A new documentary about the famously reclusive German designer Dieter Rams is delving deep into his creations to give us a better understanding of what they can teach us about life in the 21st century. The documentary, entitled Rams, is being directed by Gary Hustwit, who previously brought us the cult classic “Design Trilogy” consisting of documentaries Helvetica, Objectified, and Urbanized. Reflecting on his choices for the subjects of his films, Hustwit says: “I like the idea of taking a closer look at the things we take for granted and changing the way people think about them, whether it’s type or objects or whatever.”

Iconic designer Dieter Rams tinkering with one of his classic radios.

Rams’ unique school of thought when it comes to design has made him something of an icon across the industry. He is perhaps most well known for his designs for Braun, which covered everything from radios and record players to calculators, shelving units, and juicers. Above all else, his fundamental principle for design is “Less but better” — a mantra that now seems to be undergoing something of a revival in response to the overwhelming flood of cheap, disposable products hitting the market.

A side-by-side comparison that shows how heavily influenced the 2001 iPod was by Dieter Rams' transistor radio design.

Simply put, Hustwit decided to make a documentary about Rams because he couldn’t believe that it had never been done before. Rams rarely gives interviews, and now, at the age of 86, he believes that everything he would have to say about design he has already said. Hustwit knew it would take some convincing to get him to participate in his project, explaining his strategy for getting Rams to sign on as such: “my argument was that a documentary would have a completely different audience compared to a beautifully printed book, and that this [was] about conveying your ideas to the next generation of designers and consumers. This is a big part of why he agreed.”

Several products designed by Dieter Rams, including record players and radios.

The film directly reflects Rams’ design ethos in its simplicity and directness. To top it all off, it’s even been graced with an original score by ambient music pioneer Brian Eno. Hustwit found it easy enough to map out its aesthetic, adhering strictly to Rams’ legendary framework of design principles when doing so. Most notably, he recalls: “As little filmmaking as possible, that was the mantra.”

A record player designed by Dieter Rams.

The documentary switches between scenes filmed in Rams’ house in Kronberg, out and about in London, and immersed in nature and green spaces. In it, Rams asserts that “you cannot understand good design if you don’t understand people,” underscoring his approach that good design should, above all, be easy to use. A release date of December 2018 is already in place, at which time the masses will finally get to enjoy this “documentary portrait of Dieter Rams, one of the most influential designers alive, and a rumination on consumerism, sustainability, and the future of design.” 

Rams’ “Ten Commandments for Good Design” are as follows:

  1. Good design is innovative
  2. Good design makes a product useful
  3. Good design is aesthetic
  4. Good design makes a product understandable
  5. Good design is unobtrusive
  6. Good design is honest
  7. Good design is long-lasting
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail
  9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
  10. Good design is as little design as possible