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by By Ed Buch, CSI, AIA,

Dieter Rams

BuchNotes #58, Jan. 30, 2015

If you’ve ever wondered about the inspiration behind the design of Apple products you can find it in the work of Dieter Rams.  Dieter Rams was the head of product design for the German company, Braun, from 1961 to 1995 and was responsible for the elegant, almost perfect designs of over 500 Braun products.  Jonathan Ive, Director of Design at Apple, acknowledges Apple’s debt to Rams in his glowing Forward to the book, Dieter Rams:  As Little Design as Possible.

Braun T-3 pocket radioOne needs to look no further than Apple’s iPod, (2001), and compare it to the Braun T-3 pocket radio designed in 1958 to see the connection to Dieter Rams.  Both objects exhibit the same attention to design based on a careful consideration of materials, fabrication details, perfect proportions, and most of all, functionality.  Nothing is out of place and nothing more than the essentials is included.

Dieter Rams, born in 1932 in Wiesbaden, studied to be an architect in the Bauhaus model at the Arts & Crafts College in Wiesbaden.  After working briefly for an architect he joined Braun as an architect but migrated quickly to the product design department.  This was at the same time that the owners of Braun were focusing on a new line of home appliances , “tools for living”, to be designed, under Dieter Rams’s leadership, with the same principals used in the International Style of architecture.  The most successful of these was the Braun electric shaver, introduced in 1950, that is still in production today in essentially the same design.  The shaver was followed by the SK-4 phonograph, other audio equipment, clocks, food processors, coffee grinders, hair dryers, and many others, each of which was designed using the same principles:  “less but better”, straightforwardness, understated beauty, and careful use of color.

Rams also designed furniture for Knoll and the Danish furniture manufacturer, Vitsoe.  His modular storage system, (1959), based on a system of interchangeable shelves, and cupboards, is still in production today and has been copied successfully by IKEA and Techline.  His 1960 design for a cast aluminum and leather chair was a precursor to the similar and better known seating by Knoll.  His designs for the architectural door hardware manufacturer FSB should be familiar to architects.

Central to the success of all of Braun’s products was Rams’s team approach to design.  He included manufacturing, marketing, finance, and graphic design personnel in the process.  This approach was used consistently over 35 years, extending through Braun’s purchase by Gillette in 1967. Design wasn’t based solely on the appearance of the object.  It began with a careful understanding of the user’s needs and the functional considerations of the appliance.  Sketches were made and models were built to understand manufacturing details and materials issues.   In the end each product design was so perfect it seemed inevitable.  “How could we have done it any differently?”  “As little design as possible” is a bit misleading.  In reality, it took a great deal of design thought to achieve the end result, simplicity.

The book was written by Sophie Lovell.  It was published by Phaidon Press in 2011 with 400 large format pages many of which include beautiful photographs.

 

Ed Buch, CSI, CCS, AIA,  Los Angeles, CA

The Inland Empire Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute