Dieter Rams - Ten Principles for Good Design

Preface

These are not my thoughts. Although I may support and believe them to the core of me, they are not my own. These are the principles suggested by one of the most inspiring designer of our time. His name is Dieter Rams.

And if you don’t know who he is, then surely you’re familiar with his work, or the work of people who have been inspired by him. The original Apple iPod, inspired in part by the 1958 Braun T3 transistor radio for example, is one such thing.

1958 Braun T3

Look familiar? Dieter Rams on the right, and the Braun T3 on the left (no, it isn’t an old iPod).

Principles

It’s important to have a vision. A mission. A statement.

Without something to guide you in your effort, you’ll never have guidance or direction towards your goal. Designing is akin to any traditional artistic discipline; it rarely feels like you’re finished. It often makes you feel like there’s more to do.

These principles have helped me countless times to keep myself on-track, keep moving towards a vision, and to help me accept it’s time to stop.

Good design is innovative

I like this one. My second favourite principle in this list.

I believe that nothing is sacred. Nothing should be taken for granted in your creative process. Never assume that everything is optimal.

Nature constantly tries to perfect itself through iteration and evolution. We should adopt the same approach in our creative endeavors.

Good design makes a product useful

While it is important to innovate, think outside the box, and challenge convention - what we make must be useable.

Quick story.

I once had a double-walled mug. I loved this mug. It was beautiful to me. It was a very tall, narrow cylinder, only held about 12 fluid ounces, and would not keep anything hot. In retrospect, it should have been immediately apparent that, although it was beautifully designed, the design itself would lead to the product’s inability to keep anything warm inside it.

It was simply too tall and narrow. The temperature of the contents would be quickly distributed across the surface of the inner-wall, and be (almost) immediately cooled.

At least it was pretty.

Good design is aesthetic

And it should be pretty.

We all like things that are aesthetically-pleasing. Regardless of our motivation, humans are instinctively attracted to appeasing their visceral needs.

Products that are aesthetically pleasing are proven to be purchased over similar (possibly more-useable) products. It’s one portion of our delight that we share with others when we recommend it.

Good design makes a product understandable

Some would argue that a product cannot be usable if it is not understandable.

Another source of my inspiration is Dr. Don Norman. In Don’s book The Design of Everyday Things he speaks to how people create mental models of how something should work. This mental model is often constructed by knowledge from the world around them and knowledge they already have. If a person’s mental model does not overlap with the product’s usage model, the person is often left blaming themselves or the product for being faulty.

Understand that your audience’s mental model may be different than yours. Another great book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman speaks to this in even greater detail.

I could go on for hours on this topic, so I’ll cut it here.

Good design is unobtrusive

Yes, you can over-design your product.

Part of knowing when to stop is understanding that your design can get in the way of a product. Over-designing a product can prevent it from being useful, usable, and understandable.

Keep your design neutral, restrained, and leave room for your user’s self-expression. Self-expression helps solidify a relationship between person and thing. It promotes attachment, and therefore use.

Good design is honest

Your product cannot grant wishes. Don’t tell people it will.

Focus your product on the core use case(s), and keep its message and design aligned with them.

Good design is long-lasting

I approach this principle from two perspectives.

Make products that are timeless. Products that transcend generations (RayBan Wayfarers, for example) will never go out-of-style.

Make products that will not wear-out beyond its usefulness. Depending on the product, this may be difficult, but the general principle is important. Building something that is designed to fail in time is rarely useful, expect in specific applications. Keep the quality of your product sound to keep its life a long one.

Good design is thorough to the last detail

Do not confuse over-design with thorough design.

Imagine the ways people will use your product. Anticipate the environments. Understand why, how, what, and where.

Anticipate failure. Protect your users from themselves. Being understandable is one part of the puzzle; being thorough is everything in-between.

Good design is environmentally friendly

Conserve resources.

Minimize physical and visual pollution wherever possible.

Good design is as little as possible

Hands-down my favorite principal. Keep your product focused on its primary use case.

Less is more.

Do not burden your products and their users with excess. Focus on the essential aspects.

Be pure. Be simple.

The work of Dieter Rams

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04 Feb 2015