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Jonathan Ive on Dieter Rams

Foreword

Jonathan Ive
Foreword
When I was a young boy growing up in London, my parents bought a wonderful
juicer. It was a Braun MPZ 2 Citromatic H. I knew nothing about Dieter Rams or his
ten principles of good design. But to a little boy uninterested in juicing, I remem-
ber the Citromatic he and his team designed for Braun with shocking clarity. It was
white. It felt cold and heavy. The surfaces were without apology, bold, pure, per-
fectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless. There was an honest connection between
its blemish-free surfaces and the materials from which they were made. It was
clearly made from the best materials, not the cheapest. No part appeared to be
either hidden or celebrated, just perfectly considered and completely appropri-
ate 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. It was the essence of juicing made
material: a static object that perfectly described the process by which it worked.
It felt complete and it felt right. While my memories are, of course, in the past
tense, the product remains all these things. 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.
While studying design in the 1980s I read about Dieter Rams and his work
with his team at Braun. But the reading was never as powerful as seeing and using
his products. Prolific and consistent, Rams is defined by what he does rather
than what he says. And what Dieter Rams and his team at Braun did was to produce
hundreds of wonderfully conceived and designed objects: products that were
beautifully made in high volumes and that were broadly accessible. He defined how
it was supposed to be: how industry could responsibly bring useful, well-consid-
ered products to many.
In so many ways Dieter Rams's work is beyond improvement. Although new
technologies have since offered new opportunities, his designs are not undermined
by the limits of the technologies of their time. The concave button top, necessary
to stop your finger from slipping as it made the long travel necessary for earlier
mechanical switches, does not point to obsolete mechanisms. Instead, it reminds,
us how immediately and intuitively form alone can describe what an object does
and suggest how we should use it. So profoundly good is his design of music players,
cameras and kitchen tools that it somehow transcends their technical capability.
Some of these products are now over fifty years old.
Rams's ability to bring form to a product so that it clearly, concisely and
immediately communicates its meaning is remarkable. The completeness of the
relationship between shape and construction, material and process, defines
his work and remains a conspicuously rare quality. And although there is no inher-
ent virtue in consistency, Rams's application and resolve to pursue his vision
over time also led to a remarkable cohesiveness of design throughout his career.
His products seem inevitable, challenging you to question whether there
could possibly be a rational alternative. It is this clarity and purity that leads to the
sense of inevitability and effortlessness that characterizes his work. The CSV 12
BRAun
citromatic
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Rams and Jurgen Gr'eubel, 1972
amplifier rotary switch, for example, is perfect. It could not be better, simpler,
clearer, or more beautiful. It brings order and explanation to what is a far more complex
problem than the user could possibly conceive. Simplicity, of course, is not the
absence of complexity. Just removing clutter would result in uncomplicated but
meaningless products. Rams's genius lies in understanding and giving form to
the very essence of an object's being - almost describing its reason for existence,
as so perfectly illustrated by the Citromatic juicer of my childhood.
Ironically, while he relegated these products to the status of tools, he elevated
them by imbuing them with clarity, simplicity and consequent beauty. In doing
so he defined the new relationship between the object and the user. He and his
team created objects that were neither vehicles of self-expression nor purely a
means to make money. He addressed the issue of our relationship with our manu-
factured environment, articulating important rules of engagement between
user and product.
For a designer to produce a couple of objects this significant and influential
in their lifetime could define a movement. To produce more than 500 borders
on the absurd. This speaks to perhaps a less obvious but critically important
attribute of Rams - his ability to collaborate. The fact we know Rams primarily .
by his beautifully engineered and mass-manufactured products rather than his
credo of good design, speaks volumes about his extraordinary collaborations
within Braun. In defining individual products he also defined Braun. His was not an
academic experiment in modernism. He lived every day with the commercial
realities and consequences of what he and his team designed. Equally, he lived with
the organizational and structural consequences of the way he and his team
worked. When you think of Braun, you immediately think of the products, not some
abstract mission statement or charter. Our perception of these products is our
perception of the brand. In a profession with more than its fair share of rhetoric,
Dieter Rams succeeded in making his philosophy tangible by giving form and,
ultimately, the relevance of mass production to his ideas. He remains utterly alone in
producing a body of work so conSistently beautiful, so right and so accessible.
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