Less, But Better: Take Some Advice from Designer Dieter Rams

As a designer, it can be tough to stay inspired and come up with new and creative ideas. If you are stuck, a good place to turn to is none other than German Designer Dieter Rams.

Rams helped design over 500 products for the German electronics company, Braun, over the course of more than 40 years. He’s still one of the biggest names in industrial design.

He stood behind the “less, but better” approach. While the temptation to design something primarily for aesthetics seems rampant in today’s world, Rams believes that products are best when design focuses on simplicity and functionality. Rams lives by his Ten Principles of “Good Design”:

Good Design is Innovative

It thinks outside of the box. With the development of new technology, comes the need for new and better design. The two go hand-in-hand.

Good Design Makes a Product Useful

It creates products that work well and do what they were made to do. You don’t want a product that only looks good.

Good Design is Aesthetic

It moves the consumer to desire a product not only for its function but also because the function creates its beauty—evoking feelings in the consumer (even when they know it).

Good Design Makes a Product Understandable

It can make a product known by simply being seen. It leaves little question to its function and purpose.

Good Design is Unobtrusive

It is not apparent art. While the product may draw your eye, it’s not eye-catching. It leaves room for personal perception.

Good Design is Honest

It does not market, and it makes no superficial promises. It is what it is, and doesn’t try to be something else. What you see is what you get.

Good Design is Long-lasting

It is not trendy or stylish. It takes into account not only today but also what is going to stand the test of time.

Good Design is Thorough Down to the Last Detail

It is not careless or negligent. It shows care for the consumers’ needs and wants. Nothing can be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

Good Design is Environmentally Friendly

It is not wasteful or inefficient. It seeks to make the most of the resources and leaves the world a better place.

Good Design is as Little Design as Possible

Keeping in mind the “less is more” approach, its simplicity will be its grandeur. It will not be garish but will show just enough to tell its story.

Let’s take a look at Braun's SK4 “Phonosuper,” which Rams helped design in the mid-1950s. The product was a record player combined with a radio and was the first of its kind. Gone were the days of wooden music player; a new era of product design had arrived, and the way we listened to music was forever changed. The product is simple in design, with its white exterior and simple buttons, yet something about it catches the eye.

Just like Rams sought to show the world, the product was innovative, yet unobtrusive. Even at first glance, you can see it plays music. There’s no confusion. It’s something that music lovers still seek to have in their homes, not for the sound, but for the feeling they get when it plays.

Another innovative creation of Rams is the 606 Universal Shelving System, which he designed in the 1960s for a German furniture company by the name of Vitsoe. The design of the system is pure and simple, allowing the consumer to be creative and free with what they choose to place inside of it while providing optimal storage and organization. The shelves are sturdy and well built while being easily moved and changed to fit the user's need. It is the perfect example of the vast capabilities of a well-designed product and the principles that Rams so adamantly stood for. The shelving system is still being sold by the company to this day, further proving the genuine and steadfast nature of Rams’ principles.

While Rams is no longer designing for Braun or Vitsoe, his products continue to inspire and remind us what we are capable of creating. Good design is not about you; its purpose is to make the world a little better by providing simplicity and beauty that is not easily found.

Dieter Rams understood that good products are good marketing. So if you’re stuck, go back to the drawing board with Rams’ principles in mind. Remember—less really is better, and good design is simpler than you think.

Written by Elizabeth Lambert, Lead Copywriter