I am just back from a trip to San Francisco where Lunar’s head office is and over a three-day trip there I had the chance to visit SFMOMA, San Fran’s Museum of Modern Art. Awesome building even more awesome exhibition of work by Dieter Rams. A must see for any industrial designer, just as this book – Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible, is a must-read. In fact below is a book review that I wrote about that very thought.
“Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.” – Dieter Rams.
One reality is that if you are an industrial designer, it’s time to make room for a new book—this one is going to take up some space. A deservedly thorough and appropriately thick tomb, this new book by British design historian Sophie Lovell profiles Dieter Rams’ life and work and is simply is a must-have for any serious design library.
As one might expect from a designer of Dieter Rams’ stature, he has a philosophy: 10 principles that govern great design (see the next page). This book is titled after his 10th principle: “Good design is as little design as possible,” It is a fascinating review of what a life in design can be and the legacy it can leave.
You see, Dieter Rams is a living legend in design. Products he designed in the 1960s are still manufactured and sought after today. Vintage versions of his products are coveted and collected. He is rightfully a hero to many in design, including me. I own no less than a dozen Braun classics, including the cool Braun calculator with the M&M keys that never goes out of style and has worked for me for over 20 years straight, without a battery. Movie soundtracks at my house are powered by a Rams-designed vintage ADS R1 receiver, which still works as well as it did when I bought it new, in the 1980s.
Dieter Rams was born in Wiesbaden, Germany, in 1932. In 1955 he joined Braun, a German electronics company where he and his colleagues were able to create some of the world’s most notable designs of the 20th century. He became head of design and stayed at Braun until 1995, 40 prolific years. The book begins with an introduction by the current head of design at Apple, Jonathon Ive, who gives deserving and respectful acknowledgement to Rams in an interesting and very personal forward. Confirming what we already know, that the two are kindred spirits in approach and execution. Ive acknowledges the influence, especially in the case of a particular Braun juicer his family owned, that helped to shape his view of great design. In addition to Ive, Naoto Fukasawa, in later chapters Sam Hecht and Konstantin Grcic are examined relative to the influence of this design master.
Dr. Klaus Kemp, the head of exhibitions at the Frankfurt Museum of Applied Arts profiles Rams’ early life and training as an architect. The book goes on to discuss his work, philosophy and theory in an interesting and well-crafted way. No critique to be offered here about the content or the writing. This read is more than worth the investment of time. Also, the photographs by the German photographer Florian Böhm provide delicious visual interludes. Three major sequences—the first a profile of the Braun archive in Kronberg, Germany; the second, Rams in his home and his home itself; and the third, intimate close-ups of details and features of Rams’ products—are well placed among exquisite full-bleed images. In addition to the Braun work, the book also covers work he did for the furniture company Vitsoe and profiles his home and work studio, all offering further insight to Rams and his point of view.
As is fitting in such a tribute, the book itself is a beautiful thing. Designed by Kobi Benezri, it is wonderfully detailed and well-crafted. The text and black-and-white images are fabulously printed on uncoated Munken paper. The four-color images are printed on a bright-white coated stock, which makes them rich and inviting. The binding detail and texture of the cover are an appropriate nod to a designer who himself obsessed over this kind of exquisite detailing. In terms of pure enjoyment, the book offers a bountiful visceral collection of unexpected imagery, including of workshops and back hallways filled with equipment, products and work areas. These candid photos create a kind of understanding that there is a need in design to touch and feel and build.
While this beautifully designed book is about the life and philosophy of the man, perhaps the best take away concerns not Rams at all but rather the idea that Braun uses design as a successful business strategy and that Rams and his colleagues were the caretakers and facilitators of this strategy. Dieter Rams was a master in the boardroom as well as the design studio.
Bottom line, as a reviewer this one receives my strongest recommendation. Put it on your holiday gift list as a must-have, and revel in its exciting, respectful and honest profile of one of the world’s most talented industrial designers ever.
Dieter Rams’ 10 principles for good design
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Good design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
4. Good design makes a product understandable
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.