Dieter Rams: The legendary designer who influenced Apple (2024)

Written by Jacopo Prisco, CNN

"Good design is as little design as possible." These few words encapsulate the philosophy of German designer Dieter Rams, whose sleek and understated household products coined an aesthetic sensibility in the 1950s that is still regarded as influential to this day.

The clocks, radios, calculators, cameras and various kitchen appliances he created for Braun have left such a mark that they still inform the design of modern devices -- Apple's Jony Ive said his work is "beyond improvement." Despite all of that, Rams himself has spent his career avoiding the spotlight, seemingly trying to escape the role bestowed upon him of godfather of industrial design.

Now, a new exhibition at Philadelphia's Museum of Art and "Rams," a documentary film about his life which was four years in the making, offer a rare look into his design process.

10 principles

Dieter Rams started his career as an architect, and joined German appliance manufacturer Braun in 1955 to work on the interior design of its offices. His move to industrial design was serendipitous and netted him the role of head of design from 1961 until 1995. In the late 1970s, he distilled his design philosophy into ten principles:

Good design is innovative. Good design makes a product useful. Good design is aesthetic. Good design makes a product understandable. Good design is honest. Good design is unobtrusive. Good design is long-lasting. Good design is thorough down to the last detail. Good design is environmentally friendly. And of course, good design is as little design as possible.


The Braun SK4 radio-phonograph from 1956. Credit: Gary Hustwit

"His iconic commandments really did shape how we think about the industrial designer's mandate," said Colin Fanning, curator of "Dieter Rams: Principled Design," during a phone interview.

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"I think they are enormously influential, still today. They just are a handy distillation of the different considerations that a product designer or a graphic designer and increasingly interface designers have to think about. But he's written that these were never meant to be commandments in the way that they've kind of become. They give an impression of an inflexible approach to design which is not what he's advocated in at all."

In that slight regret there's a lot of Rams' personality and an apparent modesty, which is effectively captured in the documentary that filmmaker Gary Hustwit has built around multiple interviews in his home in Kronberg, near Frankfurt, and by following him on the rare public events that he attended over the course of the last four years. At one of these events, Rams gracefully declines a request to sign one of his products, explaining that "he is not a star designer."

"It took several months back and forth to get him to agree to do the film, because he really didn't want to have a documentary made about him initially," said Hustwit in a phone interview. "But what is in the film is the real Dieter Rams. I think it was fairly easy to to get to him, because he's the same on camera or off camera. He doesn't care if the cameras are running or not. And that's a big difference from a lot of designers that I've interviewed: most of them choose their words very carefully when the cameras are rolling, but he's the same either way."

Dieter Rams: The legendary designer who influenced Apple (15)

Dieter Rams was born in 1932.

Credit: Gary Hustwit

Less, but better

The appliances that Rams designed at Braun are functional, easy to use, and durable. Their aesthetic isn't necessarily exciting, or arresting, but rather elegant, and still very contemporary even though the earliest designs are now over 60 years old. Their rounded edges and clean lines are very reminiscent of today's Apple devices.

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Jony Ive writes in the introduction to "As little design as possible," a book on Dieter Rams published by Phaidon: "The surfaces were without apology, bold, pure, perfectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless. (...) No part appeared to be either hidden or celebrated, just perfectly considered and completely appropriate in the hierarchy of the product's details and features. At a glance, you knew exactly what it was and exactly how to use it. (...) I was completely enchanted with it then, and I now find, with surprise, that this object resonated so deeply with me that nearly forty years on I remember my sense of it with startling clarity." The fact that he's talking about a juicer (1972's MPZ 2 Citromatic) rather than some more sophisticated piece of technology is a testament to the universality of Rams' design principles.

Apple has often paid homage to Rams' designs, for example in the looks of its podcast and calculator apps. Some say that his 1958 T3 radio -- designed with Ulm Hochschule and part of MoMA's collection along with 22 more of his Braun objects -- has directly inspired the look of the iPod. "I mean, that's 1958. Nothing looks like that in 1958. It's just in another universe and it still looks that way," said Hustwit.

Hustwit asked Rams about Ive's admiration of his work and his influence on Apple products. "He thinks it's a compliment. He likes Jony a lot. But I think it's hard for him to judge that impact because he doesn't have a computer. He's not on the Internet. He's not interested in digital interfaces and user experience design and all these screens that we have to look at all day. There are no screens in his life, there's just an old Braun television from the 1980s and that's really the only screen in his house. It's just not something that he's interested in engaging with."

