Quotes from Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible by Sophie Lovell

“Indifference towards people​
 and the reality in which they​
 live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.” – Dieter Rams

Jonathan Ive: “The CSV 12 amplifier rotary switch, for example, ​
is perfect. It could not be better, simpler, clearer, or more beautiful. It brings order and explanation to what is a far more complex problem than the user could possibly conceive.”

“ Even at an early age Rams showed himself to be somewhat wilful and stubborn. ‘I was an absolute outsider,’ he recalls, and often got into trouble with authoritarian figures. ”

Rams: “I was always concerned that things should be plain, straightforward. For as ​
long as I can remember that was what I wanted.”

“I wanted to stay in architecture,’ he remembers. ‘I wanted to be a town planner. In fact if I could do it all again, I would have liked to do landscape planning – dealing with the whole system (Gesamtkonzept), not individual elements, such as reclaiming industrial landscapes and uncontrolled urban development. It ​
is all still far too uncoordinated.’ Even as a student he was gripped by the idea of tidying up the world and making it a better place.”

“Indeed, the name Dieter Rams is almost synonymous with that of the German domestic appliance manufacturer Braun. He worked for the company from 1955 until he retired in 1997 and during that time designed or co-designed more than 500 products, from hairdryers and coffee makers to hi-fi systems and televisions, many of which have been hailed as masterpieces of contemporary product design.”

“British designer Jasper Morrison calls Vitsœ’s 606 Universal Shelving System the ‘endgame in shelving’ – as close to perfect design as it is possible to get.”

“His exquisite attention to detail, genius for interface reduction and almost poetic sense of harmony and balance means that few come close, even today, to the level of refinement that he achieved.”

“(Former Bauhaus teacher Wilhelm) Wagenfeld ended his speech by saying that the simpler an industrial product, the harder it is to make, because simplicity comes from a degree of self-assuredness on the part of the designer. A ‘simple’ industrial product has a clarity that is free from the desires and constraints of each of its creators. ”

“…Wolfgang Schmittel, who had redesigned the Braun logo. Schmittel helped define the company’s corporate image until he left the firm in 1980. He developed the sparse, functional graphic style that defined its identity: often monochrome, typography-led print media with images that explained the products ​
to the user. As with the products, this approach was radically different from that of the competition. The starkness of the Braun corporate imagery made it stand out a mile.”

“The PA 1 first automatic slide projector was the first appliance that Rams designed solely. His signature muted chromatic greys, soft edges, superb detailing, colour highlights for button controls and haptic sense for the surface qualities of component materials were all present in this first piece, which came on the market by 1956.”

“1956 was also the year in which Dieter Rams began working on a product that became legendary for Braun, and raised his profile considerably. ​
The super phonograph SK 4, nicknamed ‘Snow White’s Coffin’, was a combined radio and record player that is widely considered to mark the beginning of the modern domestic music system. ”

“He describes the work atmosphere in the early 1960s as being ‘very serious but with lots of energy’. The department, he adds, was like an apartment: ‘you had to ring a doorbell to come in’. The team worked very hard at their individual projects, but communication between them was constant, so there was little need for group discussions. Although Rams was the boss, remembers Lubs, everyone else had a voice. The studio appears to have been rather like a college workshop. ‘If Dieter did not like something, he would say, “Is that good?” or “Do you think it is finished?”,’ he recalls. ‘After work the team socialized together as well,’ he adds, ‘bringing along their girlfriends, going out for drinks, to listen to jazz, celebrating birthdays together … The company had a hierarchy but it was also open house. There was constant discussion, taking and giving, we were all filled with the same goal.’ ”

“The design historian Klaus Klemp states: ‘Apart from his own design work, this is the second greatest achievement of Dieter Rams: establishing a design department within a company, which succeeded for decades in preserving its own individual approach and rigorously advancing it, without really being influenced by changing market interests.”

“When asked to discuss the Braun ‘philosophy’, he talked increasingly about his philosophy and that of his team: ‘We are economical with form and colour, prioritize simple forms, avoid unnecessary complexity, do without ornament. Instead [there is] order and clarification. We measure every detail against the question of whether it serves function and facilitates handling.”

“When talking about Braun design, Dieter Rams often likes to quote ​
a simile that he says came from Erwin Braun: ‘Our electrical appliances should be humble servants, to be seen and heard as little as possible.​
that one hardly noticed.’ He describes his own approach in equally understated terms: ‘I try to develop appliances for daily use, that do not hurt the eye (or other sensory organs); and I try to make sure that they are then produced and sold for an acceptable price that the normal consumer can afford. That’s about it really.”

