Master Rams: “Less but better”

“If I had more time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

American novelist Mark Twain.


While it is harder to simplify than to add…
While many designers cannot stop themselves from adding more to their designs…
While more and more marketing elements determine the design…

Dieter Rams, who is mostly known for his clean, simple and clever designs for electrical appliances company Braun, might have instinctively known that to create timeless design one had to limit himself…

While designers before him tried to make household tools look more like furniture by using varnished woods and decorative plastic coverings, electrical appliances gained their technical looks for the first time with Dieter Rams’ designs.

According to him, a good product design should have been like English Butlers, i.e. should have stayed in the background when you don’t need it.

In 1955, while still very young, Dieter Rams had a position that required responsibility but was not in marketing or technical departments in the German Braun company and thus was in direct communication with the CEO and entrepreneurs. Design should have always been the boss’ work. According to Rams who considered himself very lucky in this aspect, it was not only important that design have utmost importance in a company, it was a precondition for the design’s success. Design was before everything else and the designer who accepted a great amount of responsibility to design our world had to eliminate what was unnecessary.

Dieter Rams was getting more worried about where the world, which he began to perceive as a cacophony of forms, colors and sounds, was going by the end of the 70’s. Rams, completely aware that he is an important contributor of shaping the world, cannot refrain from questioning himself: “Is my design, a good design?”

Obviously, although objects that have meaningful, emotional and symbolic values which make us connect with them might be arguable, Rams’ 10 very important principles that define good design are encyclopedic knowledge;

•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 eco-friendly.
•Good design is as little design as possible.

Good design is innovative.

Good design helps us understand the product.

Rams creates a new language. It is such a language that products he designed express themselves simply without a need for a user’s guide. It is almost like as if their buttons speak… You should turn me, you should press me…

Good design is enduring, good design is eco-friendly…

“We cannot tell you how to live your lives, but we can tell you how we live  (look at) it.”

Slogan of furniture manufacturer Vitsoe, for which Dieter Rams have been the designer since 1959.


But, what if we choose to design a timeless and life-long product?

Can products designed by a designer impose a life philosophy in this current age where minimalist life approach is not completely accepted by the comfort seeking, habitually consumer people, although it is ecologically necessary? Can it direct our lives’ flow? In this context, Rams has been the inspiration for many new generation designers that shape the 21st century like Jonathan Ive, Jacob Jensen and Dawid Lewis. Apple is the best example of this. When famous designer Philippe Starck complimented Rams by saying “Apple is stealing from you”, he answered with this famous quote: “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

It would be impossible to imagine Apple’s iBook and iPods, Bang & Olufsen speakers, Muji CD players and almost every other thing it sells which have a reduced aesthetic approach without Dieter Rams.

The most important thing about Braun was that it was a courageous company dedicated to innovation and ready to take risks. Rams and his team were encouraged to push the limits. There was a mutual trust between the investor and designer. Today, we see this also in Apple. Although most of us know of Apple with their success in computers and mobile products, Apple also invests in wind technologies with iWind and conducts researches on different subjects like renewable energy. And this definitely makes Rams proud!

Good design is as little design as possible. Good design is although very aesthetic, does not come forward…

It is not surprising that Rams, who says that the Japanese have yet uncorrupted, instinctive feelings towards good works, exhibited his designs in an old Zen monastery in Kyoto in 2005. He is the Zen master of product design. Perhaps, it can be said that Dieter Rams, who is an admirer of Japanese Zen which can also be called the art of seeing, created a style by combining strict discipline, perfectionism and rationality of Germans with the currently unchanged, simple design approach of the east…

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