Interview with Dieter Rams

01 Jul 2011

Dieter Rams is undoubtedly one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century. Rams studied architecture at the Werkkunstschule Wiesbaden as well as learning carpentry from 1943 to 1957. He was strongly influenced by his grandfather who also was a carpenter.

Less but better

After working for the architect Otto Apel between 1953 and 1955 he joined the electronic devices manufacturer Braun where he became chief of design in 1961, a position he kept until 1995. Rams once explained his design approach in the phrase "Weniger, aber besser" which freely translates as "Less, but better". Rams and his staff designed many memorable products for Braun including the famous SK-4 record player and the high-quality 'D'-series (D45, D46) of 35 mm film slide projectors. He is also well known for designing the 606 Universal Shelving System by Vitsœ in 1960.

Function via simplicity

In his 40 years at Braun he produced many household products that conveyed their function via simplicity. Reduce the amount of dials, buttons and switches to a minimum and arrange them logically. You could say that he pioneered the way Apple works today, in other words having a design team at the top just below the CEO. Many of his designs — coffee makers, calculators, radios, audio/visual equipment, consumer appliances and office products — have found a permanent home at many museums over the world, including MoMA in New York.

Co.Design interviews Dieter Rams

Co.Design had the opportunity to sit down with the legend and ask him some questions when he was in town to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his iconic 606 shelving system for Vitsœ. In the first movie Rams talks about getting an invitation from Jonathan Ive to visit Apple's design department but he has to come alone. He also tells that he was being bum-rushed at a party by Philippe Starck, who exclaimed, "Apple is stealing from you!" But when it comes to Jonathan Ive and Apple, Rams subscribes to the adage "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

In the second part Rams says he is a little bit proud that some of his furniture is still around. Rams bemoans that more companies don't privilege design, and he argues that for design to have a truly great impact, designers have to be insulated at a company but report to high-level management. That was the case with Braun, and it's true for Apple now. He explains you can still count the companies worldwide on 10 fingers that are taking design honest. He says the design education needs to change. For example most of Italy's most famous designers aren't designers but architects instead.

In the third part Rams tells us that he is almost 80 and doesn't have the power anymore to do what he wants to do. He talks about the importance of finding alternative energy sources, but wonders if there are better solutions than the wind farms that ruin the landscape. But he is also not sure if they can be designed in a better way.

In this part Dieter Rams talks about sailboats. Sailboats are generally examples of good design: They fulfill their function even in dangerous situations. Asked what design he's most proud of, Rams demurs, but later, when the camera is turned off, he points to a picture of his P1 pocket record player (for 45s) and T41 radio, which could be combined and carried by a leather strap. The duo debuted in 1959; Rams refers to them as the "first Walkman". At the end he mentions that he is continuing his fight against visual pollution.

In this last part he explains why he is no longer saying that he is a designer. He has gone back to using architect instead. Design is becoming more popular but not in the right direction. He hates that products use the pre-name design. At the end he refers back to his own credo "Less, but better".

Source: Wikipedia and Co.Design


  1. 1 Steve 05 Jul 2011

    interesting article, thanks for post.