It’s not an overstatement to say Dieter Rams is perhaps the most influential living industrial designer of modern times. His 500-strong output of electronic designs for Braun, between 1955 and 1995 changed the language of appliance design as we know it today and his ‘Ten Principles’ of good design have become a mantra – a checklist and a rule book – for industrial designers the world over. With the same reductive efficiency he applied to his own designs, in ten simple commandments, Rams succinctly defined what design for a post-war modern world should be.
Simplifying and humanising Bauhaus principles, marrying them with the electronic and engineering advances born from the Second World War, Rams’ appliances are lean and clean. Switches are small and ordered, different components are arranged geometrically, colour-coded in a muted palette and finished with a combination of wood veneer and the pioneering plastics he developed. You didn’t have to be part of a financial or cultural elite to own or appreciate a Rams-designed appliance.
His design legacy continues today apace, most stringently in the work of the super-normalists Naoto Fukasawa, Jasper Morrison and Industrial Facility and most widespread in the work of Jonathan Ive whose i-products are arguably the closest anyone has come to achieving ten ticks against Rams’ ten principles.
A retrospective of Rams’ seminal designs are on show at the Design Museum together with archive footage, models, sketches and film interviews with Ive, Morrison, Hecht and Fukasawa. The exhibition isn't just a chronological survey of his work for Braun and furniture for Vitsoe, it provides comprehensive insight into the man behind the designs, how his work evolved and how widespread his influence, both details and overall, has been.
Given his status is the design world it was only fitting that Rams was one of our inaugural guest editors of issue W*103 – for which Matthew Donaldson, as the centrepiece of Rams’ edited section, brought to life the ‘Ten Principles’ in a photographic essay. In addition to Rams’ retrospective we've resurrected Donaldson’s shoot here, which captures perfectly the quiet magnanimity of Rams’ designs, from principle to product in ten photographs.