DT03 – Dieter Rams

For our third Design & Technology lecture we watched the 2018 documentary; Rams. Rams is filmmaker Gary Hustwit’s newest documentary about the legendary designer Dieter Rams. The documentary explores Dieter’s life over the last 50 years and the indelible mark that he has made on the field of product design with his iconic work at both Braun and Vitsoe. Rams is a design documentary, but it’s also a rumination on consumerism, materialism, and sustainability. Dieter’s philosophy is about more than just design, it’s about a way of life.

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I really enjoyed watching this documentary. I think that in a way, Gary Hustwit may have applied some of the ’10 principles of good design’ in the making of Rams himself. It felt very honest and relaxing to watch. It felt like the mantra could have been; As little filmmaking as possible… Although the documentary has the name Rams, it’s less about Dieter himself, and more about his reflections on the past 50 years of his work, and then later touches on his concerns about the future as the world becomes more and more digitalised. The documentary tells his life story, punctuated with interviews and sometimes astringent asides from Rams. Dieter’s influence on the products of Apple, a company he has never worked with, is discussed. Less discussed is Apple’s aggressiveness in pushing new iterations of its products, which indicates that the company is merely cherry-picking Rams’s principles, which also stress sustainability and corporate responsibility. This was now the second time that I had watched Rams and I would happily watch it over again. A solid 4.5/5 from me!

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Dieter’s philosophy is basically that there are too many throwaway products in the world, and that there is not enough thought from the designer, the manufacturer, or the consumer, about the long-term effects of design. While Rams was running the design department at Braun, they made billions of injection-molded plastic items, but they built them so they would last your entire life. And they were designed to be repaired. He’s seen that change, and that’s his biggest disappointment.

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I wish Dieter was still designing consumer products now, but at this point he is really thinking about the bigger picture, looking back on his career and trying to pass on a message to future designers. One point in the documentary that I found quite eye opening was when Dieter was asked why he never got involved with the automotive industry. His response was; “Because the whole auto industry irritated me from the beginning. They do too much, and too much that is unnecessary. They always wanted something even faster, and I didn’t regard that as appropriate at that point in time. We don’t need anything faster. We need something more sensible and better” Then when later asked about Tesla, he expressed that he is un-impressed by the company and said; “we need to rethink the entire transport system, and not just from the standpoint of energy, but rather thinking about what kind of transport we need.”

When he says it, it just sounds so obvious! What will traffic look like in 50 years? These are the real challenges that face the automotive industry, not shaving 0.2 seconds off the 0-60 time on the latest and greatest super car…

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To summarise I want to quickly touch upon one of Dieter’s most recognisable achievements; the 10 principles of good design. About 50 years ago, in his quest to answer the question “Is my design a good design?”, Dieter developed some principles, these boiled down to 10 simple statements under the banner of “less, but better.”

What I like the most about the 10 Principles is really just the idea of laying out your own principles: what do you think is good design? how do you want to work? what type of work wouldn’t you take on? Those principles can be applied to theatre, film, anything, not just design. His happen to be about product design, but the real takeaway is to come up with your own set of guidelines. It’s hard to critically judge other designs or do anything in this world without some sort of framework, and without clearly defining what you really believe in. And most importantly, they don’t have to be set in stone and can change and evolve with you.

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