Dieter Rams Ten Principles for Good Design

Authors Note: All frameworks have moved to a new home at Strategy Umwelt. Please join me at this new platform for a revised list of mental models, strategy frameworks and principles including a revised version of the Ten Principles of Good Design.

Photograph by Abisag Tüllmann.

Photograph by Abisag Tüllmann.

Defining design is a hugely complicated task. Today design covers everything from graphic design, industrial design, interaction design, user interface, experience design, and even high art. In theory, design is an approach or technique to solve problems, be they visual or physical, spanning these different disciplines.

Apple have shown that design in a business context is no longer a nice to have, but a competitive advantage. This has trickled down to a number of new startups that are disrupting existing categories and "eating the world" - organisations like Uber, Airbnb, Square, GitHub and Dropbox have made design a core of their business, which has led them to grow faster than their existing or emerging competition.

Defining "good design" then becomes hugely important, however this definition is also hard to break down as design always remains subjective.

In the 1970's, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned about the state of the world around him, an "impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises". As design cannot be measured in a finite way, he created ten principles for good design, often referred to in the design community as the 'ten commandments'.

These principles are even more valid today with the growing complexity around digital, and should be remembered when starting any project.

The Ten Principles of Good Design

 1. Good Design is Innovative 

TP 1 radio/phono combination, 1959, by Dieter Rams for Braun

"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

MPZ 21 multipress citrus juicer, 1972, by Dieter Rams and Jürgen Greubel for Braun

"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

RT 20 tischsuper radio, 1961, by Dieter Rams for Braun

"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

T 1000 world receiver, 1963, by Dieter Rams for Braun

"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

Cylindric T 2 lighter, 1968, by Dieter Rams for Braun

Cylindric T 2 lighter, 1968, by Dieter Rams for Braun

"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

L 450 flat loudspeaker, TG 60 reel-to-reel tape recorder and TS 45 control unit, 1962-64, by Dieter Rams for Braun

"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

620 Chair Programme, 1962, by Dieter Rams for Vitsœ

"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

ET 66 calculator, 1987, by Dietrich Lubs for Braun

"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

606 Removable Shelving System, 1960, by Dieter Rams for Vitsœ

"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

L 2 speaker, 1958, by Dieter Rams for Braun

"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."

A revised version of this article is available at Strategy Umwelt.