• It’s all about design

    by  • August 26, 2011 • Articles, Journal, Programming • 2 Comments

    In 1955 a young architect joined Braun and started designing some of their most iconic products. His ideas went on to change the way we look at technology and ultimately how Apple came up with such simple yet incredible ideas such as the MagSafe power adapter.

    The man I am talking about is Dieter Rams, yet most people have never heard of him. He stood for anti-styling, anti-waste and believed in the concept of premium quality products which would be built to last and believed ‘Obsolescence is a crime’

    To achieve this he believed functionality and minimalism are key to design. By removing anything that is not required, more time can be spent perfecting the remaining aspects of the product.

    How does this relate to Apple? Jonathan Ives seems to have taken Rams 10 principles of design on board when he began designing Apples iconic products. Even the smallest details are painstakingly thought through such as the magnetic power adapter port, protecting the laptop if someone pulls the cable accidentally. Ives first success using Rams ideals was the iPod.

    Now lets look at the iPod compared to Rams audio player several decades earlier.


    How can the rest of the computer industry learn from this? Simple – redesign everything. Not to make it look flashier or gimmicky – such as Dells replaceable cases. But look at every part of the form factor and ask themselves ‘why is it like this?’

    Some companies are taking the first steps, even Dell are trying with their XPS Z range, but its more just a styling change rather than increase in quality.

    For example, why do we have Intel and Windows stickers on the laptop case, they serve no purpose, we can see the PC runs Windows when it is in use.

    People are willing to pay more for durability and good design, this seems forgotten in the modern throwaway society. I for one was happy to pay more for my MacBook Air because I know it will last longer and won’t look as out of place in a few years when compared to Dells, or even Sony’s best attempts.

    Using Rams Principles in software

    Rams 10 principles are not limited just to designing beautiful looking hardware and products, they can be used by software engineers. Here are my understanding of how we can use his 10 principles when constructing great software:

    • Is innovative – Rams states that possibilities for innovation in design are unlikely to be exhausted since technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. He also highlights that innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology and can never be an end in and of itself.
    • Makes a software useful – Software bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
    • Is aesthetic – Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products used every day have an effect on people and their well-being.
    • Makes software understandable – It clarifies the software’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.
    • Is unobtrusive – Software should be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression. Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools and are neither decorative objects nor works of art.
    • Is honest – Honest design should not attempt to make software seem more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It should not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
    • Is long-lasting – It should avoid being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years.
    • Is thorough down to the last detail – Dieter Rams states that nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance in the design of a product since care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.
    • Is environmentally friendly – Although software may seem abstract from environmental responsibility, good design should help by conserving resources and minimizing physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
    • Is as little design as possible – Dieter Rams makes the distinction between the common “Less is more” and his strongly advised “Less, but better” highlighting the fact that this approach focuses on the essential aspects thus, the products are not burdened with non-essentials. The desirable result would then be purer and simpler.
    For those that visit Wikipedia, you may notice how little needs changing to make his ideas work with software. There is my thought of the day anyway.


    Software engineer. Tea drinker


    2 Responses to It’s all about design

    1. Pingback: Surface by Microsoft, its cool to be late to the party. | Mr Pfisters Random Waffle

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