Good Design Is...
Gregory Han
Feb 26, 2009

Did you know there exists Ten Commandments for "good design"? German industrial designer Dieter Rams is primarily known for his work with consumer products company Braun and his quotable, "Weniger, aber besser" ("Less, but better"). But perhaps equally important, Rams formulated an easy to understand criteria system listing the elements of "good design", all which still ring true till this day. The opinions expressed were created primarily to be applied by designers themselves, but Rams' commandments also offer an excellent guide for consumers looking to make careful purchases of products that transcend the common, whether it be a new sofa, home appliance or anything else you bring into the home...

Good design:
...is innovative. It does not copy existing product forms, nor does it produce any kind of novelty for the sake of it. The essence of innovation must be clearly seen in all functions of a product. The possibilities in this respect are by no means exhausted. Technological development keeps offering new chances for innovative solutions.

...makes a product useful. A product is bought in order to be used. It must serve a defined purpose – in both primary and additional functions. The most important task of design is to optimise the utility of a product.

...is aesthetic. The aesthetic quality of a product – and the fascination it inspires – is an integral part of the its utility. Without doubt, it is uncomfortable and tiring to have to put up with products that are confusing, that get on your nerves, that you are unable to relate to. However, it has always been a hard task to argue about aesthetic quality, for two reasons.

Firstly, it is difficult to talk about anything visual, since words have a different meaning for different people.

Secondly, aesthetic quality deals with details, subtle shades, harmony and the equilibrium of a whole variety of visual elements. A good eye is required, schooled by years and years of experience, in order to be able to draw the right conclusion.

...helps a product to be understood. It clarifies the structure of the product. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory and saves you the long, tedious perusal of the operating manual.

...is unobtrusive. Products that satisfy this criterion are tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained leaving room for the user's self-expression.

...is honest. An honestly-designed product must not claim features it does not have – being more innovative, more efficient, of higher value. It must not influence or manipulate buyers and users.

...is durable. It is nothing trendy that might be out-of-date tomorrow. This is one of the major differences between well-designed products and trivial objects for a waste-producing society. Waste must no longer be tolerated.

...is thorough to the last detail. Thoroughness and accuracy of design are synonymous with the product and its functions, as seen through the eyes of the user

...is concerned with the environment. Design must contribute towards a stable environment and a sensible use of raw materials. This means considering not only actual pollution, but also the visual pollution and destruction of our environment.

...is as little as possible. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Reading this, one realizes that there's hardly anything out there that meets all the criteria listed. Looking around our own home, most of our things meet some, if not a majority of Rams' Ten Commandments, but perhaps nothing really meet all ten (and we're picky shoppers!). But then again, abiding strictly by Rams' rules would make for a most austere, if not boring, interior and life. The frivolous and decorative have a place in life and in the home, in our opinion, but hopefully just in moderation. The list is certainly food for thought, as it is all too easy with so many choices in modern society to purchase what is affordable or easily attainable, rather than finding the patience to invest in "good design". Perhaps we'll print out this Ten Commandments to keep in our wallet as a personal reminder for each time we venture to add to our belongings.

[via Vitsoe]

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