“Weniger, aber besser” — less, but better.
Industrial designer Dieter Rams, born in Germany in 1932 (and still alive), was concerned with the chaos going on in the world around him: chaos as a result of the Wars, the Great Depression, and later, the more subtle, but also pernicious chaos of disposable design and planned obsolescence that was the purview of his trade.
In the early 1980s, when disposable culture was new and heated, Rams asked himself: Is my design good design? And rather than pat himself on the back with an unexamined “yes!”, Rams set out to define good design with a list as sparse and functional as his work. Moving from aesthetics to sustainability to (un)obstrusiveness, his now-famous Ten Principles of Good Design became one of his most enduring creations. Read it here, illustrated by his work: Good Design, Vitsoe.
Rams’ designs are simple and purposeful, with a clean and manageable appeal and an unfailing functionality that lasted. Rams hated the American cars coming off the assembly lines — to him they epitomized the evil of design that had to be updated every two years. His styles endure because he believes in designing objects as little as possible.
During his 34 years as head designer at Braun, he developed hundreds of designs, none of which had useless colors, baubles or textures. They were basically the opposite of today’s over-designed everyday objects — things like our modern-day garish toothbrushes with incomprehensible hinges, myriad bristle types, contrasting neon colors, rubber spots and pointlessly sinuous handles.
AWE IS A MOVING TARGET
While Rams’ designs are meant to be timeless, humanity is not is so constant. In a speech to the Braun supervisory board in 1980, Rams announced: “I think that good designers must always be avant-gardists, always one step ahead of the times. They should – and must – question everything generally thought to be obvious. They must have an intuition for people’s changing attitudes. For the reality in which they live, for their dreams, their desires, their worries, their needs, their living habits. They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.”
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Leading image: a TV designed by Dieter Rams, via Life as an Architect.