updated 07:30 pm EDT, Thu May 26, 2011
60s design for Braun influenced Apple products
German designer and "product architect" Dieter Rams, whose iconic work in the 1960s on such products as the Vitsoe 606 shelving system and Braun's hi-fi and kitchen appliances are still widely influential on designers such as Apple's Jonathan Ive, was recently interviewed by Fast Company Design and shared his thoughts on modern disposability, the principles of good design and the importance of having a company that values lasting, elegant design.
Some of Rams' own designs for electronics and other devices over the course of his career are eerily similar to the designs Apple has used and continues to use in their products (see picture below), but Rams brushes off any suggestion that Ive or other Apple designers are copying him, suggesting instead that they are following the same rules of quality design that he uses, which naturally results in similarities.
Imitation, he believes, really is the sincerest form of flattery, and Rams has visited Apple with Ive to see the company's workflow, and offers praise for it in the video portions of the interview. In particular, Rams stresses the importance of the relationship between Ive and Apple CEO Steve Jobs as one that is conducive to memorable, highly functional products that tend to last. He mentions that the Ive-Jobs relationship is similar to the one he had at Braun, where the designer had direct access to the chairman of the company rather than being a unit of the marketing department.
In the 2009 documentary on design Objectified, Rams said that Apple was the only company at the time that was designing products following his principles.
With the exception of Apple and a few other companies, product design trends now are headed in the wrong direction, Rams believes. His view is that "designer" items -- objects that are sold specifically as being specially designed -- is the opposite of the principles of good design. First and foremost, he says, the design should serve the functionality in as minimal a way as possible -- putting nothing between the user and the uses of the object. Off-camera, Rams points to his own TP-1, a cleverly designed 45rpm record player and speaker (which could be separated or put together for easy portability) as one of his best product concepts.
While many of his designs have outlived the functionality of the objects he designed for, such as record players and AM radios, his most lasting contribution to commercial design may well be the Vitsoe 6060 shelving system, still in demand today and being sold exactly as it was in 1960. Usually sold in a white, minimalist design that could be expanded as shelving needs grow, it remains a great example of his philosophy that the design of an object should serve to heighten, rather than distract from, its functionality. The shelves, even today, make a perfect setting for many Apple products. [via Fast Company Design]
The Braun LE-1 loudspeaker and Atelier TV, both with similarities to past and present iMacs:
The Braun T-3 portable radio, often cited as a strong influence in the early iPod designs:
The iPhone calculator, Apple's homage to Rams' Braun calculator:
The TP-1 portable 45rpm record player and speaker, one of Rams' many modular designs:
Rams' shelving system, designed for Vitsoe in 1960 and still available today: