The Ten Commandments of Good Design

Good design not necessarily easy, but it is possible. Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer who has been recognized as one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century. He worked for 40 years at the German consumer products company, Braun. Today, he works at Vitsœ, a British furniture company that manufactures and sells products designed by Rams.

Dieter Rams
Dieter Rams

According to Vitsœ’s website, in the early 1980’s, as he became increasingly aware of his influence in the world, Rams began asking himself a fundamental question: “Is my design good design?”

Realizing that it’s not easy to measure design in any definitive way, Rams decided to set out the principles which he attempted to follow in his work. The result is the list below which is frequently referred to as the “Ten Commandments of Good Design”.

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 emphasizes 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 minimizes 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.

Although Dieter Rams developed these principles in the context of his work as a designer of consumer products, we should reflect on them when it comes to designing our presentations, with or without PowerPoint. Most, if not all, of Rams’ principles are directly relevant.

I particularly like the 10th one. I am a big believer in the importance of simplicity and Rams’s advice is spot-on: Concentrate on what is essential and dispense with everything that is not. In fact, Rams has described his approach to design with the phrase “Weniger, aber besser“, which in English means “Less, but more”.

Photo courtesy of Vitsoe

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