Less and More – The Timelessness of Industrial Design Principles

The last post was about ‘Yes is More’ and the inspirational influence of architecture. ‘Yes is More’ describes the architectural concept of “utopian pragmatism”. This time it is about ‘Less and More’ and the industrial design ethos of Dieter Rams. He was described as a “realistic Utopian”. That does not just sound quite similar, there is actually an interesting connection between the two approaches. The ‘Less and More’ exhibition at the museum of applied arts in Frankfurt was a haptic demonstration of that.

Dieter Rams was the chief of design at Braun from 1961 to 1995. In that position he probably was the first industrial designer who really helped to build a global brand mainly through product design. Not surprisingly Jonathan Ive was highly influenced and inspired by Rams. If you compare the Apple design aesthetics with some of Rams products he designed for Braun, the similarities are quiet obvious.

The unifying theme behind his ethos is a holistic approach starting with the environment and needs of human beings. Like in the architectural approach described by BIG but also in strategy and planning, accurate analysis of the nature of things is the basis to create great ideas. These ideas can turn into the optimum design of products, buildings, interior design, living environments, brand experiences and business models. You could also call this a human-centered design approach.

This video gives a first impression of Rams philosophy:

The products are reduced to the main functionality but still leave enough room for imagination. At the core of the products, although being very reduced on the surface, we can see that they are deeply rooted in insights about people’s’ lives and how they want to use such a product. The focus on every single detail and on the overall user experience at the same time creates products that are timeless in their appeal. Timelessness seems to be a quality characteristic of great design and who ever owned an Apple product knows that, even after a couple of years, there is still a certain appeal to let’s say the iBook G4. This is a rare experience, especially for electronic products.

Dieter Rams said that good design is characterized by being long-lasting. And so are his 10 principles on good design – a kind of summary of his design ethos. These principles can easily be applied to many different areas of innovation today. As marketing always starts with a great product and as branding and communication, especially in the digital age, merges more and more with the actual product design, these principles should be considered for a comprehensive marketing strategy. They are as inspiringly simple and humble as they are ambitious and true, so I quote them here in full length.

Dieter Rams on ‘Good Design’
Based on my experience as a designer, I have distilled the essentials of my design philosophy into ten points. But these points cannot be set in stone because, just as technology and culture are constantly developing, so are ideas about 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 emphasises 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 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.

6. 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.

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 minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the life-cycle 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 inessentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity!

These principles are not just true for product design, but summarize a school of thought that is design thinking, something that can be applied to all fields of innovation. Rams himself perceived design as a unifying and interdisciplinary approach to solve problems across borders and to come up with creative solutions. “We need new landscapes, cities, even structures for our behaviours – and that is design. The unspectacular things are the important ones in the future.” Yes Is Less and More. Interestingly Dieter Rams, before becoming one of the most influential, late 20th century product designers, originally studied architecture.

Here you can find some more photos from the exhibition in Frankfurt and this is another video on the original ‘Less and More’ exhibition in London:


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About aschauerte

Marketing, Media, Communications and Business Strategist.

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