Do you have a vision of how the world should be?

#22 – Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible

Do you have a vision of how the world should be?

Does what you do contribute to that vision?

I’m not talking about this at a Gandhi or a MLK level. Just at an ordinary-person-like-you-and-me level, assuming you are ordinary.

These are the two questions I have after reading this book which I first borrowed from the library and liked it enough to later buy it from iBooks.

Dieter Rams is one of the great industrial designers and has many admirers including Jonathan Ive () who wrote in the foreword of this book:

(Rams) remains utterly alone in producing a body of work so consistently beautiful, so right and so accessible.

Even if you do not find his name familiar, chances are you may have seen his prolific work in the calculators, shavers, clocks, watches and other consumer products produced by the German company, Braun.

The epigraph in this book is a quotation from Rams:

Indifference towards people​
 and the reality in which they​
 live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design.

Rams not only designed beautiful objects,  he cared deeply that they were useful, human-centric, long lasting and environmentally-friendly.

I’m drawn to his beautiful designs and his deeply-held beliefs which mirror mine.

He believes:

There is too much chaos, noise and pollution in the world.

There are too many products, too much consumerism.

We need to question “unlimited quantitative growth”.

A better world has less things, words, gestures but each of these will become more valuable.

Things should be plain, straightforward.

Humans first, objects second – in design and in the living room.

The purpose of design is to meet the real needs of users.

Design that is loud, draws attention to itself and purely ornamental is inhumane. 

His beliefs on design were distilled into the famous 10 principles of design, which he insisted were only helpful but non-binding as design would continue to evolve.

10 principles

Good design is innovative.

Good design makes a product useful.

Good design is aesthetic.

Good design makes a product understandable.

Good design is honest.

Good design is unobtrusive.

Good design is long-lasting.

Good design is thorough to the last detail.

Good design is environmentally friendly.

Good design is as little design as possible.

His beliefs can be summed up in a phrase: Less but better.

Last year, I started giving PowerPoint workshops at work. It wasn’t my job, it was something I volunteered for and my boss was supportive. I spend one third of the workshop on PowerPoint – this I felt was the most unimportant part. The most important was teaching how to prepare content that is useful, followed by how to make slides aesthetically pleasing.

The workshop reflected my beliefs:

People don’t give a shit about you, they care only about themselves.

There is too much information.

People want to add, when they should subtract.

A “sexy” presentation can impress but may not make a difference, compared to one that is relevant to the audience, structured and human.

PowerPoint is often unnecessary.

Reading this book has made me curious about my friends’ beliefs and how they influence their work. I’m going to have some conversations centered around that. I hope this has made you think, particularly on how acting on your beliefs can improve the world, at an ordinary-person-like-you-and-me level, assuming you are ordinary.

You must be quite tired of my beliefs by now, but let me share one last one – it’s ok to be ordinary and human.

I’m inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s annual projects and decided to have one of my own. Read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. Subscribe to my newsletter.

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