Few would argue if there has been a bigger influence on our modern living than Dieter Rams. I refuse to insult the intelligence of the wonderful readers of The Industry by going into the effect his work has had on the Apple products that we love so dearly, but I would like to dissect why his thinking will greatly impact our lives in the future.
I design something in one form or fashion (as many of you do) every day, and I often find myself using the Rams 10 Principles of Good Design as a way of cross-checking the function, authenticity and meaning behind my work. I like to visit the Vitsoe site about every three weeks and remind myself of his great principles.
The argument I wish to propose to you today is that these principles will surpass their meaning in the industrial and digital design industries, and be the core driver of the individuals that will lead our future.
Let’s look into the 10 Principles and see how each of them play a part in developing designers as the leaders of our future.
Good Design is Innovative
“…innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.”
As technology develops at an ever-increasing rate, it will be the job of the designer to contain and funnel the enormous amount of information and new advances that could otherwise consume our lives. It is not design’s purpose to compete with technology in regards to which is more important, but rather make it easier and more adjustable to improving our lives as humans.
If you stop for a moment, I’m sure you can already feel the effects of consuming too much technology and information. The consumer internet is only a few years old and already it is showing its negative wear on us. In the future it will be the role of the designer to control and filter what we need and keep us free from what we don’t. Design will be meaningless by itself, but purposeful in its control of technology in our lives.
Good Design Makes a Product Useful
“Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.”
Along the same lines of controlling technology, design will also determine the usefulness of products, both digital and physical, in our lives. Just as we are getting inundated with a flood of useless information, we are also seeing the woes of living in a society that over-produces mass-marketed goods.
Designers will lead the future because over time we will begin to understand that we can no longer derive our happiness from inanimate objects. We will only use products that are designed purposefully and designed specifically to be useful. This will lead companies and institutions to rely heavily on good designers because the market for useless products will dismantle itself. We will own less that will have to do more.
Good Design is Aesthetic
“…only well-executed objects can be beautiful.”
We know this principle of aesthetics to hold true because of what these principles have meant for Apple. Apple’s products have been sold because they are beautiful, both to use and to display. They are designed to be simple by removing anything from any interaction that could distract from the main purpose of any one intended action.
This alone makes the product aesthetically beautiful but also mirrors a functional principle in nature; if something is unnecessary, it dies off. Good aesthetics means that everything is seemingly necessary in the moment, therefore always rendering itself useful. Like a peacock during mating season, aesthetics are necessary for survival, and only a designer can know what it takes to communicate beauty without having to sell it.
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.”
Have you ever had the joy of seeing a two-year-old play with an iPad? Even without the knowledge of how things work, nor the complex motor skills it requires to operate most things, a small infant can navigate and use an iPad.
While this may not seem like a big ordeal now, as the future of information and technology advances, we will be inundated with thousands of interactions a day. Because of this, designers will be tasked with creating products and experiences that are instantly clear and understandable. If a product or service leaves anyone confused, they will leave in seconds. Designers will be important in the future because of the hard work involved in making something simple, clear, and direct.
Good Design is Unobtrusive
“Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.”
Ever notice how everyone’s white iPhone 5 looks the same when it’s off? The future is a world where products are designed to be completely neutral and without their own personality. The beauty of where we are headed is that we will not own many things, but what we do own, will allow us to fully express ourselves without the device itself consuming any of our attention. The best designs moving forward will serve a great purpose but will need to feel as if they aren’t there at all.
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.”
Think to yourself for a moment about the “Mad Men” era. Advertising was huge because companies knew that if they had enough money, they could pay an ad agency to convince you to buy an inferior product. The further we get away from that era, the more that marketing and advertising become irrelevant.
Designers will have to design products that are truly functional and useful. They will have to be honest, because people will no longer believe anything short of that. When companies can’t rely on Madison Avenue anymore, they’ll have to seek out the best designers they can find.
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.”
This is one of my favorite principles. I discussed nature in one of my previous points, and it bears repeating now. The reason so many things are beautiful and functional in nature is because they’ve been evolving and surviving for thousands of years. In light of that, can you tell me something that you own that you’ve had for more than 10 years? 5? 2? 1?
We consume so many products that have a short life-span that eventually we will run out of space to bury them. In a Target and Walmart world, products aren’t around long enough to truly appreciate them. They never get that beautifully worn leather feel, the wood never ages to perfection, and the websites never stay useful.
Good design is your grandmother’s armoire that is two hundred years old. Good design is an Eames chair. Good design is Basecamp. Good design doesn’t follow trends, it simply stands as beautiful and useful over a long period of time. Better yet, it gets better with age.
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 user.”
The beauty of creating a product that is simple is the fact that you have fewer details that are arbitrary. In a world of less, designers lead the future by obsessing over the details. Every knob is perfect, every button has a purpose, every bit of markup is semantic. Things that are designed to last are things that the designer was able to give great attention to. When you have fewer elements, you have the ability to be thorough down to the last detail.
Good Design is Environmentally Friendly
“Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.”
This principle didn’t use to mean much to me. Out of all of them, it used to carry the least weight. But honestly, people aren’t being honest about how much “bad design” is plaguing us. It is important to appreciate good design and to try to not spend a dime on anything that isn’t well designed.
We’re creating too much and dumping too much. We’re creating more and more everyday, yet what we create never goes away. We have to be conscious of this as a mode of survival. Design with the consequences in mind, be environmentally friendly in your design so we can still have an environment to live in.
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.”
I’ll let this one speak for itself.
We know that the Dieter Rams principles can sell products (Apple) but the true test of design in the future could be how well these principles apply to our very own survival. My purpose here, wasn’t to pound the chest of the design community, but to bring light to the importance of design in our future.
Good design will have to play a part in urban development, starvation in third-world countries, and caring for an over-populated and over-poluted planet. In the near future we will be challenged with serious design problems. Even if you’re designing for the web, it is important to always be evolving your techniques for doing more with less.
Learn these principles and internalize them. Make them part of your fabric as a human being.
Be the best designer you can be, because you’re about to be in high demand.
Photo by Anne Brassier