According to Fanning, while the influence is evident, it is also accompanied by a kind of tension. "A technology company like Apple relies on the principle of rapid obsolescence and releases a new iPhone every year. That runs very counter to the philosophy that Rams has developed and advocated over his career. He is much more on the side of a long lasting, durable design, things that can resist that impulse towards consumerism and wastefulness," he said.

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No waste

Consumerism is in fact a main theme of Hustwit's film, for the simple reason that it is a main theme in Rams' thoughts. In a previous interview, he even declared that "If I had to do it over again, I would not want to be a designer."

Rams feels that he has played a role in pushing society towards materialism and away from sustainability, even though he's had a concern over the environmental impact of his products long before that became fashionable, or even rational. "That's something he's been talking about for 40 years now. It's a huge huge part of his philosophy but I think in some ways he feels that he hasn't done enough to get people to listen, especially outside of the design world. That's one of the things he's most frustrated about and probably why he agreed to do the documentary in the first place, to reach a larger audience and find a way to get those ideas to the next generation," said Hustwit.

Dieter Rams: The legendary designer who influenced Apple (17)

Gary Hustwit

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Integral to his approach was designing objects that would last. His first foray into creating furniture, the 606 Universal Shelving System he made for Vitsoe in 1960, is designed to last a lifetime and adapt to different rooms and houses, moving along with its owner. It is also been in production and on sale ever since.

"He is really in large part responsible for creating the idea that design is at the heart of business. He was really one of first to say that design is integral to creating a responsible corporate approach, long before we had these jargon terms around corporate responsibility that set are pretty familiar today," said Fanning.

But can a man who doesn't own a computer and is not online fully grasp the extent of his own legacy? "I don't think so, he can't really put that into context," said Hustwit.

"I think he doesn't have a real sense of his impact and his influence on other designers."

Dieter Rams: The legendary designer who influenced Apple (2024)


How did Dieter Rams influence Apple? ›

Apple has often paid homage to Rams' designs, for example in the looks of its podcast and calculator apps. Some say that his 1958 T3 radio -- designed with Ulm Hochschule and part of MoMA's collection along with 22 more of his Braun objects -- has directly inspired the look of the iPod. "I mean, that's 1958.

What is Dieter Rams best known for? ›

Dieter Rams is famously one of the first designers who strived to be environmentally friendly before it was popular. He believed "design can and must maintain its contribution towards protecting and sustaining the environment."

What influenced Apple design? ›

The designs appear to have been heavily influenced by German industrial designer Dieter Rams, with a clear example being the iPhone calculator application, which appears to have been directly influenced by Dieter Rams' 1978 Braun Control ET44 calculator.

What did Dieter Rams design? ›

He quickly became involved in product design – famously adding the clear perspex lid to the SK4 radiogram in 1956 – and was appointed head of design at Braun from 1961 to 1995.

What are apples influences and design philosophy? ›

Apple is the gold standard in Industrial Design.

More than being flashy or eye-catching. Apple always designed its products to look clean, simple, and straightforward. Everything from the shape of the phone, to the button design, to the color options to even the fonts used, uses clean and simple lines.

What is Apple's influence? ›

The impact of Apple and its success is credit to Steve Jobs' vision, leadership skills and the unique corporate culture he implemented to make Apple one of the biggest and well-known companies in the world today. So much so, that over half of all US households are reported to own an Apple product.

Why is good design important? ›

A good design is important for your business because it makes or breaks the customer's initial idea of who you are, what you do, and, to put it simply, if they like your business- or not. Design is used to persuade people that they can trust you.

What good design means to you? ›

Good design is a concept defined by industrial designer Dieter Rams's principles: It makes a product useful and understandable, is innovative, aesthetic, unobtrusive, honest, long-lasting, thorough to the last detail, environmentally friendly, and involves as little design as possible.

What makes a design successful? ›

A good design is effective and efficient in fulfilling its purpose. It relies on as few external factors and inputs as possible, and these are easy to measure and manipulate to achieve an expected other output. A good design is always the simplest possible working solution.

Who inspired the Apple logo? ›

The job of creating the company's first logo fell to Ronald Wayne, who decided to use Isaac Newton's image sitting below a tree – the same Isaac Newton who discovered gravity when an apple fell out of a tree onto his head.

What is Apple's design style called? ›

Which brings us to neumorphism. As the Input Mag article "Apple, Big Sur, and the rise of Neumorphism" explains, "When you boil it down, neumorphism is a focus on how light moves in three-dimensional space….

What is Apple's design strategy? ›

Design-First Mentality

They focused on designing for the future and designing for simplicity. They focused on how the user would use their designs. Watching & testing to pick up on anything that could make the experience better. Apple designers focused on getting the design and functionality right first.