“Braun design under Rams was all about reduction and simplicity, but it came at a high price in terms of time and painstaking effort. Rams’s even simpler motto ‘Less but better’ is all about striving for a result that appears as light and effortless as possible.”

Rams: “The composition of these rooms represents the basic intention behind my design: simplicity, essentiality and openness. The objects do not boast about themselves, take centre stage or restrict but withdraw into the background. Their reduction and unobtrusiveness generate space. The orderliness is not restrictive but liberating. In a world which is filling up at a disconcerting pace, that is destructively loud and visually confusing, design has the task in my view to be quiet, to help generate a level of calm that allows people to come to themselves. The contra position to this is a design that strongly stimulates, that wants to draw attention to itself and arouse strong emotions. For me this is inhumane because it adds in its way to the chaos that confuses, numbs and lames us.”

Rams: “Working for me does not mean so much designing in the usual sense of the term, but more contemplation, reading and talking. Design is in the first instance a thinking process.”

“when Dieter Rams went to his boss Erwin Braun in 1957 and asked for permission to design furniture for Zapf in addition to his work at Braun, the response was immediate and positive. ‘It was not usual in those days when you were employed by a company to work externally for someone else as well,’ recalls Rams, ‘but Erwin Braun thought it was a good idea. I can still hear his words:“Let Rams make furniture, it will be good for our radios”.’ But there was considerable resistance to the idea within the company from colleagues and technicians. ‘He [Erwin] was the only one to think outside the box and ​
see that it could only be an advantage. Without his support I would never have been able to do it,’ says Rams.”

“Rams wanted to design ‘utility’ furniture with a ‘variety of functions and auxiliary functions’. The versatility of his system allowed the user to arrange and re-arrange the units to their heart’s content, creating a living environment that can be adapted to a changing lifestyle. His aim was that manual input during manufacture should be kept to a minimum so that the system could be affordable. He also intended for the component aspect of the system to greatly reduce storage and transport costs between manufacturer and customer. Finally, the reduced nature and visual neutrality of this furniture, believed Rams, should also liberate the owner from an environment that is dominated by furniture and allow for freedom of individual expression. ‘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,’ he said. Thus, by creating a highly standardized system, he hoped to deliver a versatile, low-cost, bespoke furniture solution that would be available ​
to a large number of people. ”

Rams: “I believe that the secret of the longevity of my furniture lies in its simplicity and restraint. Furniture should not dominate, it should be quiet, pleasant, understandable and durable.”

Rams: “Perhaps more directly than with the Braun products, my furniture arose from a belief in how the world should be ‘furnished’ and how man should live in this artificial environment. In this respect, each piece of furniture is also a design for a certain kind of world and way of living, they reflect a specific vision of mankind’.”

“he wanted to make a new kind of furniture that was above all ‘simple’, not in terms of being sterile and empty, but as a ‘liberation from the dominance of things’. Rams wanted to design a living environment that allowed for freedom of expression. In order to achieve this, his furniture first needed to be free from the superfluous and the fashionable. It needed to be quiet and almost introverted in form and colour, harmonious and well thought through right down to the last tiny detail. The second quality that Rams required of his furniture was flexibility of function, hence the systems and the components that permitted adaptation and change. Third, his furniture had to be of high quality in terms of design, materials and construction to allow for a long life: ‘A Vitsœ furniture system is designed to survive decades of use, extension, alteration and relocation without damage, and it does’. But he adds: ‘Unfortunately, this high quality led to prices that gave what should have been simple, uncomplicated and materially economical fuctional furniture a degree of exclusivity that was never intended.”

Rams: “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’.”

“Between 1955 and 1995 Braun manufactured more than 1,200 products and Dieter Rams was directly involved in designing 514 of them.”

Naoto Fukasawa: “Lately I have become occupied by edges and corners – tiny details that are simplified and smoothened in the millimetre realm to reach a simpler state. These are tiny details but they involve great effort … Industrial designers have to work on the tiniest points and edges to have meaning. Industrial design is a precise job – it took me thirty years to realize this.”

“Few of the products designed at Braun between 1955 and 1995 could be described as colourful. The principal colours used for appliances and other products were white, pale grey, black or metallic and, of course, there was careful reasoning behind this palette. One of the key aspects of Braun philosophy at this time was that products should be what Erwin Braun called ‘faithful servants’; they should accompany and serve an individual over a long period of time without hindering or disturbing through ‘extravagant forms, loud colours or flashy proportions’.”

Rams: “I have always laid emphasis on the fact that a product can be brought to “speak” through good design. My aim has always been to raise the self-explanatory aspect. I never trusted instruction manuals – we all know that most people don’t read them. The information always came through how the product looked – with the colour-coding/labelling. Red is demanding, green is more restrained and so on.”

