“You cannot understand good design if you don’t understand people.”
Dieter Rams (Documentary on Rams-Principles of a Good Design)
I was briefly acquainted with the works of Dieter Rams and his contemporaries Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson and had watched documentaries like Eames: The Architect and The Painter. But after watching Rams I realized that despite coming into existence around the 1940s, they had different outlooks towards designing and the relevance of their products.
While Eames popularly quoted “the best for the least for the most”, Rams followed “Less but better”. And here, we see a common objective as well – details and their intent for the people.
With the recent catastrophe, we are sitting and spending time on our dining table more often, cooking more often, and have turned our purchases into belongings like never before.
Therefore, when Dieter Rams said “The time of thoughtless design for thoughtless consumption is over.”, I can relate to that time now.
Rams, a documentary based on the life, work and the famous “10 principles of good design” of Dieter Rams, a German industrial designer is directed by Gary Hustwit and was released in 2018. It was broadcasted by BBC and is available for paid streaming on Vimeo (https://player.vimeo.com/video/291784379).
The movie has been narrated by Rams himself, along with his colleagues, people who have collaborated with him, and Sophie Lovell, the author of Dieter Rams: As little design as possible. It has been shot at various locations of Germany like the Technical University of Munich, his home at Kronberg, and some places in London.
The film is not solely intended for the designers. It belongs to every consumer in this world. It sheds light on the aspects that one should consider before both designing and buying a product.
It starts with an exposition where Dieter Rams is typing on his Valentine typewriter, “Was ist guten design?” or “What is good design?”.
The film intends to make the viewer understand how Rams got inspired to join the Wiesbaden School of Art, the role of his grandfather, his personal life, and the different events that shaped his principles that are ardently followed by the people around the world.
On being asked how can a designer overcome mediocrity, he responds with the importance of collaboration, about finding the right people who think beyond what they are responsible for daily and think about what our society will look like in the future.
His vision of seeing his products, not as a separate brand but part of the room, part of a family, made me question the prioritizing of a signature work and taught me what it means to understand people.
What surprised me as a viewer is how Dieter Rams are one of the few designers who can criticize a work of design as good or bad rather than being indifferent like we are today and can question his responsibilities as a product designer and a human being.
His expressive eyes and the enthusiasm with which he narrates the film is infectious and can make the other elements in the room redundant.
A moment of sheer excitement has been captured where one can relate if he or she has been fortunate to hold a product that has only been seen in the photographs and got inspired to work as a designer because of it every day.
Gary Hustwit takes us back and forth, sometimes through the narration, through the excellent background score by Brian Eno or just a conversation between two people.
We sometimes find Rams in a room full of students, who ask him questions as designers, or in the archival photographs during his time at the school or at Braun where he worked from 1955 to 1995. These snapshots have been meticulously placed to draw similarities or differences with the present.
This shift of perspectives but with a constant flow of the narrative is with a purpose to give the audience an insight into how Rams and his work is perceived. This is granted through the three different vantage points.
The first point belongs to the wide-eyed students who look up to Rams and his principles for guidance. The second point is, of the people who have collaborated with him and have been either shaped by Rams or have shaped Rams as a designer today. The third belongs to Rams sharing his experience himself.
And this never irked me as a viewer, due to the absolute synchronization of those perspectives with the narrations, keeping my attention intact.
The introduction and representation of the key principles of design with the actual products designed by Rams, simple text, and color palette make it easily understandable and thus, one of the strongest reasons to watch the documentary.
The color palette of the film somehow resembles the color of the products designed by Rams and keeps the visual tone of the film around that palette. The music represents Rams himself. Sometimes, the music takes a bolder note while at other times it takes a much subtle take or just not being there and letting the current scenario speak for itself.
One can think of the film as one of his products, which is reminiscing the past and celebrating his works, projects his thoughts and views that are way ahead of our time and at the same time, asking the present generation to think of its responsibilities and stop chasing “something new” and start working on “something lesser but better”.
Image 8: Still from the documentary Rams