Dieter Rams: ten principles for good design

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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.

Read about 620

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.

Read about 606

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

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