10 Principles for Good Design

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"Weniger, aber besser" - Less but better

You may not know the name Dieter Rams, and you may not own one of the products he's designed, but one thing is for certain: you have owned a product that has been influenced by his design principles.

From 1961 to 1995, Rams served as the Chief Design Officer at Braun, the German consumer products company, and was a leading force in product/industrial design in the second half of the 20th century, championing the "functionalist" school of design. His impact has been felt the world over and his influence can still be seen today in modern brands such as Apple, who likely wouldn't exist as we know them today if it weren’t for Rams.

Just imagine – how the iPhone would look without the simple, yet elegant design of the Braun calculator?

At this point you are probably thinking, “This is all well and good, but what does it have to do with marketing and design?” Well, in the 1970s Rams famously developed ten guiding principles after asking himself if his design was a "good design." Reading his principles again recently, it’s easy to see the connection between his recommendations for industrial design and what we think about on a daily basis here at Cognito with regards to our recommendations for clients who are considering branding or design materials.

Here are Rams' principles, and my own thoughts about how they relate to the work that we do:

1. Is innovative - The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.

Look to continually develop your brand and innovate against what you (and your competitors) have done before. In the multimedia world we live in there is a lot that takes up people’s time and attention; the design and how your company looks and sounds will help you stand out. Without this, you risk becoming lost amongst the white noise.

2. Makes a product useful - A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.

Always think about your end user - be it your sales team, prospects or clients. How can the design or marketing you are employing speak to the audience and most importantly, help them?

3. Is aesthetic - The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

It’s cliché, but people will form an opinion about you simply based on how you dress. The same can be said about your brand. Most people will have formed some opinion (conscious or not) before they even read a word about you. It is therefore important to make sure brand aesthetics live up to your business.

4. Makes a product understandable - It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user's intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Ask yourself, is what you are doing visually helping you tell your story? Does it help potential clients understand your business? If it doesn't, should you even be including it?

5. Is unobtrusive - Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.

To me, this is about thinking holistically not making a single element (whether it is a brochure, flyer, website, logo etc.) too obtrusive to your overall brand.

6. Is honest - It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

Brand trust takes a long time to build, but once established it can be invaluable. Sell your company, but be sure to keep your feet on the ground with the marketing and design work you do. Customers and prospects will respect you more in the long run.

7. Is long-lasting - It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.

The brands that are long lasting eschew fashion, and instead look to create a style and visual voice for the company that is all their own. By following the fashion of the time, you run the risk of blending in and having to go through the whole process again a couple of years down the line when the look goes out of fashion.

8. Is thorough down to the last detail - Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

This really needs no interpretation from me.

9. Is environmentally friendly - Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Consider the format you go to market with. It might not always be the case, but does that brochure really need to be printed? Would an electronic format, that can be easily updated, work just as well and actually better in the long run?

10. Is as little design as possible - Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

For me the approach of asking questions is really about making sure you stay honest to your brand and offering. By considering each step along the way, you can make your final production as efficient and as relevant as possible.

Design, Innovation,
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