“The analogue clocks may have appeared basic but their simple appearance concealed a significant amount of engineering and new technology. The delicate transition between sleeping and waking was the subject of much research by the design team. Some of the many experiments with different buttons and switches included infra-red sensors that reacted to a wave of the hand, which Braun called reflex control, and voice control, so that the alarms turned off when the user shouted at them. Many of the clock switches were simply colour-coded with a thin green stripe or dot on the switch to signify ‘alarm on’, for example, or had a Braille-like ridge on one side so the user could locate the switch position by feel alone. These were particularly easy to operate – another concession to the rather vulnerable and unfocused state of the sleepy user.”

“‘Psychological functionality is essential in the detail of a product,’ says Rams. ‘The old mechanical buttons had a concave form because of the pressure needed to push them. But we made the electronic buttons [of the ET calculators] convex, because hitting the right point had become more important than pressure. We got the graphic design details so right that although the technology changed, the design of these calculators remained the same for 20 years.”

“Good design is as little design as possible’ is one of Dieter Rams’s most famous and favourite phrases. He means this in the sense that a well-designed product should be so good that it is barely noticeable. By omitting the unnecessary, says Rams, the essential factors come to the fore: the products become ‘quiet, pleasing, comprehensible and long-lasting’. 1 However 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.”

“Rams is always at pains to stress that the duty of industrial design is first and foremost to users and the users are, generally, human beings, with all their complexities, habits, ideas and idiosyncrasies: ‘Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design. Function-orientated design is the fruit of intense, comprehensive, patient and contemplative reflection on reality, on life, ​
on the needs, desires and feelings of people.”

“the designer is the user’s advocate within the company,”

Rams: “It is hard to discuss aesthetic quality. For two reasons: firstly, it is difficult to talk about anything visual since words have a different meaning for different people. Secondly, aesthetic quality deals with details, subtle shades, harmony and the equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. A good eye is required, schooled by years and years of experience, in order to be able to draw the right conclusions.”

Rams: “It is difficult, strenuous, energy-consuming to live with objects, to be surrounded by objects which are ​
off-balance, obtrusive, confusingly complicated or dishonest”

Rams: “We are convinced that a well-balanced, quiet, clear, neutral and simple design corresponds best to the real needs of the users.”

Rams: “I wanted to clean up, to get rid of the chaos,’ he says of himself at the beginning ​
of his career, ‘But the chaos has got worse since then. Chaos from products, noise and pollution. We are not really in control of anything. ​
In those days I just wanted to tidy up people’s immediate environment. Now we have to clean up a whole world.”

“Rams makes an interesting semantic distinction between users and consumers when he talks about the people at whom his products are aimed. The general term for consumer in German is Verbraucher, which can literally be translated as ‘one who uses things up’ or ‘consumes’ things. However, Rams prefers to use the term Gebraucher, which translates as ‘one who makes use of something’ – the user.”

Rams: “People of subsequent centuries ​
will get the shivers when they look at the thoughtlessness with which we today litter our apartments, our cities, our landscape with a chaos of junk of every description. What fatalistic indifference we have towards the impact of things. Think of all the impositions we endure of which we are only half aware”

“Dieter Rams’s well-known catchphrase ‘Weniger aber besser’ ​
(‘Less but Better’), is at once an exhortation to reduce individual products ​
to the best of what is essential and a clarion call to change consumer culture.”

“His most far-reaching suggestion is a leasing system whereby manufacturers no longer sell household appliances ​
to customers. The products would remain the property of the manufacturer and the user pays to use them. When they have finished using the product or it needs repairing, it would go back to the manufacturer who updates it, repairs it or recycles it. This system, he believes, would dramatically reduce quantity and improve quality since ​
it is everyone’s interest that the appliances work well and last longer. ”

Dieter Rams: ten principles for good design (link)

“By all means reduce, says Rams, but only ​
in the service of utility and the user – not for the sake of aesthetic reasons alone. Reduce quantity, superficiality, greed, waste and excess and at the same time increase: increase humility, quality and the effort ​
to achieve better products, better design and thereby a better world: ‘There must be millions less of things, less words, less gestures, less of everything. But every word and every gesture will become more valuable. If we can put it all into perspective we will need less things as a result’.”

“he was at pains to propagate his message and encourage designers, politicians, business and the public to question ‘unlimited quantitative growth’ and be ‘brave, open and competent enough to orientate ourselves anew in order to massively redesign our lifestyles and with them our future on this planet’.”

Rams: “In my experience, things which are different simply to be different are seldom better but that which is better is almost always different’.”


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