I will attempt with this essay to explain why I believe that industrial designer Dieter Rams deserves to be considered the most important product engineer and design theorist in our man-made world at the beginning of the 21st century.
There has been much stated by Mr. Rams and and written about Mr. Rams by the design intelligentsia prior to this article. Mr. Rams Ten Principles of Good Design have been universally accepted as design practice doctrine. My position is that Steve Jobs with Sir Jonathan Paul “Jony” Ive meticulously appropriated many of the signature design solutions that Mr. Rams originated starting with his first design for BRAUN AG in 1953 the pocket radio model T3.
This idea has been accepted as factual by many design cognoscenti. My first question to the reader of this article is why does Mr. Rams reputation still exist in the shadow of Sir Ive when it is obvious to the leadership of the international design community that what in practice APPLE is revered for, its design philosophy and its product designs are in reality very proficient sampling of Mr. Rams well documented designs for BRAUN.
In this writer’s opinion the way APPLE Corporation integrated Mr. Rams revolutionary design philosophy and shaped APPLE’s products on Mr. Rams designs for BRAUN without establishing that design vocabulary connection publicly is the story of the devaluation of the work and of the individual creator.
This exclusion has benefited both Steve Job’s [APPLE Corporation] canonization and Jony Ive’s elevated reputation as on of the great innovators in design history.
Let me now attempt to identify for myself and the reader what has happened to the definition of originality in our image based society and how an image as opposed to the original idea and the experience of making that idea tangible has more cultural credibility and economic value in the global marketplace than the original. Note that in the most recent quarterly sales report [July 2014] APPLE announced that it had sold 35.2 million iPHONES.
In the mid 1960’s when Eric Clapton was a member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers the phrase “CLAPTON IS GOD” was spray painted on a wall in the underground station in Islington, London. I would now like to make an equal claim for Dieter Rams. With conviction I state that RAMS IS GOD.
The singular accomplishment of a 26  year old designer who was able to leap beyond the experience of living through WWII as a child in Germany and then with incredible professional discipline looks beyond the reality of daily life in post-war Europe. He not only sees the future in his mind but then with the support of his employer creates a design [consumer product] that at once signals the power of modernist thinking but then reverberates forward forty three years to Steve Jobs announcing the beginning of the “i” product narrative in 2001.
Trained as an architect and hired as an architect and interior designer by BRAUN in 1955 and somehow as stated in the last of the Ten Principles not only thinks but acts with clarity rarely seen in the last 150 years of industrial design. The position in German is: “Weniger, aber besser.” LESS, BUT BETTER.
“Creativity is just connecting things.” Steve Jobs This quote can be interpreted in a number of ways. I tend to see this as a design history algorithm.
The algorithm states that in 1958 designer Dieter Rams working for BRAUN AG in Frankfurt, Germany designs the pocket radio referred to as model T3.
[PLUS] On July 1, 1979 Sony Corp. introduces the Sony Walkman TPS-L2, a 14 ounce, blue-and-silver, portable cassette player with chunky buttons, headphones and a leather case. “Try this. Don’t you think a stereo cassette player that you can listen to while walking around is a good idea.” Masaru Ibuka, Sony’s co-founder reportedly saying to Sony Chairman Akio Morita. [PLUS] Bang & Olufsen launches the BeoCom  telephone in 1985 which inspired APPLE’s wheel based user interface. [EQUALS] APPLE announcing the iPOD MP3 player in 2001 “the Walkman of the twenty-first century.”
This simplified innovation and product history lineage does prove that in this case Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive did in fact connect things. Creativity is not “just” connecting things. This one statement by Steve Jobs and the design history presented as an algorithm I believe illustrates a perfect example of how modern corporations
connect the ground-breaking work of true innovators, construct a product that is an assemblage of inspired thoughts years from the original moment of inspiration and with the power of their media campaigns and media constructed cults of personality place the story of their creativity by connection in the shadow of history.
« 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.” Ten Principles of Good Design No.5 Dieter Rams
There has been an explosion of designers and designed objects for consumption over the last 40 plus years. Beginning with Studio Alchimia in 1976 and the Memphis Group formed on December 11, 1980 “Stuck Inside of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again” Bob Dylan. The historical stage was set to create the design stars Ron Arad, Philippe Starck, Marc Newson, Marcel Wanders, Jaime Hayon, Front Design and others. All having built international reputations and captured the attention of the art world’s most prominent collectors. If as this writer believes the Ten Principles of Design accurately foretold the rational goals and
needs of a world that is destroying itself by designing, producing, and vigorously promoting objects that are not innovative, useless, irrational, unintelligible, decorative, presented as works of art, narcissistic, manipulative, disposable both as products and intellectually, arbitrary, non-sustainable and are all based on a system devoted to the concept that more is better. If you the reader also believe as I do in the vision grasped by a then unknown 26 year old German, a trained architect turned consumer product designer for BRAUN AG who with the design of a pocket radio reference number T3 in 1958 initiated the APPLE « i » era. Then I hope you will join me in affirming that Dieter Rams is the prophetic designer that has decisively defined our age and will continue to influence transcending design into the immediate and distant future. Design happened. Next.
New York City
April 24, 2015