The Design Legacy Of Dieter Rams

From carpenter to architect to one of the 20th century’s foremost industrial designers, the formidable Dieter Rams celebrates his 84th birthday on May 20th. We thought it the perfect occasion to celebrate his aesthetic philosophy and some of his most iconic works.

“The eternally modern aesthetics of Rams’ creations continue to shape consumer product design today.”The arc of Rams’ career is inextricable from two brands in particular: the progressive consumer electronics company, Braun – at which he was Head of Design – and renowned furniture brand Vitsœ, whose relationship with Rams spans 57 years. Having joined Braun at the recommendation of a friend at age 23, Rams grew with the company to become Head of Design in 1961, a position in which he remained until 1995.

During his time at Braun, Rams spearheaded the design of a wide variety of time-honored consumer products, and began working with Niels Vitsœ and Otto Zapf to create iconic furniture classics, such as the 606 Universal Shelving System. The eternally modern aesthetics of Rams’ creations continue to shape consumer product design today. Rams himself still works with Vitsœ, and together with his wife, founded the Dieter and Ingeborg Rams Foundation to promote the famous design philosophy he propounded in the 1980s.

Dieter Rams by Abisag Tüllmann © Vitsoe 

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DIETER RAMS’ 10 PRINCIPLES FOR 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 while 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 are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. 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 clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

5. 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.

6. 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.

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 or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

9. Good design 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. 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 non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

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The application of these principles in the products and furniture pieces Rams created with Braun and Vitsœ is one of the defining trademarks of his legacy. Below we present five examples of his most iconic designs.

1. BRAUN SK4 RADIOGRAM (1956), DESIGNED BY HANS GUGELOT & DIETER RAMS

Also going by the name of ‘Snow White’s Coffin’, this radio and record player is one of Rams’ first yet most iconic designs for Braun, designed together with Hans Gugelot. Created from wood and metal, the SK 4 famously featured a transparent perspex cover.

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2. BRAUN COMBI DL5 RAZOR (1957), DESIGNED BY DIETER RAMS & GERD A. MULLER

The Combi DL5 represented a more confident approach to Braun’s electric razor designs. A small logo, placed on the side, allowed the smooth shape of the razor to speak for itself. Smaller grooves and a fixed trimmer complimented the top’s chrome finish.

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3. BRAUN T3 POCKET RADIO (1958), DESIGNED BY DIETER RAMS

Conceived in an era in which transistor radios were rapidly shrinking in size, the T3 radio distinguished itself from its competitors with its simple, refined design. Simply featuring a dial and speakers, the radio is cited as having inspired Steve Jobs in his creation of the Apple iPod 55 years later.

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4. BRAUN LE1 ELECTROSTATIC SPEAKER (1959), DESIGNED BY DIETER RAMS

The Braun LE1 (‘Lautsprechereinheit 1’ in German, or ‘Loudspeaker unit 1’) was the first electrostatic mode loudspeaker to launch on the German market. While Braun created specially-developed transformers and high voltage cascade, Rams was responsible for the speaker casing and supporting frame.

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5. VITSΠ606 UNIVERSAL SHELVING SYSTEM (1960), DESIGNED BY DIETER RAMS

606 Universal Shelving System by Dieter Rams for Vitsoe © Vitsoe

Furniture company Vitsœ’s key product takes the form of a modular shelving system that can be adjusted according to individual preferences. The system, which is based on shelves, drawers cabinets and desks hanging to vertical poles, can be fully or partially mounted on the wall. The revered shelving system has secured its place in design history as part of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art collection.

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All images (unless otherwise stated) courtesy of Braun

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