In the 1960s Dieter Rams, an industrial designer for Braun, introduced 10 iconic principles that were his framework to identify good design. The list included such principles as that good design is innovative, makes a product useful, is aesthetic, makes a product understandable and so forth. Check out the entire list here.
While I’ve always believed in these principles, the industry and creativity are fluid and ever-changing. Maybe the design principles that guide us should be fluid too?
Culturally, we are in the midst of revolution. Emerging technology is evolving daily, ethics are a growing concern and design is overwhelmingly homogenous. We are also in a race between AI and humanity for control, and we still don’t know who will win, humans or robots. These are the cultural nuances that demand designers and creatives to evolve and rethink what is good.
So, here is my attempt to reinterpret these principles based on the state of culture today:
1. Good design is freeing, and lets humanity live authentically.
It lets us be free to express ourselves as the humans that we are, which is imperfect. As more and more brands enable culture to show up authentically, the more we’ll feel safe to be ourselves. That is good design.
2. Good design is safe and gives the user complete control.
As a standard, companies mine, collect and store data about individuals, and culturally we accept this as true. Good design limits technology's ability to operate autonomously. It puts users in control. They can modify, opt in and have complete control over how the technology handles their personal information.
3. Good design is inspired by nature and takes cues from the natural state of the world.
When you honor and replicate concepts from the natural world you develop a connection authentically. You feel a natural bond between the action and your ability to create. If you use concepts like flow, friction, harmony, disruption, etc. to guide you, you often create something that feels more intuitive and pleasant to use.
4. Good design is easy and functions as our minds imagine it to.
Good design means a memorable and easy and replicable user experience. As technology evolves and more and more folks have access to it, from a spectrum of young to old, we are seeing the necessity for tools that are easy to use. As society ages and technology becomes increasingly integrated into our everyday lives, we need to prioritize accessibility and experiences for everyone.
5. Good design is glamorous and brings out the spirit that lives inside of us.
Design today becomes an instant extension of who we are as individuals. Individuals who express themselves in unique ways. Today, brands slap their logos on everything, so we all become ambassadors for their brands. Originality has gone by the way of quantifiable results before something even reaches the public. Good design is shepherded by brands that seek to enable culture to express itself uniquely and will ultimately stand out in the sea of sameness.
6. Good design is for everyone and serves everyone.
Inclusivity and accessibility are truly the most important aspects of culture and humanity today. Good design can and should respect everyone.
7. Good design is relevant and lives to solve the problems of today.
We often see brands prioritize their needs over the needs of their users, without even knowing who their users are. To be relevant you have to be in the moment, you have to understand what culture and your users care about, and you have to understand how you can authentically participate and create something for them.
8. Good design is mindful and gives you space and presence.
Today, we are a society of constant distractions. Good design allows us to find our flow state, and allows us to reconnect to the curiosity of the person sitting, standing, working or living next to you.
9. Good design is friendly, surfaces the good inside us and lives to unite.
We live in a divisive and divided world. Good design is about bringing out the good in all of us. It seeks purity and truth, and making it crystal clear for everyone to see.
10. Good design is flexible, enabling and adapting to change.
We see businesses open sourcing their design systems and modern design tooling is bringing our ability to realize ideas faster and more efficiently.
Cultural fluidity is a truth that will never change, and as society moves toward a more technological, authentic and empathetic existence, I've challenged myself to look past Dieter’s historic principles and embrace a new set. Progress happens little by little, step by step, and my hope is that creatives can embrace culture’s newest mindsets with an evolved definition of what good design is.