Creative Titans: Dieter Rams and the 10 Principles of Good Design

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Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer and respected product design guru. With more than seven decades’ worth of design experience, he has earned a list of notable awards and accomplishments over the years, and is one of the most important designers in recent history.

While he never worked for Apple, his designs are said to be the inspiration for a number of the Apple products that we know and love today. In fact, Jonathan Ive has publicly acknowledged Dieter Rams as his inspiration.  In the 2009 documentary, “Objectified”, Rams claims that Apple is one of few companies who design according to his principles of good design.

Popular Work

Dieter Rams is most commonly known for his work with Braun, where he served as the head of design from 1961-1995. He has helped design useful, visually appealing gadgets for around the home.  Due in part to the user friendliness and look of Braun products, they became a household name in the 1950s.  While he retired from Braun in 1997, Rams continues to work with Vitsoe furniture designs today.

There have been a number of books published about Rams and his work.  His designs can also be found in touring and permanent exhibitions and museums around the world.  His 10 principles of good design have also been widely studied and used by designers and non-designers alike.

Design Strategy

Rams created the 10 principles of good design, which revolve around bringing simplicity and purity back into the product design process. His strategy and principles are built around the fact that good design is innovative, aesthetic, honest, long-lasting, unobtrusive, thorough, and environmentally-friendly. As he has so eloquently put it, his design approach is: “Good design is as little design as possible.”  Below are his fabled 10 Principles (from his Wikipedia page):

Good design:

  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.

Rams aims to make products that are useful and understandable, remaining functional, psychological, and aesthetic. He has stated that good product design “is a matter of balancing the esthetic content with regard to use”.

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Creative Titans: How Jonathan Ive Shaped Apple

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Jonathan “Jony” Ive is Apple’s Senior Vice President of Design. His collaboration with Steve Jobs produced some of the world’s most iconic product designs, including the iMac, Apple TV, Mac Book Air, Powerbook G4, iPhone, iPod, and more. Ive  played a huge role in helping reverse a long decline and bringing the company back from the brink of bankruptcy. Along the way, he created one of the most recognizable and powerful brands in the world. Jonathan lived most of his life in London, but moved to the United States to work for Apple in 1992.

Ive works in a top secret design studio that is described as a noisy and chaotic place that plays techno music and sees designers skateboarding, playing soccer, and enjoying life. He has the only private office at the Apple design studio and works out of a glass cube that has just a desk, chair, and lamp. His office is so restricted that most Apple employees and execs, and even his own wife and children, are not allowed inside.

Popular Work

Ive is most well known for his work with Apple. He has been with the company since 1992 and has served as an integral part of making the company into the global powerhouse it is today. He was also responsible for the iOS 7 design, which has greatly influenced the design world as we know it, leading to more flat, simplistic designs.

He has been recognized with numerous design awards and his work has been featured in respected museum collections worldwide. He also earned a place on the 2013 Time 100 list.

Design Strategy

Ive sites that he is greatly influenced by Dieter Ram, a legendary industrial designer who created several products for Braun, as well as the “10 Commandments in Design”. Both Ram and Ive were guided by simplicity and honesty of product design. Ram even said that Apple is one of few companies that design products according to his 10 principles of good design.

Ive was also naturally inspired by his father, Mike Ive, who helped create a mandatory design and technology curriculum for schools throughout the UK. His work and teachings have helped shape renowned British designers for years.

In a world of monotone computers, Ive brought color and transparency to the materials used to create eye-catching products. He was the one who pushed Apple to make their products white because most of the things he produced at his British design school were white. To create a successful product, he combined a simplistic, minimal design with aesthetically pleasing elements that set it apart from competing products.

Ive explains: “‘Different’ and ‘new’ is relatively easy. Doing something that’s genuinely better is hard.’ He worked to create designs that combined simplicity and emotion to create an experience for users.