KF 20 Coffee Machine, 1972
"Question everything generally thought to be obvious." That's the motto of Dieter Rams. You may not know his name but you have probably owned something that he designed--he was the former head of design at Braun for forty years.
Considered one of the most influential industrial designers of the late 20th century, an exhibition at the Design Museum in London shows the range of his work. More than 500 products were created whilst he was a designer and then head of design at Braun. The pieces are elegant but simple in function, with no extraneous details or decoration.
Rams said that "My aim is to omit everything superfluous so that the essential is shown to the best possible advantage."
Record player, 1959
The numerous kitchen appliances, stereos and electrical items may look normal to us now, but back in the 1950's and '60's when they were released, they caused a sensation. They challenged what people thought of as "design". Rams made things simple: he reduced the buttons and switches on things, used neutral tones of colour, and kept them simple and orderly.
Braun fan, 1961
The desk fan was a revolutionary design for the company and challenged designs of the fifty years beforehand. It was on the lectern when John F. Kennedy delivered a speech in Frankfurt in 1963. The photo went round the world and so did Braun's reputation.
Braun clock, 1974
He only used pure whites and greys in his work, with colour being used for switches and dials. The famous travelling clock was designed to display the time. Period. The second hand was always yellow, and the alarm hand and button was green. On display they were always set at 8 minutes after 10 since this was thought to be the most balanced position for the hands.
The stereo's internal workings are mimicked on the exterior with the rows of diodes showings functions, the white typography and the industrial looking air vents.
He had ten principles of good design which informed his work at Braun:
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
Rams' workshop interior
He left Braun in 1995. A speech delivered in 1980 sums up his quest for good design:
"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."
More on Dieter Rams
10 Commandments of (Sustainable) Design
Wallpaper* Magazine January 2007: Less but Better