Apple's aversion to chaos (in industrial design)

Drawing a direct line between legendary German industrial designer Dieter Rams and Apple. Plus, Rams' 10 principles of good design.

"Less, but better."

Who said the quote above? If you guessed Steve Jobs, former chief executive of Apple, you'd be wrong.

It's legendary German industrial designer Dieter Rams, of course. And it's no surprise that Jobs and his company are heavily influenced by the work of the former design chief of electronics manufacturer Braun.

Frog Design's Adam Richardson reminds us over at the company's Design Mind blog of the huge debt owed by Jobs, senior vice president of industrial design Jonathan Ive and the rest of the Apple design team to Rams' modern, minimal and rational approach to solving problems.

Likening the chaotic landscape of the rapidly shifting technology industry to the cultural tumult following the Great Depression and two World Wars, Richardson writes that Apple's products are emblematic of an attempt to tame the chaos and provide consumers with respite, embodied in a personal device:

Rams' rationalist and minimalist approach design is emblematic of Modernist design of the first half of the twentieth century. Part of the appeal of that style - whether in architecture or design - was that it provided a sense of order after the death, turmoil and destruction of two world wars, and the Depression. People wanted to have a sense that they could control their own lives and surroundings again, that technology could provide a way to restore order and pleasure to life.

Today, the beguiling simplicity and rationality of Apple's products also provides an oasis of calm and personal control in a world where we have massive social upheaval, numerous wars of various sizes, a dragged-out global recession, multiple environmental problems, overpowering consumerism, and societies and cultures that seem to have less and less ability to find coherence and common ground.

Freedom in austerity, if you will. Which includes the products but also the process, as our own Reena Jana pointed out earlier this month .

Rams' 10 principles of good design are as follows:

  1. innovative. Design is not an end in an of itself; it comes in tandem with technological innovation.
  2. useful. It solves a problem and allows the product to be a tool in this regard.
  3. aesthetic. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful, and beauty is of utility for well-being.
  4. understandable. At best, self-explanatory; at least, intuitive.
  5. unobtrusive. Restraint leaves room for the user's self-expression.
  6. honest. It doesn't hide flaws or over-promise.
  7. long-lasting. That is, avoiding trends and fads.
  8. thorough. No detail is arbitrary.
  9. environmentally friendly.
  10. as little design as possible. Pursue what is essential.

How many of these can you attribute to Apple products? To its competitors'?

Richardson, of course, is hardly the first to draw the comparison. In the 2009 documentary Objectified, Rams outlines his philosophy further:

Unsurprisingly, director Gary Hustwit cuts from Rams to Ive:

Which begs the question: if Rams' approach is so successful, why do so many product manufacturers fail to learn from him? Is it a lack of confidence that a product designed to avoid attention can be successful?

(If this is of interest, check out the complete documentary, as well as Sophie Lovell's new book on Rams.)

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