Designing a life

by eskokilpi

Apple design was not about Steven Jobs alone, but about Steven Jobs and the lead designer Jonathan Ive. The way I see it, their collaboration in Apple followed a bit the story of another design icon, Braun. The key people then were the industrialist Erwin Braun, his brother and the designer Dieter Rams.

Jonathan Ive has described his first encounter with a Dieter Rams design: “No part appeared to be either hidden or celebrated, just perfectly considered and appropriate in the hierarchy of the product’s details. You knew exactly what it was and how to use it.”

“Good design is as little design as possible” is one of Dieter Rams’ most famous phrases. The meaning behind it was that a well-designed product should be so good that it is barely noticeable. By leaving the unnecessary out, the essential factors rise to the foreground. The challenge is that the design may be simple but the path taken to create it highly complex.

Dieter Rams was one of the first people who made the distinction between consumers and users when he talked about the people at whom his designs were aimed. The term “consumer” corresponds to someone who uses things up. Consumption is then a process of reducing the value that is built into the product. Rams preferred to use the German term “Gebraucher”, which translates as someone who uses something. The consumer is turned into the modern notion of a value-creating customer. If the design is useful, if the product facilitates value creation, it makes sense that it lasts as long as possible. For Rams, the term “Verbraucher”, the consumer, had a negative meaning, implying waste and short-term thinking.

Another concept that Dieter Rams suggested was “re-design”. What he meant was to turn away from an addiction to novelty towards iterations, to improving what we already have.

“Less, but better” was the ultimate motto of Dieter Rams. The motto follows the idea of “less is more” of Mies van der Rohe and Peter Behrens. The original idea of Behrens was improvement through reduction, reducing quantity, waste, and excess and at the same time increasing quality, value and the effort to create a better world in a human centric way.

Dieter Rams formulated his ideas about good design into a set of principles to explain what makes a good product:

The first principle was: good design is innovative. Technological developments always offer new opportunities. Innovative design develops in collaboration with innovative technology.

The second principle: good design is about usefulness. A product is bought to be used. Design is about emphasizing usefulness whilst disregarding everything that could be a detraction from it.

The third principle: good design is beautiful. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to functionality.

The fourth principle: good design makes a product understandable. At best it is self-explanatory.

The fifth principle: a good design is honest and does not try to make a product more innovative or valuable than it is.

The sixth principle: good designs are neither decorative nor independent works of art. Their design should leave room for interaction and the user’s self-expression.

The seventh principle: a good design lasts many years rather than being short-term and fashionable.

The eighth principle: it is about attention to detail. Nothing should be left to chance.

The ninth principle: good design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It minimizes waste and it minimizes visual and physical pollution.

The tenth principle: good design is “as little as possible”: it is about less but paradoxically at the same time about better, more valuable.

The principles of a good design may be the principles of a good life.


Thank you Dieter Rams, Sophie Lovell, Marco Steinberg and his team at Sitra. Thank you also @moia

More: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The Museum of Modern Art New York. Helsinki Design Lab. Guy Kawasaki on Steve Jobs. Jonah Lehrer on Steve Jobs. John Sculley on Steve Jobs. Technology and social change. Fast Company: 50 Most Influential Designers in America.