Today we provide our take on Dieter Rams 10 Principles for Good Design.
These principles have stood the test of time and are well known throughout the industry. The timelessness of these principles can be seen in the similarities of many Apple products and Dieters earlier work.

10 Principles for Good Design – Dieter Rams

Good product design is about pushing the boundaries of existing technologies and norms. Innovation comes from trying to solve the biggest challenges.

Is innovative

“The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.”

Dieter’s first principle fits perfectly where product teams find themselves today. Good design is always about pushing the boundaries of technology and improving how we use existing technology. Innovation comes from pushing yourself and the systems in which you operate.

As the principle states, there is always room for growth. If you are working with a product or service that is already very good. It doesn’t mean all the possibilities have been exhausted. You can always find room for improvement, especially as your product or service grows.

Makes a product useful

“A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it. “

Of course. A product should be useful and usable for users. The most obvious place where this applies is to the user interface and experience. Regardless of your design prowess. Make sure your product or service is easy to use and doesn’t create barriers to entry.

How easy is it to navigate the product? Is there more than one way to achieve a task? Do it provide equal ease of use for new users and experienced users alike? It’s a good idea to design with different levels of user experience in mind.

This principle doesn’t just apply to the user experience and end users though. The product or service needs to do the function that  is expected of it.

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.”

This follows on from the previous principle. The product is usable, easy to navigate but is it pleasing to use? Does it feel clean and effortless in it’s design? This may seem secondary, but consider, if you have to use the product day in-day out? If the product is in public view, how does it represent the user?

By default products and services you design should be aesthetically pleasing. This is also a good time to review the question of “What can we leave out?”

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. “

Can you put a new user in front of your product or service and they’ll intuitively understand how it functions?
If there is a failure in this principle it can be very costly. Example:

1. For a mobile app you might have many sign-ups and initial logins but few returning customers. This can lead to ‘quick’ solutions, such as:

  • Spend more on marketing
  • Target a different audience
  • Add more features

None of which are the root cause of the problem. The user doesn’t understand how to use the product.

2. For a corporate system a poor immediate understanding of the product can lead to:

  • A need to increase training budgets
  • Increase employee on-boarding costs
  • Resistance to change if migrating from an existing product

In the worse case, a product or service can have a negative impact on productivity and decrease customer engagement.

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.“

Everything in your product or service should have a purpose. Designed to be simple yet functional. Products shouldn’t force users in one direction or another. Every step or interaction with the product should perform the function and demand no more of the user than required.

Is honest

“It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.“

This includes but extends beyond the product, to supporting services. It includes advertising and marketing to packaging, branding and imagery.

For example, An inexpensive copy of an established product on Amazon. Will boast a long list of features and promises to compete, but seldom meet those promises. Good design shows exactly what the product or service does and nothing more. It doesn’t imply features, quality or longevity it can’t deliver.

Avoid putting the product in a ‘bigger box’ or overstating its performance in order to sell.

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.“

Your product or service doesn’t need to live on the bleeding edge, between beta and cult-of-the-new. Good product design is timeless. Unaffected by drastic changes in fashion. It stands independently.

Good Design is long-lasting, not only in quality and integrity but in purpose, functionality and use.

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.”

This principle tells us to focus and follow through on quality from idea to launch. Every individual and team should commit to providing the best quality work they can. Agree not to cut corners. We suggest implementing peer reviews for guiding teams. Avoid producing a product or service which is 90% amazing. As that 10% can devastate the end user and result ultimately in failure.

For instance, a bicycle pump. This one inflates tires, is easy to use, aesthetically pleasing, and clips onto the users bike. If that all important clip breaks, the use of the pump is significantly reduced.

Is environmentally friendly

“Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product. “

In the case of physical product design there are many choices to make. It can help to tie this back to design longevity.

Good design minimises the resources required throughout the supply chain. Excessive packaging, inefficient manufacturing and wasted labour. All of this adds to cost environmentally. Consider what materials you use to construct, market and distribute your product.

For software and services. It’s still a priority to consider the technical resources and requirements you use. Review how you deploy your software, number of servers in use and office environments.

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.”

This principle is the combination of all other principles discussed. Less is more, clean aesthetics, timelessness, honest and usable. Remove barriers for end users. Empathize with what they want to achieve with your products and services. Step into their shoes and use your products every day.

Once you’re conscious of this, the design principles will make sense. You’ll see improvement when striving to make products and services even more amazing. Creating more effectively, efficiently, and clearly.

Final Thoughts

We’re certainly not the first to write about Dieter Rams or his 10 Principles for Good Design.

Having said that, they are so well designed themselves they provide an amazing guiding hand when designing products and services. Though Dieter specialized in physical products there is no question these same principles can be applied to software, services, customer journeys and beyond.

We encourage you to include the principles as a reference when creating your own Product Principles.

A documentary with Rams can be found here: Rams by Gary Hustwit