These days, it’s almost a reflex action to pronounce 'Less but better' every time the subject turns to product design. Quite exactly what the phrase means, however, is considerably less easy to explain. For that, it’s been, equally, a reflex action to turn to Dieter Rams for guidance.
For over half a century, the German designer has almost single-handedly directed the evolution of objective functionalism – the idea that good design should be innovative, functional and durable all while looking very good.
The bulk of Rams’ work – well, the work for which his name will forever be linked – was done with Braun, Vitsoe, sdr+ and FSB International. With the designer turning 76 this year, the Japanese – no slouches themselves when it comes to clean, pure lined design – have taken it upon themselves to mount an exhibition of product design with Rams holding the place of honour.
Certainly, the challenge of editing Rams is daunting. The catalogue is extensive and in his lifetime, Rams has designed or supervised the design of over 500 products – a prodigious output that not even Jonathan Ive’s Apple team can compete with.
As it is, the exhibition – a mix of sketches, models, photographs and films – covers the usual suspects such as the multi-press citrus juicer, the T1000 world receiver radio and the ET88 calculator. But to hold any possible ennui at bay, there are pleasant discoveries in store including the LE1 loudspeaker and the rarely seen TPI radio, a portable record player and radio combination that Rams has described as the first Walkman.
The exhibition is due to finish its run at Osaka’s Suntory Museum on 25 January 2008 before moving onto Tokyo’s Fuchu Art Museum in May. And if an added reason is required to swing by, the catalogue by Keiko Ueki and Klaus Kemp is a wonderfully comprehensive look at the great man's work - with an essay by our very own Wallpaper* Editor-at-Large Sophie Lovell.