Fixing Dieter Rams' 10 principles for Good Design

June 2022

I am very aware that talking about Dieter Rams is cliché and every Yale educated designer will look down upon me in contempt if not utter disgust. Still, most designers like him so it is relevant like it or not. Here we go...

Dieter Rams defined good design with a list of 10 principles that I love but don’t fully agree with. As legendary and respected as his list is, it has many problems I am going to fix in an act of pure hubris because why not, this is the internet.

The original 10 principles for Good Design

  • Good design is innovative
  • Good design is aesthetic
  • Good design is unobtrusive
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is long lasting
  • Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  • Good design is environmentally friendly
  • Good design is as little design as possible

My improved list of 10 principles for Good Design

Good design is not "innovative", it is useful

Innovation for the sake of innovation is plain useless. If something works, changing it “just because” will only make it worse. Most smart criticisms of modern art and design are, sadly, very on-point and I am afraid the last thing we need is keep glorifying innovation.

Let’s concentrate of plain usefulness which is not mere practicality in the material sense but providing a good service for those that experience designed things.

Good design is not "aesthetic", it is beautiful

I can’t stand the use of Aesthetic for beautiful. I am probably taking an unfair stance because I come from another language but Aesthetics is the realm of beauty and not just beauty. Let’s clarify and use a more useful word: Beautiful. Good design is beautiful.

Good design does not make a product "understandable", it is clear

Agree but design is not the sole route for making something easy to understand. Read the next point.

Good design is not "unobtrusive", it is clear

It is not just about getting out of the way but providing intelligible meaning for all. Why don’t we fuse understandableand unobtrusive in Clear. Much clearer right?

Good design is honest

Yes.

Good design is not "long-lasting", it is purposeful

Long-lasting does not work every time. Some products are good precisely because they don’t last. A great example is a paper cup; it is cheap, biodegradable, user friendly and efficient. Replacing paper cups with long-lasting plastic cups was a bad idea from the start. Let’s figure out the highest purpose and stay true to that.

Good design is "thorough down to the last detail", it is efficient

I am a guy who tends to obsess over details and after decades of projects failing to finish on time, I have learnt to control my obsession. Slowing down the useful with less useful detail is never a good choice. Good judgement on focus is efficient. Let’s focus on making good judgement calls on efficiency.

Good design is "environmentally friendly", it is aware of the past and the future

The problem with environmentally friendly is that it is too political and the conversation deviates from design. And when it comes design, environmentally friendly in 2022 means building a huge shopping complex with one wall of vegetation or the ridiculous Marble Arch Mound.

The best way to build environmentally friendly is to not build at all, build to last or build to efficiently dispose of (rots or recycles). Stay away from political slogans and re-read what The Eames had to say about good design (PDF) and what Christopher Alexander meant with context. Nobody wants to destroy the natural environment but let’s talk about care in more honest terms.

Good design is as little design as possible

Yes.

The much better 10 principles for Good Design

  • Good design is useful
  • Good design is beautiful
  • Good design is clear
  • Good design is honest
  • Good design is purposeful
  • Good design is efficient
  • Good design is aware of the past and the future
  • Good design is as little design as possible