Dieter Rams

Inside the design studio, the home and the mind of the German product designer who Apple designer, Jonathan Ive has cited as his greatest influence

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Video Transcript

Every company makes the same design; with dark brown wooden housings. They called that in Germany Gelsenkirchener Baroque. [laughs]… It's always a compliment when some products we have designed become a nickname. Like, the snow-white cover. Nobody knows exactly where it's coming from. Comes from the competition or it comes from the inside. But the first thing, was not only the cover, that was only the base, the main base, in method.

I was influenced by my grandfather who was a carpenter. And he was a specialist for surfaces, and I learned that from him but I had in mind to study architecture. And after that I … finished my studies. That was a time where, in Germany I was massive, so the things come back from the, Untied States, for example, with architecture, … things from Mies Van der Rohe, from Gropius, from Marcel Breuer; all these things come and it was for us just to look in a new brave world.

Somebody said that there is an announcement in the newspaper, that there is a company called Braun. And then I get an answer from Erwin Braun. I met him first and he taught [?] me about his ideas…

His vision was to change the product line, that was at this time unbelievable.

Total[ly] new approach in, … as a company. But that was thinking behind that, that was not only concentrated on design, design was one part. He organised in the company the possibilities that people could have… Gymnastics. It's because… Even secretaries doing always the same thing the whole day, so they need something to stay healthy.

The first exhibition that's[?] the new design of the radios was very successful … also, the media and everything was, surprised about that and that, so, Braun becomes more known.

So nobody had this idea, that by the help of design you also could be very successful.

I did it, because I became a teacher at the academy of fine arts in Hamburg. So it was necessary to do something which you could tell the students, and could tell to the press and also to keep together, our own, behaviour in the design department at Braun. The last one was: as little design as possible - which is similar: less is better.

I hate everything what is driven by fashion. From the beginning it was hating, in the sixties the American way of styling. Especially the cars. They changed their styling things every two years to sell new ones. Which has nothing to do with good design. So end of the sixties, the whole programme was looking like that.

In the beginning was the first writing machines, it was also monochrome. Why should it not be in a colour. That is, it's a difference between a kitchen machine which stays permanent[ly] in the kitchen and has to be in the background, like, that was Erwin Braun he formulate[d] that: "Our products should look like [an] English butler: be there, when you need them, but in the background when you don't need them. So it[] depends on the product, if you make a colour or not.

I was involved always still in the field of furniture. And then I met Otto Zapf and Niels Vitsœ. I had in my mind, always thinking not on one appliance alone, always thinking: how can I add some[thing]. And [e]specially developing furniture that people could change there, they could add something after using them awhile.

Somebody['s] once written: " I'm the designers' designer" … and I take that as a compliment and I also take it as a compliment that Jonathan Ive is taking some of the ideas I had in the sixties and that it for me again the best compliment you can get as a designer.

They called it later the first Walkman, because it was the first one, you could have it with earphones and walking with it. It also was designed as a system, ja, it has the separate radios, they made a[n] exhibition with the title "less but better" and they ma[d]e this poster.

I think that design has a great, great responsibility for the future. I'm always optimistic, as a designer we have to be… a[n] optimist. Otherwise you should… not stay as a designer anymore.


When product designer  Dieter Rams began work in the early 1950s radios and record players looked more like old-fashioned brown wood furniture than machines.

This rare film, originally commissioned for the V&A's Cold War Modern exhibition, visits Rams in his German home. It explores Rams's uncompromising design philosophy and asks him about classic objects such as the SK4 record player which have made Rams a 21st-century cult figure.

As design director of the German company, Braun, Rams led a design revolution that brought Modernist rigour and elegance to every electronic object in the home