Dieter Rams - Designed for Life

Dieter Rams - Designed for Life

Dieter Rams’ impact on modern design cannot be overestimated, his approach mirroring Porsche's 'form follows function' philosophy

Before Apple there was Dieter Rams. Vaunted as the godfather of consumer design, his work at German electronics manufacturer Braun redefined how consumers interacted and related to everyday products.

The UK’s very own Sir Jonathan Ive, Apple’s Chief Design Officer, has long cited Rams as a major inspiration, stating “What Dieter Rams and his team at Braun did was to produce hundreds of wonderfully conceived and designed objects: products that were beautifully made in high volumes and that were broadly accessible”.

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Style says:

"Ram's ability to combine functionality with aesthetic purpose paved the way for other to follow..."

Just like Porsche, Rams brought a different perspective, influenced by his passion for architecture. His first project in 1956, the development of the SK4 radio and record player, ditched the customary wooden cabinet in favour of a more industrial metal affair. Dubbed ‘Snow White’s coffin’ by critics, its radical design caught the imagination of the buying public and tapped into a shifting consumer landscape.

Next up was the Atelier 1 hi-fi system and L1 speakers. Again, the designs were a radical departure from the norm – Rams separated the speakers from the receiver, eschewing the traditional integrated arrangement. But the creative philosophy didn’t stop with individual products. Both the Atelier 1 and L1 were designed to the same proportions as the SK4. This meant they could be used together, with the speakers capable of being used in the SK4 to boost sound.

Next up was the Atelier 1 hi-fi system and L1 speakers. Again, the designs were a radical departure from the norm – Rams separated the speakers from the receiver, eschewing the traditional integrated arrangement. But the creative philosophy didn’t stop with individual products. Both the Atelier 1 and L1 were designed to the same proportions as the SK4. This meant they could be used together, with the speakers capable of being used in the SK4 to boost sound.

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Dieter Rams’ Ten Principals of Good Design


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

A ‘family’ look was emerging and Rams’ star was now in its ascendency. In 1962 he was appointed Braun’s design director, concentrating on radios, record players, torches and projectors – the timing was perfect. New transistor technologies were breaking through, allowing audio products to be more compact, with ancillaries such as buttons and dials now being located on the flat top surfaces – as in 1962 Audio 1 radio and record player – creating an attractively legible layout.

The new technology also meant a switch to modular components, which encompassed both the L45 speaker and TG60 tape recorder, further a honing the family identity. Furthermore, all the units, except the record player, could be displayed horizontally and vertically or wall-mounted.

 



Rams’ skills were also being applied outside the electronics arena. He produced the benchmark 606 shelving system for furniture manufacturer Vitsœ+Zapf (a brand Rams is associated with to this day), which just happened to be specifically designed to compliment the Audio 1 system, thanks to its off-white colour scheme.
Further products were also being developed for Braun, including the TS45 control unit, TG60 tape recorder and L450 loudspeaker, all employing Rams’ now standardised signature structure and colour. And as technology was changing so were consumers’ ability to interact with new products. With this, Ram’s simple, efficient designs were seen as the height of modernity.

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A change in direction followed in 1965, once again designing in parallel with new technological advancements, this time it was the introduction of hi-fi - high-fidelity sound. Out went the pale colours and in came black, giving the impression of complexity and solidity to compliment the improvement in audio quality. This aesthetic shift set the design precedent in consumer electronics design for the next three decades.

Dieter Rams remained design director of Braun until 1995, producing hundreds of landmark products that combined simple elegance with intelligent design and still influence today.

Addressing the Braun supervisory board in 1980 Rams explained his philosophy: “I think that 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.’