10 Principles for Good Design

Dieter Rams. His ten principles for good design are revolutionary.

Originally penned in the 1970’s, during a time that Dieter thought was “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” They still hold as much value today as when Dieter originally wrote them – not just from a design standpoint, but as a way to approach and look at life in general.

If you don’t know, Rams was the Chief Design Officer at Braun and revolutionised product design. In an era of dark, ornate, heavy wood styling, he (and the creative team) designed products that included laminates, perspex, and aluminium. Most importantly though, these new products were incredibly intuitive, and very easy use.

It is rumoured that Jony Ive, Chief Design Officer for Apple, borrowed heavily on these concepts for the launch of the iPod (and other products), and when you look back and compare it to some of Rams’ original designs, you can certainly see the correlation.

I will regularly go back and read these principals as a reminder of what I should be striving for in design — they’re incredibly inspirational and are a great way to get into the right mindset before starting a piece of work.

1 – Good design is innovative

The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

2 – Good design makes a product useful

A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

3 – Good design is aesthetic

The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

4 – Good design makes a product understandable

It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

5 – Good design is unobtrusive

Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should, therefore, be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

6 – Good design is honest

It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

7 – Good design is long lasting

It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.

8 – Good design is thorough down to the last detail

Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.

9 – Good design is environmentally friendly

Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

10 – Good design is as little design as possible

Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.

Back to purity, back to simplicity.

In summary

For myself, the last point; Good design is as little design as possible, has always resonated strongly with me. Dieter’s explanation of this is excellent: “Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.

If you have found these interesting, I would highly recommend watching the documentary Rams, by Gary Hustwit.

What are your thoughts? Which principle(s) stood out to you?

Further Reading / Watching

Written by Ryan Impey