The perfect(?) 10.

I have always found myself aligned to Dieter Rams’s ten principles of good design. ┬áBut after last week’s class, I realized that we all interpret it in different ways, and thus it instigated me to analyze and break down what these 10 principles truly mean. Here is what I understand:

1. Good design is innovative:

What does being innovative mean? Is it being first in your field? Or is it seeing things in a new way? I feel that it is a combination of both. It is both reviewing what is done and improving it through unexpected and new methods. It could be through the use of materials, technology, or even simply a different application. These all represent innovation.

2. Good design makes a product useful:

To be useful is to be relevant to it’s intended use. As the ancient conundrum goes, “Could God create a stone he couldn’t lift?”, can a designer intentionally design a product to be useless, so that it would fulfill it’s function of being useless? While that seems to be a pointless endeavour, I believe it is what society considers modern art.

3. Good design is aesthetic:

The most misunderstood one of the ten. To be aesthetic is to be beautiful, and as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it varies from person to person. However, I feel that Dieter Rams meant it in a form follows function manner. As evident form his designs, he creates an extremely minimal, functional piece of work, and uses colour, shape and form to make it more pleasing to the eye.

4 Good design makes a product understandable:

To make a product understandable is to make it intuitive, and in the words of Kenya Hara, it is to fall within the boundaries of “affordance”. That means to say that the circumstances afford for the existence of such an action or item, i.e. you would not walk on water as you would on land, and vice-versa.

5 Good design is unobtrusive:

There was some confusion in class about what being obtrusive meant last week. I think that people are confused between being obtrusive and being ornamental. In the aspect of ornamentation, it could be nice to have some ornamentation, but there is the term “too much”, and “too much” is too much, that’s why it’s called “too much”.(That may have been too many too much-es)

6 Good design is honest:

I personally like this one a lot. Never overselling a product and never underselling it’s capabilities.

7 Good Design is thorough down to the last detail:

This is quite straightforward. Everything has to be thought out. Be it a screw in an airplane or the kerning in your text, good design dictates that these be considered.

8 Good design is environmentally friendly:

Another one of confusion. To be environmentally friendly requires us see the meta-mechanics of the world. If you considered simple “eco-solutions”, it would not only be ineffective, it could even work against you. A great example is the Strata.

9 Good design is long lasting:

To be long lasting is quite relative. If you made a piece of tissue you could wash and reuse, say, 3 times, you’re better off designing a handkerchief. However, if you made that piece of tissue able to absorb a larger amount of fluids, then you could probably blow your nose thrice on one and thus render it longer lasting than it’s peers.

10 Good design is as little design as possible:

This is my favourite. As the old adage goes, “Don’t fix something that isn’t broken.”. Good design IS fixing the problems, AND keeping what was already working and familiar to people in good working order.


As we can now see, the ten principles are so vague that they can fit into any situation, yet so specific, that there is a right and wrong answer to a design question. There are also many similarities across cultures, but I will delve into that in the future.


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