Less but Better

Posted by Daniel Lignini,

Less but Better is the design credo of Dieter Rams. Some would probably also said Less Is More. Either way the key word is ‘Less’. Less as added value. It means that simplicity and clarity lead to good design.

“Good designers must always be avant-gardists, always one step ahead of the times. They should – and must – question everything generally thought to be obvious. They must have an intuition for people’s changing attitudes. For the reality in which they live, for their dreams, their desires, their worries, their needs, their living habits. They must also be able to assess realistically the opportunities and bounds of technology.”
Dieter Rams, 1980 speech to Braun supervisory board, from his Design Museum profile.

German industrial designer, Dieter Rams has established himself as one of the most influential designers of the 20th century. His name has been strongly associated with the consumer products company Braun for which he had been working for over 40 years, and the Functionalist school of industrial design.

Rams once explained his design approach in the phrase “Weniger, aber besser” which translates to “Less, but better.” Furthermore, Rams created ten rules of design more than twenty years ago, which are sometimes referred to as “the ten commandments”, originally published in his 1995 book, “Weniger, aber besser” (Less but Better). Today, they are just as relevant:

Dieter Rams’ ten principles to “good design”:

Good design is innovative
Good design makes a product useful
Good design is aesthetic
Good design helps us to understand a product
Good design is unobtrusive
Good design is honest
Good design is long-lasting
Good design is consequent to the last detail
Good design is concerned with the environment
Good design is as little design as possible

These ten principles defined Dieter Rams’ approach to “good design”. Each of the hundreds of products he developed during forty years with Braun, was unerringly elegant and supremely versatile. Units were made in modular sizes to be stacked vertically or horizontally. Buttons, switches and dials were reduced to a minimum and arranged in an orderly manner. Rams even devised a system of colour coding for Braun’s products, which were made in white and grey. The only splash of colour was the switches and dials.

Rams’ objective was to design useful products which would be easy to operate. Yet he achieved much more by dint of the formal elegance and technical virtuosity of his work. Rams’ designs always looked effortless with an exquisite simplicity borne from rigorous tests and experiments with new materials and an obsessive attention to detail to ensure that each piece appeared flawlessly coherent. Dieter Rams remains an enduring inspiration for younger designers, notably Jonathan Ive and Jasper Morrison, who have acknowledged his influence in their work at Apple and Rowenta respectively.

In fact, if you own an iPod, iPhone, or iMac you almost certainly owe thanks to Dieter Rams for some of the look, feel and simplicity of these products. His influence is explicit in the work of Jonathan Ive at Apple, most literally, perhaps, in the design of the calculator on the iPhone, but in fact across almost the entire range of Apple products.

There can’t be many more legendary & respected designers around today than Dieter Rams. For over 50 years Rams has been one of the most influential industrial designers around, producing elegant, stripped-down and flawlessly balanced everyday objects in such enduring forms that one is hard-pressed to identify a design of his that hasn’t stood the test of time.


Notes: ‘Less is more’ it’s a 19th century proverbial phrase. It is first found in print in Andrea del Sarto, 1855, a poem by Robert Browning:

Who strive – you don’t know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,-
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter) – so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia.

The phrase is often associated with the architect and furniture designer Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969), one of the founders of modern architecture and a proponent of simplicity of style.

Source:
Dieter Rams, Design Museum profile
Source:
Dieter Rams’ interview, BBH Labs

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