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Dieter Rams and Good Design

Introduction

Dieter Rams (1932–Present) is a German industrial designer active since the 1950’s. He is well known in the design community for his “10 Principles of Good Design”, which some refer to as the “10 Commandments of Good Design”. But, taking the “10 Principles” as law overlooks the fundamental ethos of his design process:

Strict functionality has fallen into disrepute in recent years. Perhaps rightly so in a way, since the functions that a product had to fulfil were often too narrowly, too puritanically determined. Human needs are more diverse than many designers are sometimes ready to admit or, perhaps, capable of knowing. For me the territory that the term “function” covers is constant expanding. One is simply forced to keep learning how complex and manifold the functions of a product are.

Dieter Rams, ‘Die Rolle des Designers im Industrieunternehmen’.

Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design. Function-oriented design is the fruit of intense, comprehensive, patient and contemplative reflection on reality, on life, on the needs, desires and feelings of people.

Dieter Rams, ‘Functional design: A Challenge for the Future’, lecture (1987), Rams archive 1.1.3.1.

Instead of strictly following “laws” of design, Rams encourages us to deeply and compassionately think about those who will use and interact with our designs. His “10 Principles” (and other proposed axioms distilled from experience) can serve as tools that guide behavior and help us orient ourselves as we iterate upon designs. However, the presence of these principles and axioms does not mean the process of design has yet been reduced to algorithmically applying these ideas. Even with the wisdom of experts, to create good designs means we need to think.


15 Questions a Designer Should Ask of a Product

Dieter Rams’, “Die Rolle des Designers im Unternehmen,” speech (January 18, 1980), Dieter Rams archive 1.1.2.10.

10 Principles of Good Design

Dieter Rams, Ten Principles of Good Design, June 1987/July 1991, amended March 2003, Dieter Rams archive.

606 Universal Shelving System

Designed by Dieter Rams in 1960 and manufactured by Vitsœ.

For more information, see the 606 Universal Shelving System on Vitsœ’s website.


620 Chair Program

Designed by Dieter Rams in 1962 and manufactured by Vitsœ.

For more information, see the 620 Chair Programme on Vitsœ’s website.


621 Table

Designed by Dieter Rams in 1962 and manufactured by Vitsœ.

For more information, see the 621 Table on Vitsœ’s website.