Why Creatives Should Never Forget Dieter Rams’ 10 Commandments

Tried and true principles for the past, present, and future of good design

Photo of Dieter Rams on Glynndevins

Dieter Rams is reveled as one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century, and his style is known to many around the globe. Although Rams’ work is held in such high regard among the design community, I pose to shed light on the importance and relevance of his widely known 10 principles of good design. Many of you may already know these guiding principles introduced by Rams as the 10 commandments used to inspire their design work around the globe, but they stand for something far more than just a framework for good design. Frankly, they are the basis for creating long-lasting solutions for problems that are experienced by people like you and I.

“A designer who wants to achieve good design must not regard himself as an artist who, according to taste and aesthetics, is merely dressing-up products with a last minute garment.”
— Dieter Rams

Although Dieter Rams 10 principles of good design have been explained in great detail over the years, understanding their prevalence as we more quickly than ever begin to live in the future is fundamental to a better designed future.


1. Good Design is Innovative

Photo of Dieter Rams by RAMS: A Documentary…

Not only is good design innovative, but it also relies heavily on the advancement of technology in order to continue producing creative solutions that are truly innovative. Technology will always strive for advancement proving innovation day in and day out. Although technology may prove innovative on its own, it is through design that these innovative technologies are given the ability to meet the needs of people all around the world in ways we could have never imagined. Advancement in technology will never cease to amaze our most wildest dreams and it is in tandem that both technology and design innovate in order to make products usable, beautiful, and purposeful.

“ We designers, we don’t work in a vacuum. We need business people. We are not the fine artists we are often confused with.”
— Dieter Rams

Technology and design are not only a team working together, but one that relies heavily on each other to produce mind blowing products and services that people have come to rely on throughout their lives. As technology and the ways in which products are produced continue advancing exponentially, innovation in these areas has come to be expected by users everywhere. This not only makes innovation in design possible but necessary both now and in the years to come.

2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful

Photo by Andres Daniel Jasso on Unsplash

The job of a designer spans far more than what people may think when taking a peek into our lives. Upon taking their first look, most aren’t too sure what exactly to make of it and there’s nothing wrong with that. The best way to think of a designer is to imagine a person that is obsessed with finding the beauty that exists among the chaos that is our world around us. Design is not only about making something aesthetically pleasing, but going beyond that and ensuring products have a true purpose of being crafted in the first place.

“ One of the most significant design principles is to omit the unimportant in order to emphasize the important.”
— Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams believed that above all else, design is primed by defining products that are useful to the people who buy them. Things are typically bought in order to be used in some sort of way and Rams knew and executed this in his work. A product has to satisfy certain criteria, not only by having a purpose, but also demonstrating psychological and aesthetic appeal as well. Not only was Rams right about making products that have purpose, but it is also necessary for them to be usable as well. This gives way to the growing need for user experience designers to ensure this is done thoroughly with refined strategy.

3. Good Design is Aesthetic

Photo by Kaufmann Mercantile on Unplash

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This statement couldn’t be more true when it comes to the quality of good design. The aesthetics behind every design may not be the single most important aspect of a well executed design, but in the end can definitely make or break a product. The reason this is so important to design is because people use products daily throughout their lives and the way we interact with these products directly impacts our emotions and our state of well-being. Only designs that are greatly executed have the chance of truly being beautiful and a shot at bringing change about in the world.

“ Having small touches of colour makes it more colourful than having the whole thing in colour.”
— Dieter Rams

Although it is true that the beauty of a product isn’t the main focus of the designer, it is an integral part for sure. A product can be useful, yet beauty attracts people that want to use it and are happy while using it. In addition to usability, beauty too is key to crafting something that not only has a purpose, but motivates people to use it and integrate that product into their daily lives. Another thing to remember is that a product cannot be useful unless it too expresses beauty.

4. Good Design Makes a Product Understandable

Photo by Mihai Surdu on Unsplash

Whether we realize it or not, we interact with a multitude of products on a regular basis. Using these products has streamlined our lives and a lot of us wouldn’t know how much our lives would change if we were to get rid of them. Having the ability to understand a product is highly important in regards to generating an exceptional design. Not only does it make clear what the product does, but it stands to define the organization that created it. As Rams explains, “it clarifies the products structure.” I’m sure many of us can think of countless products that left us frustrated, aggravated, and even sobbing the end of attempting to use it. The reason being that we had no idea how this product was suppose to be used.

“ People react positively when things are clear and understandable.”
— Dieter Rams

As artificial intelligence gains momentum and becomes an integral part of society, not only does this make things a little easier because products today can speak for themselves, but it too creates challenges in itself. It opens a Pandora’s Box because what do we do when things go awry? As technology advances and products begin having the capability to think for themselves, this only proves how important it is to design in order to ensure a sense of understanding governing a products functionality and capability is driven throughout its design process.

5. Good Design is Unobtrusive

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It is highly important to remember as we near a future compiled of products that are increasingly sophisticated and complicated when learning to ask yourself what exactly is involved in order to bring that product to life. When thinking of creating products for people, designers have to keep in mind that individuals express themselves in different ways. Products should take the most basic form in order to allow users to exercise their own preferences and self-expression. After all, products are like tools that help us to better ourselves and the lives we live. In good design, never over complicate what could otherwise be simple.

