You know that feeling when you are leaving a movie theater after having watched a superhero movie and it almost feels as if you had superpowers yourself?
I just had a similar experience, but this time with a feeling of calmness, focus, and appreciation for my surroundings. What did I do? I finally watched Gary Hustwit’s documentary “Rams”.
Dieter Rams is one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century. As head of design at Braun and Vitsœ, he introduced a clean, elegant, and functional design language to a wider public and influenced generations of industrial and digital designers.
Today, Rams is also well-known for his Ten Principles of Good Design. Rams’ ten principles have been cited over and over again, to the extent that some people are now even making fun of the cult around Rams and his work. But looking at most of the design work today, many designers could still use a bit of Rams’ attitude towards building products.
It almost seems as if most of us still haven’t understood Rams’ principles at the core. His attentiveness, his care, his openness, his deep respect for people and the environment, and his willingness to constantly improve. But above all, there is the statement that opens and ends Hustwit’s film: “Less but better.” Not “less is more”. Not “good design is invisible”. Not “go fast and break things.” No. Less but better.
We are living in times of rapid social and technological change. In order to keep up with the pace, we seem to be always looking for more, especially on the Web. More likes, more visits, more content, more tools, more process, more speed, more efficiency, more data! This mindset might be the reason why the world of tech is currently struggling to live up to the responsibility that comes with influencing the lives of billions of people. When you always want more today, you don’t have time to think about the long-term impact and implications of your actions tomorrow. “Less but better”, on the other hand, strikes me as a useful principle because it helps us create things that are well thought-out, high-quality, long-lasting, and resilient instead.
Less stuff but better things.
Less traffic but better transportation.
Less complexity but better systems.
Less bloat but better code.
Less tracking but better content.
Less writing but a clearer message.
Design is the result of a series of decisions. But when you are working in a modern, flexible, and iterative way, there often are no upfront plans or requirements you can base your decisions on. You will need a set of basic principles to guide you and to tell you which way to go. A set of principles that defines what good design is for you. If you write them down, add “less but better” to the list.