606 universal shelving system, 1960, manufacturer: Vitsœ, design by Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible

Stories from the book by Sophie Lovell

#Dieter Rams never intended to be a designer. Architecture was the profession. A colleague in the office had found and advertisement in the local news paper from the Braun, which was looking for an in-house architect. Rams made his sketch with a simple floor plan and elevation that were realistic without any razzmatazz.

Dieter Rams’s first sketch for a Braun Showroom, 1955.

Braun Design Department

#‘I am often asked how we designers at Braun succeeded in creating our own expertise, in gradually relieving the Ulm designers until finally all the design assignments were solved by Braun’s product design department. It was a completely organic process. When I started at Braun, Ulmers dominated of course. The co-operation with them had been going on for some time. I wasn’t involved that much… But gradually I got into the work. I had the advantage of being-in-house’ — 1979 letter to Erwin Braun

#Rams went on to add that he understood the importance of, and thus cultivated the relationship with, the technical department, taking great care to convince the technicians that the designers were not there to take their work away form them but to support them. The decisive factor in this kind of co-operation is always human consensus… But this can only be arrived at if you understand the other’s work completely, respect achievement and repeatedly familiarize yourself with their ideas… I would maintain that even today Braun depends on these kinds of personal relationships. Without them you cannot make reasonable design. Nothing can replace them — not even the most cunning marketing ploys.

#‘It is important to bear this collaborative design approach in mind’

Braun Products

Dieter Rams was keen to experiment and explore

#My intention is to omit every unneeded element in order to place the essentials in the foreground. Forms will then become placid, soothingly comprehensible and long-lasting.

#Of course it was all quite stressful, but you are happy to take on hard work if it is enjoyable, it is part of what being a designer is about.

#Everything was interconnected and worked together as a single family

Design Detail

#My heart belongs to the details. I actually always found them to be more important than the big picture. Nothing works without details. They are everything, the baseline of quality. Every good designer knows that ‘God is in the details’ Anyone can sketch an idea, but the approximation to perfection, the genius of inspiration and execution comes from the hard slog involved in making all the tiny curves and interfaces, angles, materials and technology work together in harmony.Details enable communication, aiding transparancy and closing the gap between object and subject, user and product. Truly functional design only comes from the most careful and intense attention to detail. Designing detail is about achieving a fine balance in all aspects and areas of the product, including those external to the object.


#‘Good design should be as little design as possible,’ Products should do their job but be as neutral as possible.

#Braun design is greatly reduced, there is a strong aesthetic characterized by balance, order and harmony.

#‘Self-control is very important. Although my own taste is involved it always has to be under control. Not suppressed though! Controlled!’

Braun Method

#‘We have no idea what the appliances of tomorrow will look like, but if they resemble todays’s products in terms of style then this has nothing to do with a pre-planned pursuit of a particular style, rather that they will be designed by a group of people who have shared the same experiences and work with the same methods, who have grown together in their shared work because they have similar views and similar tastes’ — in 1965

#Each new project began with an in-depth look at every aspect relevant to the design: the market, available technology, the needs of potential users and so on.

# We always worked with technical drawings, not renderings. It was very important, especially for communication with the technicians, that we didn’t behave like artists. The emphasis was on clear and accurate engineering.

#As design director he was always involved in significant decisions and when detail issues needed discussion and solutions.

#Designers and technicians should not work in competitions or in ignorance of the activities of one another, but in partnership

#Psychological functionality is essential in the detail of a product

#By omitting the unnecessary, says Rams, the essential factors come to the fore: the products become ‘quiet, pleasing, comprehensible and long-lasting’

#To arrive at products with this quality, the designer has to travel a very long and difficult path filled with questions, trials, discussion and experimentation.

#The feasibility of a product is its capacity to be produced within limitations, including cost, materials, production technology, time and competition. ‘when a designer is “strong” — imaginative, competent, patient, hard-working and optimistic — then he cna of course do a lot to change and improve the conditions involved…

#Function-oriented design is the fruit of intense, comprehensive, patient and contemplative reflection on reality, on life, on the needs, desires and feelings of people

#A designer needs to be intelligent and quick on he uptake… he should have a grasp of technology. He should be critical, reasonable and realistic. He should have a talent for teamwork… He must also be patient, optimistic and persistent… and finally he should have the capacity for better ideas, a sense of proportion and colour, sensitivity and, last but not least, a foundation in handcraft and aptitude.

#Design will play a key role in the redesign of our consumer culture. It must work towards optimal functionality and the best possible user-quality, and facilitate long-term and economical use. It must also co-operate in creating new production and distribution structures

#They are not binding. Good design is in a constant state of redevelopment — just like technology and culture

The 10 Principles of Good Design

  1. Good design is innovative : The possibilities for innovation are not by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
  2. Good design makes a product useful: A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
  3. Good design is aesthetic: The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
  4. Good design makes a product understandable: It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
  5. Good design is honest: It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
  6. Good design 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.
  7. Good design 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. Good design is thorough down to the last detail: Nothing must be arbitrary of left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
  9. Good design is environmentally friendly: Good 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. Good design is as little design as possible: Less but better-because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with inessentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity!