Dieter Rams and The Ten Principles That Changed Design

12.11.2018 | By MILLY BURROUGHS

In the late 1970s, architect and designer Dieter Rams, born in 1931, was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him. He called it,“An impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” Having been employed as a young designer Braun in 1955, by 1961 his innovation and dedication saw him promoted to chief design officer at the company–a role he retained until 1995. Aware that he was a significant contributor to the world that he was criticising, he asked himself a question that would shape the future of the industry: is my design good design? Eventually he formulated ten principles for good design:

  1. Good design is innovative
  2. Good design makes a product useful
  3. Good design is aesthetic
  4. Good design makes a product understandable
  5. Good design is unobtrusive
  6. Good design is honest
  7. Good design is long-lasting
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
  10. Good design is as little design as possible

Back to purity, back to simplicity


Rams’ approach to design continues to impact the world today. It is widely recognised, including by Apple and Jony Ive himself, that the German designer’s work and philosophies had a profound influence on the first iPod and the aesthetic that has become synonymous with the world’s most dominant producer of technology and everyday products. In a new documentary focused on Rams, who is usually fiercely private, American filmmaker Gary Hustwit uncovers the unexpected character behind Braun, Vitsoe and the ten principles that continue to influence contemporary designers.

Dieter Rams and Mark Adams of Vitsoe, London 2015. Photograph by Gary Hustwit

“His only experience of what his influence has been is if he goes to an event and he sees the kind of reaction that his presence causes among people,” explains Hustwit, talking about the designer’s blinkered approach to fame. “At the premier of the film in Milan he got mobbed like a rockstar, which makes him really uncomfortable. He never wanted to be the face of anything, it’s not his personality. Having spent time with him and Jony Ive, I think that’s maybe one of their real similarities, they just want to be working, they just want to get their hands dirty with the materials, get into the process and get deep with it.”

As seen in Hustwit’s new documentary, which is largely filmed at Rams’ incredible home, the designer’s style is borderline clinical in precision, and does not feel frivolous or boastful. “The side of him that I wanted to show was the side that most people haven’t seen. I think people tend to project his design work onto his personality–it’s severe and rigid, controlled, but in his personal life it’s completely the opposite,” explains the filmmaker. “The acces that I got, that’s what I wanted to do with it, show the real person. He’s very much the same on camera as off, so you can get a very honest portrait of what he’s like. It’s also about this myth of this sort of her designer and in some ways I wanted to diffuse that, although I’m not sure I actually did that because he’s so humble and so funny that people now think he’s even more of a design hero than before.

While his work was groundbreaking and his design for Braun are considered design classics, Hustwit’s approach to the film was one of relevance and education. “The construct of the famous man who created genius is one that you can use as a trojan horse to deliver a message that people were not necessarily expecting to get when they walked in. A lot of designers come into the film thinking it’s going to be a celebration of design and of Rams and come out questioning what they’re doing and their practice.” Discussing Rams’ overt concern for the modern consumerism, he adds, “I would say that 95% of what we’re producing as the human race is garbage, literally and figuratively garbage. It’s either destined to go into the landfill or should never have been produced. This idea of less but better is a powerful one, it’s what attracted me to do the film. If it had just been about this famous designer who did these amazing things in the 1950s and 60s I wouldn’t have been interested at all, but it’s about his ideas now and his thoughts on design looking back at the past decades.”


To watch the trailer, and for screening details, visit