Less and More: the Design Ethos of Dieter Rams
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is your last chance to see Less and More: the Design Ethos of Dieter Rams before the show ends its world tour which began in 2008 in Japan, making stops in London and Frankfurt before landing on the West Coast. German-born industrial designer Dieter Rams is a rock star of the design world and is closely associated with Braun where he started in 1955 and worked until his retirement in 1998. He has also been an active designer for Vistoe, the German furniture company, since 1959. Including over 200 objects ranging from turntables to coffee makers, electric shavers to juicers, this exhibition is a minimalist’s paradise. It features the shelving units you need, the chairs you want, the originals of the endlessly copied retro-style electronics you wish you had, and they are all assembled in one place, set out on platforms so that you can barely resist reaching out to touch. These works evidence Rams’ “less but better” design ethos, one that he used to battle the chaos that surrounds us every day. His work tries to decipher the world, which he sees as “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises”, and the objects exhibited here are a testament to his ability to cut through visual pollution and simplify. There is nothing whimsical about his creations – form follows function at every turn and every last detail of each object has been judiciously deliberated and determined. Nothing was left to chance. Rams was also environmentally friendly before it was the cause du jour of Hollywood celebrities by creating works that he believed would stand the test of time, thereby conserving resources. Many of his works – now half a century old – appear shockingly contemporary.
The exhibition includes a small sampling of the many, many objects, like Apple computers, that have been influenced by Ram’s 10 Principles of Good Design (his Ten Commandments). These remain as relevant today as when Rams first pronounced them in the early 80s:
2. Good design makes a product useful
3. Good design is aesthetic
4. Good design makes a product understandable
5. Good design is honest
6. Good design is unobtrusive
7. Good design is long-lasting
8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail
9. Good design is environmentally friendly
10. Good design is as little design as possible
Seeing Ram’s life’s work, a fulfillment of his Ten Commandments, gathered in one place is powerful evidence of his ability to create true elegance through his thoughtful devotion to the most minimal of interventions. His work demonstrates a monk’s austerity and purity; reverence must be paid.