What are the big 4 design principles? ›

The four graphic design principles are contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity (C.R.A.P.). Contrast helps to highlight and focus attention. Contrast may be achieved using color, shades of gray, size, visual weight, and so forth.

What was Dieter Rams most famous design? ›

He created some of the most prominent and enduring product designs in the latter half of the 20th century, such as the Braun SK-4 -Stereo-Phonosuper-1956: a revolutionary radio-phonographic device designed alongside Hans Gugelot, now affectionately known as 'Snow White's Coffin'.

What is the main message of Apple? ›

Apple's mission is “to bring the best user experience to its customers through innovative hardware, software, and services.” And in a manifesto dated 2019, Tim Cook set the vision as “We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products, and that's not changing.”

What is the mission statement for Apple? ›

Mission – Bringing the best user experience to its customers through innovative hardware, software and services. Apple's vision statement is clear, concise, and to the point. They are evidently determined to deliver quality products for their clients.

What do apples symbolize in art? ›

The apple can mean just about anything: temptation and the fall, innocence and knowledge, immortality and death, love and sexuality, fertility and decay. No wonder it's provided such a windfall for artists – from Greek vase painters to Pop artists.

How do Apple influence customers? ›

Fear Of Missing Out is a well-known technique used by marketers. Apple uses a 'product shortage' technique to makes consumers believe that its models will soon runout; therefore they must hurry to buy them before it's too late. This sense of urgency pushes the consumer to quickly decide to purchase the product.

Why Apple is a success? ›

Apple's success lies in a strategic vision that transcended simple desktop computing to include mobile devices and wearables. Both performance and design are key drivers of the Apple brand and its ongoing success.

How can an Apple change your life? ›

Lower the risk of cancer

Consuming antioxidant-rich foods may help prevent the oxidative stress that causes cell damage, which may lead to the development of certain cancers. Apples are a good source of antioxidants. One 2016 meta-analysis concluded that consuming apples may help lower the risk of: lung cancer.

What is the purpose of using design? ›

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.” Meanwhile, the meaning of design depends on the context and can also mean a variety of other things. Design is the creation of an experience. It's also the process of the said creation and how well it's organized.

How does good design make you feel? ›

At its best, good design makes the experience feel completely natural and intuitive. Design is how things make you feel. When form and function come together to create an emotional connection, good design becomes great.

Why is image important in design? ›

In graphic design, images help create a connection with the text and can clarify the information presented in a layout by adding meaning and evoking associations. An image on its own, however, is not enough to be meaningful. Its meaning changes depending on its context and position, in other words, the way it's used.

What is design in my own words? ›

Generally speaking, it is the process of envisioning and planning the creation of objects, interactive systems, buildings, vehicles, etc.

What is design in our life? ›

Design is everywhere. It's what made every single product you use in your daily life and what made buildings come into existence. It can make our lives better in various ways. First of all, well-designed products can make us save time and allow us to focus on more important activities.

What is meant by design in life? ›

Living life by design means you're purposefully designing each element of your world, from family, business, and friends toward your definition of success. It doesn't mean that your life is perfect, but it does mean that you're living intentionally and with passion, knowing exactly where you want to go.

What are the most important design factors? ›

To help you on your way, we've put together a list of 7 important factors to be aware of when designing a product.
  • MATERIALS. ...

What are the 3 most important elements of design thinking? ›

There are five key elements of the Design Thinking process:
  • Human-centered. If you don't understand the person who will be using the thing you're trying to create, it simply won't work. ...
  • Creative and playful. ...
  • Iterative. ...
  • Collaborative. ...
  • Prototype driven.
2 Nov 2020

What are the 3 keys to a good design? ›

Share: There are a lot of components that go into a design. To best communicate visually, the three main principles of design to consider are typography, hierarchy and color.

What is the real meaning of the apple logo? ›

The apple represented knowledge, as in the biblical story of Adam and Eve, or referenced the falling fruit that led Sir Isaac Newton to the concept of gravity. Supporters of the latter theory note the name of Apple's handheld PDA, the Newton, but that was more than a decade after the creation of the logo.

What inspired the name apple? ›

According to Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, Jobs came up with the name simply because he liked apples. According to Isaacson, Jobs chose the name because “it sounded fun, spirited and not, it would get us ahead of Atari in the phone book.”

Who was first in apple logo? ›

One in every three Apple engineers is an Indian. Ronald Wayne, the third founding member, created the first Apple logo. His logo featured Isaac Newton reading while a precarious apple dangled from the tree above him.

What type of branding is Apple? ›

Apple prioritizes the consumer in everything they do. Through its branding strategy, Apple has positioned itself as an innovative company, embodying its “Think Different” slogan. Take, for example, their 'Shot on iPhone' ad.

