Ten Principles of Good Design
Dieter Rams timeless ten rules for great design.
Up until the recent writing of this essay, the mental model of design for most people would have amounted to an exercise in aesthetics.
But with the growth of human-centered design and digital interfaces, the concept of design covers a much wider net, and one that can deliver a much deeper ROI for organizations.
From traditional graphic design, industrial design or even high art, through to newer interface design, product design, service design or venture design, the banner word ‘design’ now encompasses disciplines that capture new market opportunities, extract reach across current markets, develop transformative new products and services, and drive or protect a business from disruption.
In other words, design isn’t a "nice to have". It’s a competitive advantage.
Defining what constitutes “good design” becomes imperative, but this is hugely problematic - while based in science, it still has an element of gut feel which is inherently subjective.
In the 1970's, infamous industrial designer Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned about the state of the world around him, an "impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises". As design cannot be measured in a finite way, he created ten principles for good design, often referred to in the design community as the "ten commandments".
These principles have stood the test of time as design has evolved, so are worth internalizing.
The Ten Principles
1. Good Design Is Innovative
"The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself."
2. 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."
3. 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. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful."
4. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable
"It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory."
5. Good Design 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."
6. Good Design Is Honest
"It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept."
7. Good Design 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."
8. Good Design 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 user."
9. Good Design 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."
10. Good Design 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.
Author's note, all frameworks are inherently flawed, so apply them wisely. The utility of a framework is always dependent on the individual problem at hand.