Back in the early 1980s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him – “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design?
As good design cannot be measured in a finite way he set about expressing the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design. (Sometimes they are referred as the ‘Ten commandments’.)
Here they are.
Vitsœ’s designer, Dieter Rams.
Photograph by Abisag Tüllmann
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.
TP 1 radio/phono combination, 1959, by Dieter Rams for Braun
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.
MPZ 21 multipress citrus juicer, 1972, by Dieter Rams and Jürgen Greubel for Braun
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.
RT 20 tischsuper radio, 1961, by Dieter Rams for Braun
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.
T 1000 world receiver, 1963, by Dieter Rams for Braun
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.
Cylindric T 2 lighter, 1968, by Dieter Rams for Braun
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.
L 450 flat loudspeaker, TG 60 reel-to-reel tape recorder and TS 45 control unit, 1962-64, by Dieter Rams for Braun
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.
620 Chair Programme, 1962, by Dieter Rams for Vitsœ
Things which are different in order simply to be different are seldom better, but that which is made to be better is almost always different.
Dieter Rams, 1993
My goal is to omit everything superfluous so that the essential is shown to best possible advantage.
Dieter Rams, 1980
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.
ET 66 calculator, 1987, by Dietrich Lubs for Braun
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 lifecycle of the product.
606 Universal Shelving System, 1960, by Dieter Rams for Vitsœ
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.
L 2 speaker, 1958, by Dieter Rams for Braun