Is Apple better for design? ›

However a large majority of graphic designers choose Mac over PC because it is widely used across the industry, it's simple operating system, and the amazing build quality Apple produces. These are just a few reasons 99.9% of graphic designers choose Mac over PC.

What is Apple's branding image? ›

Designed by Ronald Wayne, it depicted Isaac Newton sitting under an apple tree shown with the quote “Newton… a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought”. In 1976, Rob Janoff created the shape of the logo we know now.

What are 3 concepts of Apple's marketing strategy? ›

Apple Keeps Its Product Presentation and Marketing Simple

Apple follows the philosophy of simple is better through their products, they don't overwhelm their targeted customers with too many choices, options or even parameters. Apple lets its products speak for themselves and keeps it's messaging and visuals simple.

What design tool does Apple use? ›

Apple has been using Figma to design their products since 2017, but they have also been known to use Sketch in the past. Figma is a software that is used to create designs for products, websites, and apps.

Why is Apple's marketing strategy so effective? ›

Apple's Marketing is Built on Simplicity

That's how Apple has consistently positioned their marketing, keeping messaging and visuals simple. Most of the marketing is free of things like feature lists, pricing, or expensive special effects. They know the product will sell itself without relying on pomp and circumstance.

What is step 4 of the design cycle? ›

The Design Cycle is comprised of four steps: Inquiring and Analyzing, Developing Ideas, Creating a Solution and Evaluating.

What makes a design beautiful? ›

Aesthetics is a core design principle that defines a design's pleasing qualities. In visual terms, aesthetics includes factors such as balance, color, movement, pattern, scale, shape and visual weight. Designers use aesthetics to complement their designs' usability, and so enhance functionality with attractive layouts.

What makes a product beautiful? ›

Material aesthetics key elements are: Texture, Shape, Weight, Comfort, Temperature, Vibration and Sharpness. By mastering them we can make our customers adore our products.

Who wrote the 10 principles of good design? ›

Guidelines for good design by Dieter Rams.

What movement was Dieter Rams? ›

During his forty-year career at Braun he went on to champion the Functionalist design movement and produced more than 500 products iconic products for them.

Does Apple use design thinking? ›

Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, and he changed the vision of Apple by applying design thinking principles. The same strategy is being practiced by the brand even today.

What ideas did Apple steal? ›

Twenty features you didn't know Android and iOS stole from each...
  • Home screen widgets. For years, widgets were one of Android's main advantages over iOS. ...
  • Gesture navigation. ...
  • The app drawer. ...
  • Notification badges. ...
  • Swipe to type. ...
  • Granular privacy controls. ...
  • A back button. ...
  • Blue light filter.
13 Jul 2020

How did Apple become a lifestyle brand? ›

Apple is a lifestyle brand for a reason. It understands that having its products embody the interests, aspirations, and motivations of its customers is smart business because it separates its brand from the competition. The company does this by representing the emotions, values, and identities of its audience.

What is good about the design? ›

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 whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

What makes a good design idea? ›

Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it. Good design is aesthetic. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being.

What makes a good design principle? ›

Good design principles should be clear and exacting and have no double meaning. Think about the context you are designing for.

Is Apple a moral company? ›

Apple conducts business ethically, honestly, and in full compliance with the law. We believe that how we conduct ourselves is as critical to Apple's success as making the best products in the world.

What was apples key to success? ›

Apple's success lies in a strategic vision that transcended simple desktop computing to include mobile devices and wearables. Both performance and design are key drivers of the Apple brand and its ongoing success.

Why did the FBI sue Apple? ›

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) wanted Apple to create and electronically sign new software that would enable the FBI to unlock a work-issued iPhone 5C it recovered from one of the shooters who, in a December 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, killed 14 people and injured 22.

Why is Apple an inspiring brand? ›

Branding lessons from Apple

It's hard to find a more inspirational branding success story than Apple's. Founded by two college dropouts, its pioneering expansion into various industries and new services such as Apple Pay and iTunes helped to propel Apple into becoming America's first $700 billion company.

Why Apple is the best brand? ›

They make the consumer feel good about themselves

This is probably one of the biggest reasons why people love Apple. It's because they make the consumer feel like they're somehow a better person for having the product. The story that they convey throughout their marketing is a powerful one.

What makes Apple unique from other companies? ›

Steve Jobs dared to be different, he catered to creators and dreamers. Apple was created to cater to people, not consumers. Unlike most corporations, Apple makes product decisions driven by design rather than finance and marketing. He sold dreams, not products.

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