Dieter Rams Designs

Just spent some time at the Dieter Rams exhibition at the Design Museum and I can now see not only why there were so many ‘Apple is the new Braun’ articles around the time they decided to get all perforated aluminium with their machines, but where the thinking behind the design comes from.

Rams led the Braun design team for 40 years and developed a powerful philosophical approach to design which is summed up in his ten principles of design.

Early portable tape machine (requires several strong people to carry)

  • Good design is innovative.
  • Good design makes a product useful.
  • Good design is aesthetic.
  • Good design makes a product understandable.
  • Good design is unobtrusive.
  • Good design is honest.
  • Good design is long-lasting.
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
  • Good design is environmentally friendly.
  • Good design is as little design as possible.

The range of items the Braun team applied these principles to was enormous, from toasters and cigarette lighters to tape machines, home film cameras, music systems and shavers. And the exhibition shows off many of them and you can see the realisation of the principles in the spartan design as well as the design vocabulary of the buttons and shapes that have become utterly iconic. It’s impressive how few of today’s products even begin to meet Rams’ principles.

And you can also see the effect Rams’ principles have had on modern industrial designers, not least Apple’s Johnathan Ive, whose commentaries on his designs echo Rams’ early experiences as a carpenter and artisan. In particular, how the design for the iPod epitomises much of what Rams was doing and thinking, much more so than the perforated aluminium Mac towers. It’s just a shame that, while they’ve got a new MacBook and iPod, they haven’t actually got any kind of quote from Ive himself.

Once we all dreamt of having hi-fi systems like this (with a record player and tape machine)

Overall, it’s a nice exhibition and the exposure to Rams’ principles is inspiring, but I would have liked to have more commentary on the development of the principles and when and how Rams came up with them. I’d also like to have had more of a direct link to current products that echo these principles, the one case of stuff they have is hardly enough to suggest a long-term legacy. Otherwise you’re left with a bit of a feeling that this is an exhibition about the past (and the past of Braun in particular), rather than one about a powerful design philosophy that is as relevant today as it ever was.