Dieter Rams and the Principles of Good Design

I was recently followed on Twitter by curator Jerry Chang and the site Ippinka, which aims to “discover distinctive products…that offer focused functionality and are truly well made.” I was drawn in by the simple but powerful mission and it reminded me of the reason I studied and loved architecture and construction, which later (now) resulted in creating Industry Portage.  The sense of design and beauty combined with the functional and practical always fascinated me and guided my life and career choices big and small.  In hindsight, I think it was my natural love for the arts that was brought out during my college years combined with my father’s sense of pragmatism and practicality that created the filter through which I see the world.

Ippinka’s own ethos of selecting products, based on a simplified (4) version of Dieter Ram’s  10 Principles of Good Design, evaluates a product’s functionality, quality, minimalist aesthetic, and environmental/social consciousness.  This is a further reinforcement of Industry Portage’s ethos of “qualitas, utilitas, and stabilitas” which translates to quality, utility, and durability. Similar to Patagonia’s Common Threads initiative of reducing consumption as well as the advocacy of the 4 Rs (reduce, reuse, recyle AND repair), Ippinka similarly advocates for minimizing consumption and the concept of choosing products that are long lasting.

I wanted to know a little more about Dieter Rams and how his 10 Principles of Good Design would apply to my brand and bag designs.

Here is how I see it…

Dieter Rams 10 Principles of Good Design (and how they apply to Industry Portage):

  1. Is innovative – I am always looking at new, environmentally conscious, and repurposed materials for my bag designs. I also believe the approach of designing and building bags that are specific to one’s needs is an innovative approach and contrary to the idea of mass market items.
  2. Makes a product useful – If my bag designs don’t carry what you need, then you shouldn’t buy it. Understanding that my products are offered online, I try to be very clear on fit, finish, and size to decrease the chance that someone is buying something they don’t need.  I’m also very liberal with my return policy.
  3. Is aesthetic – I design bags I would want to carry.  After many years buying bags that worked for me at varying degrees, I’ve definitely become strongly opinionated on what works and looks great. My focus on designing bags that are great looking and well built and long lasting will never change.
  4. Makes a product understandable – I don’t think there’s any way to avoid being easily understandable.  I do have some ideas for bag designs that are informed by seemingly unrelated industries and disciplines, but I don’t think this would change some of the basics of carry good performance.
  5. Is unobtrusive – Although I do offer a custom bag service, I do try to allow for self-expression with my ready made items.  This could be in the form of personalization as well as other modifications. I definitely see my designs as a tool that solves a problem.
  6. Is honest – My most important policy.  I love the study and expression of materials, both conventional and new, and apply this in my approach to my designs.
  7. Is long-lasting – Like staple items in a wardrobe, it is my intention to create timeless pieces that only get better with age.
  8. Is thorough down to the last detail – I typically create at least three prototypes for my ready built line before going into products.  Details such as reinforcements for shoulder strap attachments, care to avoid hardware that could damage personal items, and single-piece bottoms are just some of the things I think about when developing a new design.
  9. Is environmentally friendly – For my ready built line, this means the use of materials made without negative side effects to the environment.  I also address this principle with my up-cycled line of bags made from previously worn suede welder’s jackets. I am also investigating the use of off-cuts, seconds, and remnant materials for my designs, which would create something useful out of material that would otherwise go to a landfill.
  10. Is as little design as possible – I like the idea of emphasizing the essential, on simplicity and purity in my designs.  In many ways, less is more, as long as it allows for function, proportion, and scale.

Do you approach your livelyhood, your product or service with any (or all) of the above? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Designer Dieter Rams

A brief biography of Dieter Rams (from Wikipedia)

Dieter Rams (born May 20, 1932 in WiesbadenHessen) is a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products companyBraun and the Functionalist school of industrial design.

Dieter Rams ten principles of good design. Innovative, useful, aesthetic, understandable, unobtrusive, honest, long lasting, thorough, environmentally friendly and have as little design as possible.

Life and career

Rams began studies in architecture and interior decoration at Wiesbaden School of Art in 1947. Soon after in 1948, he took a break from studying to gain practical experience and conclude his carpentry apprenticeship. He resumed studies at Wiesbaden School of Art in 1948 and graduated with honors in 1953 after which he began working for Frankfurt based architect Otto Apel. In 1955, he was recruited to Braun as an architect and an interior designer. In addition, in 1961, he became the Chief Design Officer at Braun until 1997.[1]

Dieter Rams was strongly influenced by the presence of his grandfather, a carpenter. Rams once explained his design approach in the phrase “Weniger, aber besser” which translates as “Less, but better”. Rams and his staff designed many memorable products for Braun including the famous SK-4 record player and the high-quality ‘D’-series (D45, D46) of 35 mm film slide projectors. He is also known for designing the 606 Universal Shelving System by Vitsœ in 1960.

Universal Shelving System

By producing electronic gadgets that were remarkable in their austere aesthetic and user friendliness, Rams made Braun a household name in the 1950s. He is considered to be one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century.[1]

Many of his designs — coffee makers, calculators, radios, audio/visual equipment, consumer appliances and office products — have found a permanent home at many museums over the world, including MoMA in New York. For nearly 30 years Dieter Rams served as head of design for Braun A.G. until his retirement in 1998. He continues to be highly regarded in design circles and currently has a major retrospective of his work on tour around the world.

Braun T1000CD by Dieter Rams

In 2010, to mark his contribution to the world of design, he was awarded the ‘Kölner Klopfer’ prize by the students of the Cologne International School of Design. In addition, as successor to the Bauhaus, Rams eventually became a protégé of the Ulm School of Design in Ulm, Germany.[2]

Rams’s ten principles of “good design”

Rams introduced the idea of sustainable development and of obsolescence being a crime in design in the 1970s.[1] Accordingly he asked himself the question: is my design good design? The answer formed his now celebrated ten principles.

Good design:[3]

  1. Is innovative – The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.
  3. Is aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Makes a product understandable – It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.
  6. Is honest – It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 consumer.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

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