Culture iOS, , , , , , , — February 9, 2012 11:22 — 0 Comments

Dieter Rams: the birth of the cool

Dieter Rams: 'good design is aesthetic'

The phrase: ‘simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ has been the Apple design mantra from the beginning.

In 1983 Steve Jobs gave a talk to a design conference and said: “What we are going to do is make the productshigh-tech, and we’re going to package them cleanly so that you know they’rehigh-tech. We will fit them in a small package and we can make them beautiful and white, just like Braun does with its electronics.”

Braun’s influence on Apple is well documented and it is Dieter Rams, the lead designer of the German electrical appliance company, that both Jobs and Apple’s own head of design Sir Jonathan Ive looked up to.

An exhibition Less and More: The Design Ethos of Dieter Rams at SFMOMA (until 20 February 2012) reveals the extent of Braun’s legacy through some 200 sketches, prototypes, and original products that elucidate the seminal designer’s distinctly modernist approach and philosophy about the function of design.

You also see where the ideas came from for the designs of Apple’s desktops, MacBooks and iOS devices.

Many of Rams’ works have achieved iconic status, while his ideas, in particular his advocacy for ”less but better” design‚ have proved formative for a contemporary culture concerned with design ethics and sustainability.

It is a philosophy that Apple fully embraced; both Jobs and Ive’s appreciation of the German designer created not only a succesful partnership but a strong bond as all three men are cut from the same cloth.

Aware of the Apple way of doing things, Rams himself said in a recent interview, with perhaps just a little envy in his voice: “I have always observed that good design can normally only emerge if there is a strong relationship between an entrepreneur and the head of design. At Apple this situation exists, between Steve Jobs and Jony Ive. Apple has managed to achieve what I never achieved: using the power of their products to persuade people to queue to buy them. For me, I had to queue to receive food at the end of World War II. That’s s quite a change.”

But Rams’ own legacy lives on, as does the man. Rams was born in 1932 and studied architecture at the Werkkunstschule Wiesbaden. After working for architect Otto Apel in the 1950s, he joined Braun in 1961 as chief of design, a position he kept until 1995.

Many of the products in this fascinating exhibition appear dated only by the advances of technology. Whether it is electric razors, reel-to-reeltaperecorders, transistor radios, stereos or food mixers, the designs have the same simple functionality that set Braun apart from other manufacturers of electronic devices.

The Tischsuper RT20 transistor radio

The Tischsuper RT20 transistor radio, 1961, by Dieter Rams for Braun. Photo: Matthew Donaldson

The exhibit RT 20 tischsuper radio, 1961, still looks modern and stunning with its pear wood veneer cabinet and graphite lacquered sheet steel fascia housing the speaker and a simple row of buttons. As well as looking good, these products were built to last.

In a 1989 interview with Taz magazine about Braun, Rams talked about his and the company’s ethos: “We are economical with form and colour, prioritize simple forms, avoid unnecessary complexity, do without ornament. Instead [there is] order and clarification. We measure every detail against the question of whether it serves function and facilitates handling.”

When Steve Jobs handled a Braun food blender in the kitchen of his Californian home you can feel Rams’ word resonating with the aesthetically minded young CEO;  from the very first macs, the Next cube, the iMacs, iPods, iPads and iPhones, they all followed the same principles.

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 designislong-lasting
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible
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About the author

Tony Myers has written 866 articles for Smart Movie Making

Fooling around with the iPhone since 2010. Taking it to the next web by writing about new media, new technology, new wave cinema and the digital revolution.

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