Ten Principles of Good Design: The Genius of Dieter Rams

“The form has to follow the function. I can’t think of it any other way.”
Dieter Rams

If you love Apple design, then you love Dieter Rams. You just don’t know it yet. Dieter Rams, the chief design officer at Braun from 1961 through 1995, had one simple design philosophy: “Less is better.”

That’s it. Three words. And they changed design as we know it.

Dieter Rams

Rams’ minimalist, functional style is on full display in his design work for Braun. Clean lines, minimal (or no) color, and intuitive controls. For Rams, the function of a product ruled supreme. Design was secondary, and existed only for the benefit of the product’s use. 

Rams became one of the most influential designers of the 20th century, and that influence extended to Jony Ive, until very recently the chief design officer of Apple. Ive makes no secret of his admiration for Rams, going so far as to describe his designs as “bold, pure, perfectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless.” High praise from one design maven to another.

And if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Ive is spreading it on thick. Some of Apple’s products (the calculator app, the iPod, the Mac Pro) bear an uncanny resemblance to Rams’ iconic designs.

It doesn’t take a leap of faith to believe that Apple’s famous ease of use and simple designs are at least part of the reason they’re found on the short list of top-selling products of all time. Good design will do that.

Dieter Rams
Photograph by Abisag Tüllmann

Ten Principles for Good Design

You could choose a lot of words to describe the 1970s, but “understated” would not be among them. The 70s were bold and brash. It was an era of design excess. Bright colors and chrome. Wide lapels and platform shoes. Rams wanted to make sure he wasn’t adding to the cacophony. He famously asked himself an important question: “is my design good design?” His answer became the Ten Principles for Good Design. They are:

  • Good design is innovative
  • Good design must be useful 
  • Good design is aesthetic design
  • Good design makes a product understandable 
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is unobtrusive 
  • Good design is long-lasting 
  • Good design is consistent in every detail 
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible

We’re not Dieter Rams or Jony Ive, but we’re all designers (of our own lives, if nothing else). Whether we’re designing a physical product, a customer experience, an email, or an event, these principles are worth committing to memory. Life is complicated enough. Let’s dedicate ourselves to making it more “coherent and effortless.”

(As an added bonus, enjoy this unreleased Dieter Rams interview from 2000).

(CC banner image courtesy of Nite_Owl on Flickr)