My lunch with Dieter Rams


If you aren’t a new reader of Minimally Minimal, you know my high respect for Dieter Rams. The first time I saw him was at a seminar in Seoul. He was escorted away very quickly when I ran to get his autograph so I didn’t have a chance to actually talk with him. I have been to his Less and More exhibition in both Seoul and San Francisco at SFMOMA and have always referenced his work for insight. He's a legend. A super hero.


The design Gods must be happy with me because Dieter Rams received a honorary doctorate degree from Art Center at the time of my graduation. He delivered the graduation address and was also available for a few days prior to the graduation ceremony to share his wisdom. In total, I was able to meet him personally twice and see him speak twice last week. An incredible honor.


My first interaction (or second if you count Seoul 2010) was in front of my own work. I was presenting my graduation show to some friends when my department chair invited Rams to look at my work. The first thing I noticed was how he seemed to be in great health. Two years ago, he looked very frail. I can happily say that he looks amazing for his age (80) now. He's wearing a Braun BN0035 in black by the way.

Once Rams was introduced to me, we shook hands. His handshake is warm and confident. I was instantly starstruck and unsure of what to say. The first thing that came was asking if he remembers me asking for an autograph in Seoul. He gave me a non answer and asked if I was nervous about the North Korea fiasco.  


My grad show consists mainly of a interactive TV controlled by a Magic Trackpad in front of a couch. I sat on the right side of him. Surreal. I must have been nervous because the first project I presented to him was Doko, a navigation system for the Toyota Prius. I talked about the removal of superfluous metaphors in the project but it quickly became evident that he didn't understanding what I was going on about. He asked, “Is it for the home?” After I told him that it was for a car, he spoke about how cars are overcomplicated and they should be free of distractions. Agreed.


Realizing that I was showing something too complicated, one of my professors suggested that I present the Pentax Si, a camera I had designed last year. Dieter Rams said he really liked it, and understood my intention of the singular dial. That’s all I needed. There’s nothing that can mean more than Rams telling me that he appreciated something I had designed. It still brings a smile to my face.


Lastly, I showed America Elect, a project isn’t yet up on MM. He didn’t seem to completely understand the project but he spoke about how (industrial) designers could (and should) branch into broader genres, like architecture and graphic design. It's the exact intention of America Elect and my goal as a designer.

After showing him these projects, we shook hands, he said “Good luck” and was escorted elsewhere. Luckily, I was selected by my school to have lunch with him the next day.


At lunch he talked so passionately that he barely touched his food. After lunch, he also gave a short talk at our school. There was plenty of wisdom to absorb. His thoughts on the reduction of visual pollution and creating long lasting, honest products are as timeless as his work. Here are some interesting things he mentioned (mostly from the lunch):



Rams talked repetitively about the importance of luck as a designer. He considers himself to have been extremely lucky and wished luck upon all of the future designers. It doesn't fill you up with optimism but I generally agree with him.



This is something that he emphasized not only during lunch but at both his talk and graduation address. Rams says he believes in “redesign” over creation of completely new designs. A more accurate way to describe that he is talking about is emphasizing “iteration”. He mentioned how products like Vitsœ or the iPhone are iterated without constantly trying to force innovation. Although I appreciate what he is saying, I might disagree with him here. Too much iteration can lead to stagnation.



Dieter Rams complained that the word “design” was ruined by the fashion industry and marketing. They sell products as “designer products” that aren’t necessarily good representations of good design. He suggested that we be called “Gestalt Engineers” - Gestalt is the German word for "form" or "shape".



Rams mentioned that the way we live will be one of the biggest challenges to tackle. He said that future architects need to better consider how we live harmoniously together. If you didn't know - Dieter Rams predates industrial design being a major and studied architecture himself. 


Model Making

Rams emphasized the art of model making. He stated that industrial design is the only profession where physical models can sell an idea and suggested that the craft be kept alive. Rams says that models are crucial a tool for designers to convince people that don't believe in your vision.



When he was asked about doing consumer research during his time at Braun, he simply said, “Never. We wanted to change the world.” 



Every time the topic of computers came up, he showed his disapproval of them. He mentioned that he doesn’t use them anymore and cautioned that computers should not be allowed to have input into our thoughts.