Friday Diary: Celebrating & Reflecting on Dieter Rams


- August 24, 2011
“Good Design Is Long Lasting” Exhibition
Phaidon Flagship NY

Core77 and Phaidon held a contest to celebrate iconic German industrial designer Dieter Rams work and his ‘less is more’ design principles. Rams was the head of product design at Braun from 1961 to 1995 and has been described as the yoda of design. His designs are commonly considered to have influenced the designs of Apple, Nokia, Muji and more – that clean rounded nonfussy most modern of aesthetics). The drawings are on display in a product timeline at the flagship store for the next two weeks.

Here is a reposting of Ram’s principles (color) with some of my own thoughts (grey/black) ; Their essence resonates far beyond the confines of design.
1. Good Design is innovative
It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product. The possibilities in this respect are by no means exhausted. Technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.

I wrote an article a while back entitled “new lessons from ancient Japan”. In it, i refer to the term “kaizen,” continuous improvement (process focus) which Toyota embraces as a core value. Their motto: ‘the right process, the right result.’

I want to look at the word innovation. I like to check in regularly with words that become buzzwords to make sure they still mean something to me. So why do we need continuous innovation? Did we always need it?

There is no more ‘the way things have always been done’. Has iterative, motivated ($$, survival) change always existed at this urgent alarm-shrieking level? It seems like we can break history down into 3 phases where innovation changes from being a base ‘Maslow’ style need to a self-actualizing ‘nice to have’ Maslow style need. I’d say it goes something like this:

A. The dawn of man, -history, ancient Egypt, Rome, through to industrial revolution: continuous improvement, better tools, better solutions – all the time. Base impulse of humankind. Gets increasingly less urgent once we start lying around talking about philosophy through to committing mass genocide on several continents.

B. Next phase: 40′s on – years of trying to find solutions that last (excepting planned obsolescence of course) so we could rest and be happy fat cats. No need to innovate to survive.

C. Where we are now. Screw ‘innovate and stop, innovate and stop’. Back to the most urgent of loop to loop innovation in every day life.

Is continuous innovation a fact of modern life as well as a fact of primitive life? Is life now mimicking primitive life?

Mandate: how can we continuously improve and reassess, stay objective, keep questioning meaning?

2. Good Design makes a product useful
A product is bought in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose – in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimise the utility of a product.

I used to tutor a 6th grade kid with anger issues and I always said ‘use your resources’. I don’t know where i got it form but it was the way to get him on track when he began to get frustrated with a lesson.

Then I realized that I don’t always use my resources. I forget my resources and seek new ones to the detriment of what I’ve already gathered.

Sometimes things are just easy. Don’t make them hard. What do you already have?

3. Good Design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product – and the fascination it inspires – is an integral part of the its utility. Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to. However, it has always been a hard task to argue about aesthetic quality, for two reasons.

Firstly, it is difficult to talk about anything visual, since words have a different meaning for different people.

Some designers I speak to don’t feel comfortable with words. My job is sense making in this arena. In others, my words are more essence than organization. Words are my output. On the other hand, i can barely draw a straight line.

Secondly, aesthetic quality deals with details, subtle shades, harmony and the equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. A good eye is required, schooled by years and years of experience, in order to be able to draw the right conclusion.

4. Good Design helps a product be understood
It clarifies the structure of the product. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory and saves you the long, tedious perusal of the operating manual.

Every practical interaction should be so easy so we can leave the talking and words for literature, criticism, love, and debate.

5. Good Design is unobtrusive
Products that satisfy this criterion are tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained leaving room for the user’s self-ex ssion.

6. Good Design is honest
An honestly-designed product must not claim features it does not have – being more innovative, more efficient, of higher value. It must not influence or manipulate buyers and users.

7. Good Design is durable
It is nothing trendy that might be out-of-date tomorrow. This is one of the major differences between well-designed products and trivial objects for a waste-producing society. Waste must no longer be tolerated.

8. Good Design is thorough to the last detail
Thoroughness and accuracy of design are synonymous with the product and its functions, as seen through the eyes of the user

9. Good Design is concerned with environment
Design must contribute towards a stable environment and a sensible use of raw materials. This means considering not only actual pollution, but also the visual pollution and destruction of our environment.

10. Good Design is as little design as possible
Back to purity, back to simplicity.

What becomes of the baroque? (it certainly shows up in contemporary television but where else does the baroque make sense?)

That’s all for now. (not the most graceful exit but it’s time to rest and after all this is a blog.)

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