He is considered a father figure by younger designers: an innovator, an artist, and a patriarch. And just like Moses, Dieter Rams, a German born in 1932, son of a carpenter from whom he acquired his passion for building, compiled ten commandments of design that are still used by designers to create functional and beautiful objects.
One of his ten principles states: “Good design is invisible”. This is the tenth and perhaps the most important one. Designing means, above all, creating an object with a function, which it performs effectively while remaining aesthetically pleasing and functionally long-lasting; creating something that must be used more so than looked at. For this reason, the best design is invisible: it must not divert attention from the true purpose of the object.
Good design is also honest as it must be usable over a long period of time. The design by Rams that best embodies this concept is undoubtedly his 606 Universal Shelving System. It was designed by Rams in 1960 and has been continuously manufactured ever since by Vitsoe. The system can either be purchased now, or modules can be bought and used with others that were purchased fifty years ago.
Planned obsolescence is not part of Rams’ decalogue. The main rule, which sums up it up, is Weniger, aber besser, in English, “Less, but better”. Clean, simple, and essential objects that catch on due to their clean lines and the ideas behind them.
Rams’ handbook, as well as his creations, are at the base of much of contemporary design. One brand, more than any other, that was inspired by his style is Apple: the iMac and Macbook and their applications. The Calculator app is a tribute to the Braun ET66 of the 1980s.
The prestigious Vitra Museum is dedicating an exhibition entitled Modular World to Dieter Rams. Its title perfectly sums up Rams’ idea of industrial design, namely, building modular objects that can be combined, separated, and multiplied. For example, the famous 740 stacking system: armchairs and tables composed of discs that can be removed or combined in various heights and shapes.
Behind Rams’ desire to design lasting objects is an insight that only became mainstream several decades later: sustainability. To create fewer things that last a long time, to avoid waste, to love for a long time, and to remain ourselves. Because “we are surrounded by too many useless objects. And this, in my opinion, is inhuman”.
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 through down to the last detail
Good design is environmentally-friendly
Good design is as little design as possible
All pictures, courtesy Vitra Design Museum, dalla mostra Modular World / design-museum.de