Everybody remembers the Ten Principles of Good Design that Dieter Rams penned several decades ago, a result of his personal quest for answers to very pragmatic questions like What is good design? Is my design good design?, etc. Best known for his connection to Braun, Rams influenced a league of industrial designers. Now, on the advent of his major retrospective, we asked him to share a few of his thoughts by way of an update or ‘mind refreshment’, if you will, in the manner of a manifesto. Rams has come up with this not-a-manifesto, and we are very grateful for that.

"The designers of tomorrow are facing new and more complex challenges. It’s no longer just about the products themselves but also about new structures of behaviour and ways of addressing cultural values. This requires a design ethos that goes beyond the arbitrary.

Our fragile environment and climate and the unstable global economy require a new attitude towards things. We should consider in more detail what we want to produce. But less can only become more if it is better than more. These are problems that today’s designers have to solve in their professional life. Pure marketing and brand design will no longer be good enough.

Excessive brand consciousness has detracted from real product qualities and has led to cheap fakes and surrogates, and whether the label is real or fake has become more important than the product itself. What designers need to address, however, is the quality of their materialised ideas. So design must start with contemplation.

When I think about the products of the future, I am not focusing purely on product design in the strictest sense of the word, but on what I call everyday culture, meaning the entirety of industrially-manufactured things – with all their various aspects, from basic technology and product design on the one hand, to communication, presentation at the point of sale, disposal, reuse, and recycling of used products, on the other hand.

For me, part of the vision of a future product culture is product ethics. Industrial production must have the new quality of value. The ethical value of the products lies in the fact that they help people to live in a dignified and humane manner. Seeing our product worlds and resources differently can be a form of release and can create a new and carefree attitude to life. Products that are long lasting can be much more satisfying to use. This new design does not have to be dull. Quite the opposite: it can be thrillingly wholesome.

A change like this in our product culture will not come about through insight, good intentions, or an appeal to reason. Changes in behaviour can succeed only with changes in structures. Genuine innovations and outstanding achievements have become a rarity. Visions of the future in education, science, art, and particularly in our everyday culture, are unfortunately too often overshadowed by transient consumption in the here and now. Technologically oriented design, which can lead to a concrete change in our product culture, requires designers with better qualifications and excellent training.

I see industrial design as a technology in the true, original sense of the word: an ability based on knowledge, thinking, and experience; an ability that lays the foundations, indeed must lay the foundations, for knowledge, mental acuity, and experience. I’m utterly convinced that technological design can and must make an important contribution to the future development of human culture, of everyday culture. Today, many societies are threatened by increasing destructiveness. The German word hass (hate) and hässlich (ugly) have the same root. Hate destroys, and creates, chaos. And conversely, how much hate is created by ugliness, disorder, and chaotic randomness?"

Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products company Braun and the Functionalist school of design. His unobtrusive approach and belief in "less but better" generated a timeless quality in his products and have influenced the design of many products, while also securing Rams worldwide recognition and appreciation. He began his studies in architecture and interior decoration at Wiesbaden School of Art in 1947. A year later, he took a break from studying to gain practical experience and finish his carpentry apprenticeship. He returned to Wiesbaden School of Art in 1948 and graduated with honours in 1953, after which he began working for Frankfurt-based architect Otto Apel. In 1955, he was recruited to Braun and 1961 became its Chief Design Officer, a position he retained until 1995. By producing electronic gadgets that were remarkable in their austere aesthetic and user friendliness, Rams made Braun a household name in the 1950s. In 2010, to mark his contribution to the world of design, he was awarded the Kölner Klopfer prize by the students of theCologne International School of Design and in 2009 awarded the great design prize in Australia. In addition, as successor to the Bauhaus, Rams became a protégé of the Ulm School of Design in Germany.

This article appeared in DAM60. Order your personal copy.