Deiter Rams mastered the art of the user interface in the 1960s and 1970s, decades before the Internet would emerge as a mainstream tool for communications and commerce. He is widely considered by many to be among the greatest industrial designers. One of the reasons why I admire Rams and his work is because he helped invent the same methods of interaction that designers employ on a daily basis.
Perhaps the best example of this could be found in Braun’s ET66 calculator, designed by Rams during his long tenure with the company. Despite its simplicity, its buttons are easily identified, using only a combination of visual hierarchy and strategic color choices. To describe this method, Rams did not need to dwell on explanation, because it was easy to get his point across. He simply said “Weniger, aber besser”, or “Less, but better.” In order to make an interface easier to use, all of the fluff was removed, leaving only the essentials. To further utilize this way of thinking, Rams developed Braun’s color system, limiting the overall shell of the device to black, white and grey, and assigning specific colors to similar types of controls. This visual style allowed people to focus even more on its functions.
We have few ways to express what boils down to good design, and many argue over what makes it. The few who know the history behind the argument are familiar with Rams’ take on the subject. Before retiring from Braun in 1998, he drafted a list of guidelines he endearingly called the “Ten Principles to 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 design is long-lasting
- Good design is thorough down to the last detail
- Good design is environmentally friendly
- Good design is as little design as possible
When I am struggling to create, I sometimes find myself readdressing these rules. It doesn’t take much time until the point at which I identify which of these principles I am neglecting. Of course, consistently making good design is the best way to become a good designer. Perhaps Rams’ ten principles can help you achieve that prestige. Are you a good designer?