Dieter Rams: Principles 4-7 for Good Design

January 24, 2012 by bryan

Part Two of Dieter Rams: Ten Principles for Good Design inspired by the show at SFMOMA, “Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams”, up through February 20, 2012. You can read Part One here.

Good Design

4. Good design makes a product understandable

When designing logos, websites or printed pieces it is important that everything just makes sense. I get so frustrated with design that tries so hard that it becomes confusing. A logo you can’t read or website where the navigation tries so hard to be cool that you aren’t quite sure how to use it.

Even all the way back to my senior year of college, in the autumn of 1999 when I designed my university yearbook annual, I wanted a design that would be enable people to find their friends easily, reflect the spirit of the university, while still sharing a unique point of view. But if I had solely focused on it being unique, I would have been missing the point of what the product is supposed to be. I desired for it to be understood.

Good Design

5. Good design is honest

I think this is part of the reason that I love the Bialetti Moka Express or french press. They are what they are. They both tell me that water and freshly ground beans will come together to form a substance that will wake me up in the morning. Their only promise is that my caffeine fix will be met.

When simple machines are bogged down with design and have so many bells and whistles, I feel overwhelmed, annoyed and cheated. A toaster is still a toaster. A blender is still a blender. The design should only make good honest promises, and then follow through on them. That kind of design makes me smile.

Good Design

6. Good design is unobtrusive

I feel this most strongly when I think of flash websites. While there are designers that have figured out how to use Flash in positive ways, most of the time Flash made websites less useful. People felt wowed in the first 20 seconds, and frustrated the rest of the time. There was so much energy put into making websites works of art that they were no longer useful tools.

In general, I aim to design in a restrained way. To allow the user to be able to come to the site and interact with it as they wish. Most of my design is thinking about what people need and want, and making it easy for them to find. Of course I want the work to be pleasing to the eye, but I never want to create something that is beautiful but useless.

Good Design

7. Good design is long-lasting

When I was at the Dieter Rams show I kept on thinking to myself, “That design still works. I still love it. It could have been designed just yesterday.” When I can look back at my work from over ten years ago and be happy with how it looks, I know I was creating good design. Of course that is not true of every piece, but there are definitely some examples in my portfolio that still work.

However, it is truly a challenge to avoid appearing antiquated in the world of web design. So quickly people’s work can go from being fashionable to old. While it is true that the way we program and the technology are constantly changing, I think we should still attempt to avoid being overly fashionable and create sites that can last longer than is typical. We owe that to our clients.

Dieter Rams (born May 20, 1932 in Wiesbaden) is a German industrial designer closely associated with the consumer products company Braun and the Functionalist school of industrial design.

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