Sunday March 3, 2019

Rams

Portrait of Dieter Rams by Gary Huswit
Dieter Rams by Gary Huswit

My copy of Gary Huswit’s “Rams” arrived the other day, and I finally got a chance to sit down and watch it. If you’ve ever read Sophie Lovell’s “Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible”, the contents of the film will be familiar to you. Rams’s wartime childhood, his grandfather’s carpentry influences, his study of architecture, and his chance encounter with the Braun brothers that kicked off his product design career are all covered quite well.

There were a couple of things that took more shape for me, seeing them in film:

The Rams garden

There were some pictures in the book but the film showed a lot more. It has, of course, gathered more of a patina since the book’s photographs were taken, and shows more details and angles. It’s an impressive garden, and an undertaking that shows more of Rams’s original passion for city & environmental design. While I appreciate all the inspiring work Rams was able to produce at Braun and Vitsœ, that garden makes me wonder what kind of amazing neighborhoods or cities he could have designed. I also appreciate the garden’s Japanese-inspired style, which reminds me of Rams’s insistence that it’s important to be inspired by the beauty & ingenuity of the past (and other cultures, I would add).

“You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people.”

This is one of the first things Rams says in the film, and it’s a striking opening statement. An understanding of users’ needs & aspirations may seem like an obviously critical ingredient to good design, but it’s still much more of a battle than it should be. That this was understood by designers over 40 years ago, albeit in a different field, is both encouraging and disappointing. 40 years on, it’s hard to end up in a place where we are designing for people we don’t understand. No matter the form of design being consumed, it cannot be its best without understanding people.

The film also inspired me to crack open “As Little Design as Possible” again and marvel at Rams’s Vitsœ system. It’s amazing how forward-thinking it continues to be, and the clear parallels between it and our current boom in design systems thinking as applied to digital products.

Dieter Rams’s status as a design icon is well-deserved. This film is a wonderful summation of a career that has served as a beacon for so many to follow.


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