If you want to understand the aesthetics and principles of (minimalist) design, you can’t avoid looking at its history, its motivations, and the people who drove it forward. One of those people is Dieter Rams.
Rams is a German industrial designer and architect whose work has had a significant impact on the development of modern product design. He is widely considered one of the most influential designers of the 20th century, and his work is still a great inspiration for other creatives. He is best known for his 10 principles of “good design” and his simple, yet highly functional and aesthetically pleasing designs.
In the late 1970s, Dieter Rams became increasingly distressed by the world he saw around him – a chaotic mix of forms, colors, and sounds. Realizing he had a part to play in this state, he asked himself: “Is my design good design?” His answer is found in his principles of good design – ten fundamental rules by which he defined, refined, and improved his work.1
In this week’s column, we will look at these principles and how they have been used in the design of modern products:
1. Good design is innovative.
Designers should strive to push boundaries and come up with new ideas, while still keeping the functions of a product in mind. Products should be designed to solve problems.
2. Good design makes a product useful.
Rams advocated that a product should always prioritize function over form, be designed with the user in mind, and be made as useful as possible. Appearance should not be a primary consideration in the design process.
3. Good design is aesthetic.
A product’s aesthetics are essential to its usability, as the items we interact with on a daily basis can shape our personalities and affect our mental and physical health. Yet, for something to be truly beautiful, it must also be crafted with quality.
I have explored this third principle more intensively. If you want to read more about it, check it out here:
4. Good design makes a product understandable.
The user must easily understand how to use the product. This includes making products easy to understand. It helps to create a clearer structure for the product, providing it with language so it can explain itself in the best possible way.
5. Good design is unobtrusive
A product should not distract from its main purpose. This includes avoiding unnecessary features and designs that do not add to the user’s experience. Products that serve a purpose should be designed in a neutral and restrained manner to leave room for individual interpretation and appreciation. Such items are not considered decorative objects or works of art, but rather tools used to serve a specific purpose.
6. Good design is honest.
A product’s true qualities are not exaggerated or misrepresented; its innovative, powerful, or valuable elements are honestly presented and no unrealistic promises are made that could not be fulfilled.
7. Good design is long-lasting.
Rams believed that a product should always be designed to last and that it should not be designed in such a way that it will become obsolete quickly. Well-conceived design is timeless and never appears dated. Unlike designs that are popular for a short period of time, it stands the test of time even in our throw-away culture.
8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Every effort must be made to ensure that nothing is left to chance or randomness. Showing diligence and precision in the creative process is a way of showing respect for the consumer. This means that designers should pay attention to even the smallest details to create a product that is well-designed and high-quality.
My favorite books* on and by Dieter Rams
9. Good design is environmentally friendly.
Rams believed that products should be designed in such a way that is mindful of the environment, and that materials should be sourced in an eco-friendly manner.
10. Good design is as little design as possible.
This is perhaps the most important of Rams’ principles and the one that is most closely associated with minimalist design. Rams believed that good design should be created with the intention of keeping the product as minimalistic as possible and that any features that are not necessary should be avoided.
Rams’ 10 principles of good design have had a lasting impact on the way modern designers create products. His focus on simplicity and functionality has led to a new aesthetic, and many products have become increasingly minimalist and user-friendly as a result. Whether the products he created are aesthetic or not is up to each person. But he has left an important legacy.
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