Wednesday, 3 July 2013

UX Terminlogy: Rams' 10 Commandments of Good Design


Have you heard of Dieter Rams? If you haven't, just remember that Apple's main design guy, Apple's Jonathan Ive is often quoted as saying Rams was one of his major influences.

The man behind that is Briton Jonathan Ive, officially the senior vice president of industrial design at Apple, and he has long acknowledged Dieter Rams as his inspiration.
Dieter Rams was an incredible designer that left a large design legacy through his work at Braun (many of his works are on permanent display @ MoMA). What is amazing is that looking back at his life's work the wide range of products he designed for, anything from record players (ie. his famous Snow White's Coffin) to hair dryers to juicers to watches/clocks. You can get a glimpse of the list of products he's produced here at the Less and More exhibit YouTube Clip.

In his interview here he credits one of his influences his grandfather, a master carpenter who was a specialist with surfaces.  Even Jonathan Ive mentions how big surfaces were in regards to Rams' designs:

“surfaces that were without apology, bold, pure, perfectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless”
This made me realize that as a designer, we're actually a amalgamation of our history, upbringing and skills. Much like Steve Job's Calligraphy class, this reminds of the quote from Lord Alfred Tennyson's Ulysses:
"I am part of all that I have met;"
Designers are not simply a trade that is learnt and applied in a vacuum. Good designers are multi-disciplined people. (@SAP, our own CTO Vishal Sikka loves reminding us that we need to be "T"-shaped to excel.)

Yet aside from all his designs, what will likely live on even longer than Ram's designs are his "10 commandments" of design. Ultimately 'great ideas' outlast 'great products'.

1. Good Design Is Innovative— The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.

2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful—A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

3. Good Design Is Aesthetic—The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

4. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable—It clarifies the product's structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

5. Good Design Is Unobtrusive— Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.

6. Good Design Is Honest— It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept

7. Good Design Is Long-lasting— It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.

8. Good Design Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail—Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

9. Good Design Is Environmentally Friendly— Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

10. Good Design Is as Little Design as Possible—Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

The Vitsœ company which Rams joined after Braun states that he came up with the list after growing concerned about the designs around him. 

Back in the early 1980s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him – “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design?
As good design cannot be measured in a finite way he set about expressing the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design. (Sometimes they are referred as the ‘Ten commandments’.)

His list was created 30 years ago and they are as true today as they were then. One could argue that companies like Apple are using his very principles to dominant in their respective markets. I'm sure all of our own products could be greatly improved if we adhere to his 10x principles.

All the ideas are great. However the following points really strike a cord with me:
#4 - Understandable is what I believe is driving a resurgence in UX. The best products that just 'make-sense' and don't require me reading a long manual.
#8 - Thorough is something I believe in strongly. I like being detailed orientated when possible. I agree with Rams that even the smallest detail is well designed, I know I'm in for a special product.
#10 - Simplicity is something that also really resounds with me. As a designer simplicity is definitely one of the toughest tasks of any good design.

A good visual version of this list also exists here.

Hope that helps...

Wayne Pau.