Good design – less is more

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In today’s throwaway world where we keep accumulating more and more stuff and in turn disposing of it, Tanya Weaver considers what ‘good design’ is really all about
Tis (almost) the season to be jolly but in some ways Christmas makes me uncomfortable. Firstly, there is the fact that it’s creeping earlier and earlier into the year – I saw Christmas cards on sale in September and a
gingerbread latte just doesn’t taste right at the end of October!

Secondly, with our ritual of giving and receiving presents we seem to be adding more and more stuff to our ever-increasing piles of stuff.

Dieter Rams

In 1963 Dieter Rams designed the T100 World Receiver as the first ‘all wave’ portable radio with unlimited reception

Not a Christmas goes by when we don’t receive tat in some form (remember that Bart Simpson keyring or aromatherapy foot spa) that soon goes into the back of the cupboard and doesn’t re-emerge again until we have a clean out or move house. I was aghast to discover that some people are even swapping their unwanted Christmas presents online or selling them off on ebay as soon as Boxing Day arrives.

The words ‘less is more’ ring true in this instance – maybe if our loved ones all chipped in and bought us one present that we really wanted. A well-designed product that we will get much enjoyment out of for years to come. It made me think of arguably the most influential industrial designer of the late 20th century Dieter Rams whose design philosophy is ‘Less, but better’.

You can see this philosophy evident in all his products, and having been at Braun for 40 years from 1955 to 1995 there are a lot of them – from coff ee makers, alarm clocks, hairdryers, calculators, radios, audio/visual equipment, electric shavers to cigarette lighters. I went to the major retrospective of his work earlier this year at the Design Museum called ‘Less and More’ that featured his designs for both Braun and Vitsoe. I was astounded by how contemporary many of them still look despite being 40 years old.

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For instance, his T100 World Receiver, the fi rst ‘all wave’ portable radio, which dates back to 1963, with its aluminium casing, rounded corners and minimal styling wouldn’t look out of place in your home today.

In order to create such products that could be classified as ‘good design’ he came up with his ‘Ten Principles of Good Design’ (see below). Considering the great success both Braun and Rams have enjoyed
over the years you would think that more designers should use these principles as a checklist as they are certainly as relevant today as they were then.

That’s what particularly bothers me today – the arbitrariness and thoughtlessness with which many things are produced and brought to market…We have too many unnecessary things everywhere

As Rams said in ’Objectified‘, a feature-length documentary by Gary Hustwit about our complex relationship with manufactured objects, released in 2009: “People react positively when things are clear and understandable.

That’s what particularly bothers me today – the arbitrariness and thoughtlessness with which many things are produced and brought to market…We have too many unnecessary things everywhere.”

But there are some designers today who have been influenced by Rams, and his design philosophy is apparent in their work. Most notable is Jasper Morrison who brought us the Rowenta coffee maker, Naoto Fukasawa who brought us MUJI’s iconic wall-mounted CD player and Jonathan Ive, whose products you may have heard of.

In fact, in the ‘Objectified’ documentary Rams goes on to say that Apple is the only company designing products according to his principles.

Whatever you may think of Apple (I for one am I fan) they seem to be getting it right with consumers, many of who desire to own at least one (in Martyn Day’s case, all) of their products.

In fact, it’s not just adults, as I recently discovered that Apple’s products have made it to the top of children’s Christmas wish lists this year too.

According to the Duracell Toy Report, which questioned 2,138 children and parents online, the products that dominated the top three positions are the iPhone 4, iPod touch and iPad. Of the 5 to 16 year olds quizzed 39% of them desired Apple products this year, with 17% of 5 to 8 year olds, 50% of 9 to 12 year olds and 66% of 13 to 16 years olds all putting Apple products at the top of their lists.

So, although not every designer will be the next Dieter Rams or Jonathan Ives you can certainly apply the ten principles and then hopefully we will see less tat and more good designs.

Tanya Weaver is the special projects editor at Develop3D. She is living in hope that she will find a white iPhone 4 under the Christmas tree this year.

Dieter Rams’ ten principles of good design

• Good design is innovative
• Good design makes a product useful
• Good design is aesthetic
• Good design makes a product understandable
• Good design is unobtrusive
• Good design is honest
• Good design is long-lasting
• Good design is thorough down to the last detail
• Good design is environmentally friendly
• Good design is as little design as possible
Dieter Rams
Tanya Weaver explores the principles of good design


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