“ Design should not dominate things, should not dominate people. It should help people. That’s its role.”
— Dieter Rams

By designing with simplicity in mind, not only does the design become more convenient for users to have and utilize, but typically makes more aesthetic design decisions when bringing it all together. Who wants to use something that is best described as obtrusive? Simply put, good design should be intuitive and simple enough that the product brings a smile to someone who appreciates it. Avoid any negative associations within your products as much as possible.

6. Good Design is Honest

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Dieter Rams is an inspiration, which isn’t something new or unheard of before. He truly takes the responsibility for designing in its intended form. What I mean by this is that design is made with people in mind. More accurately, its used in order to help people and solve problems that currently exist among them. It was never meant to inflate a products value by ways of deceit or manipulation. Not only does Rams believe designing with honesty is important, but it is the designers job to breathe his integrity through and through into each of his works.

“Design should not dominate things, should not dominate people. It should help people. That’s its role.”
— Dieter Rams

In recent years, we have seen an outstanding amount of products and services that are in the end nothing more than unreliable. This is an important concept designers should vow to uphold in order to maintain the integrity of their work and do what designers are truly meant to do. Although some may say we live in a different world. That couldn’t be any more true and it is because of this that we shouldn’t design with the intention of stealing, manipulating, degrading, and most of all to promote the corruption of humanity. Not only does this go against the purpose of design, but it is wrong and unethical.

7. Good Design is Long-Lasting

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What Rams is trying to say is design with the future in mind. Producing a design that only follows fashion trends, fads, and things that may only be “in” for not even the latter part of a year will only make your job as the designer a lot harder. In order to ensure you approach every design while thinking about the future it may hold. Keep in mind that time destroys fashion trends. Nobody wants to put in all the hard work and effort only for your product to die all together. Dieter Rams cautions designers not to be fooled by today’s, “throwaway society,” and allowing its way into your mind and out into the world through your designs.

“I hate everything that is driven by fashion.” 
 — Dieter Rams

Although it’s hard to design a product while thinking of what could happen in the next 50 years, that’s not quite what Rams is implying. Design as a discipline is focused on strategy, process, implementation, and making changes to your designs as they are deemed necessary over time. Although change may be necessary, any designer doesn’t want to be tasked with having to revisit the initial design stages in order to create an entirely new and different product due to negligence to allowing the product to focus on trendy appeal rather than functional reliability.

8. Good Design is Thorough Down to the Last Detail

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As many of you may already know, design is in the details. If any of you are anything like me than details aren’t the problem, but learning to move beyond the details is what pulls you back. It’s not that moving on is so difficult, but analyzing making sure the design choice I made was in fact the right one to make surely can make the hours fly on by without even realizing it. The point Rams wants people to leave with is that a design must be comprehensible in every respect, which means fretting over as many details as you can to ensure the design will be usable and functional for the people it’s intended for.

“ Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.”
— Dieter Rams

At the end of the day, remembering that the design being crafted isn’t intended to be used by yourself will allow you to separate from the project as a whole and truly make something both usable and beautiful. Just figure, you never want to leave any stone unturned assuming you know what the users may want just from intuition. Sometimes your gut feeling will be wrong, yet at others it might actually be right. Taking the risk isn’t worth all the time and money that would have been wasted if you were wrong. Have fun explaining that design choice to your boss when he comes for you. Not a conversation I ever want to have. My best advice is to stick to any tried and true best practices that have been shared by seasoned designers who have been in the field a lot longer than you have.

9. Good Design is Environmentally Friendly

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Good design not only helps the environment, but plays a critical role in environment preservation. Dieter Rams believed that giving way to ignorance when deciding to do away with mother nature would be the beginning to the end because without the natural systems in place, we likely wouldn’t survive. When you think about the environment when brainstorming it has a profound impact and if everyone took the consideration, the impact could be monumental. Not only does it conserve resources, but it also reduces the amount of both physical and visual pollution that defines the product in the end.

“There is a lot of bad architecture. What we need more is to look at how our landscape should look in the next decades.”
— Dieter Rams

Sustainability and thinking about preserving our environment is at the heart of any good design. Although it may seem as if designers may have been neglecting this consideration lately, it is both important and relevant in today’s world as our climate change is starting to become an issue faced by most. Not to be the burden of bad news, but climate change is real, and the sooner we all realize this the better off we will be. Without this consideration not only could human beings go extinct due to their own ignorance, but moving to mars would be plan B.

10. Good Design is as Little Design as Possible

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The phrase less is more may come to mind, but in the case of good design this couldn’t be further from the truth. Rams believed with design that less but better is the motto your aiming to achieve with every project you undertake. Some may shrug thinking this makes things a whole lot easier. Just be ready to be disappointed because this requires more thought, focus, and energy throughout the planning stages of the creative process.

“My goal is to omit everything superfluous so that the essential is shown to best possible advantage.”
— Dieter Rams

Taking control of an idea that contains too much is hard, but it’ll make things easier as you get further along in the product development process. Taking the time to think about different ways to make your design better must involve concentrating on what is essential aspects rather than what is superfluous. Dieter Rams brings purity to his designs by keeping his focus prioritized on the level of need each feature brings to the product as a whole and the person who might use it. Keep in mind that human beings are quite the unpredictable bunch, so sticking to making something simpler is always better.


Conclusion

Not only has Dieter Rams left a tremendous impact on the way design is practiced, but he truly is an inspiration to all those whose dreams are filled with one day becoming a designer. These commandments are by no means a crash course on how to make good designs, rather it is more of a framework to keep in mind as you think of what ideas to motivate and incorporate into each of your projects.

“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.”
— Dieter Rams

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