as possible.

Between his work at Braun and Vitsœ, Rams has designed some of the most iconic objects of the 20th century. His Vitsoe 606 shelving system, which was original designed in 1960 and continues to be widely produced to this day, is said to be “as close to perfection as any article of furniture can possibly be.” His work at Braun, where his ‘less but better’ philosophy saw the creation of some of the coolest home goods, well, ever, influenced a generation of product designs to follow. Even those unaware of his ET 66 calculator and RT 20 radio would be familiar with the designs – Apple’s chief design officer Johnny Ive has acknowledged that Rams’ work has been a major source of inspiration for Apple’s products and interfaces.

“This film is an opportunity to celebrate a designer whose work continues to impact us, and preserve an important piece of design history,” says Hustwit. “I’m also interested in exploring the role that manufactured objects play in our lives, and by extension the relationship we have with the people who design them.”

Hustwit made his directorial debut back in 2007 with Helvetica, a documentary investigating the importance of typography and design in our modern world, and the first in a trilogy of design documentaries that includes 2009’s Objectified and 2011’s Urbanized. It was during the filming of Objectified that Hustwit first met the famously reclusive Rams at his home. It was then he realized the need to tell Rams’ story to a wider audience.

The funds raised through the Kickstarter will help Hustwit finish the film, which, the documentarian says, will include interviews with people close to Rams both in personal and professional capacities, and, of course, Rams himself. The part we’re most anticipating? Getting to view the inside of Rams’ Kronberg home, which serves as an archive of his most noteworthy designs.

View the Kickstarter page for Rams here, and see Hustwit’s previous projects online