Dieter Rams is a German industrial designer best known for consumer electronics products he designed for Braun in the 1960s - '90s. His mantra "less but better" is clear in his most well-known designs. Sir Jony Ive considers him an inspiration and influence. Indeed, see these images comparing Rams' Braun designs with Ives' Apple designs from Forbes - the influence is clear.
In the 1970s Rams was concerned with the world around him - “An impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” (Vitsœ) As a contributor to those forms, colours and noises, Rams wanted to make sure that what he designed was "good" design. So he described his ideas of good design in a well known set of design principles.
- is innovative
- makes a product useful
- is aesthetic
- makes a product understandable
- is unobtrusive
- is honest
- is long-lasting
- is thorough down to the last detail
- is environmentally friendly
- is as little design as possible
Rams and Ive both showed that products created using these principles are beautiful, practical and popular. Indeed, products designed with "less" in mind can carry a premium price which people are willing to pay - see Apple, Braun, Vitsœ
Applying Rams' principles to design services
Rams' designs for Braun and Ives' designs for Apple, glossing over the Apple TV Remote (breaks rules 2, 4, 6?), show what can be achieved using these principles. When your products are services, do they still apply? Indeed, do services require design? The previous post on this site describes the idea of Meeting Architecture - designing meetings to deliver better outcomes for participants in terms of learning, networking and motivation. That's a service that requires good design. Indeed, shouldn't all services be designed to deliver good outcomes for their users? So services require good design.
Here are some thoughts about how Rams' principles can be applied to meeting design.
1. Good design is innovative
The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself.
Meeting technology develops all the time and offers numerous ways in which technological innovation can enhance participants' outcomes. However, applying technology to meeting design must always be tested against the three pillars of participant outcomes and enhance them; learning, networking and motivation. There is a danger of applying technology for its own sake. Other areas of innovative meeting design might include room layout, new forms of information delivery and dissemination, inventive ways to remove barriers to networking.
2. Good design makes a service useful
A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.
A delegate attends a meeting to fulfil a need or desire (a use?). The meeting needs to satisfy the delegate's need for learning, networking and motivation which will be accomplished better if that is achieved in a psychologically pleasing way. Frivolous design detracts from the service's use; by definition, wasteful.
3. Good design is aesthetic
The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.
Aesthetic design of materials, room design, audio visual presentation - everything from typefaces chosen to furniture used can enhance a meeting.
4. Good design makes a product understandable
It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.
Signposting, programme design, catering selections, information dissemination - removing the participant's need to ask questions that are not related to improving their understanding of the meeting's content or subject matter, improves their opportunity to learn or teach, network and motivate or be motivated. This requires making the logistics and planning of an event next to invisible to the participant and so;
5. Good design 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.
Services fulfilling their purpose do not need to be full of fanfare and noise (unless those are desired outcomes of the user, of course - a music festival, say). The service facilitator's ego must be invisible. Services' (e.g. meetings') design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave physical and psychological space for the users' self-expression.
6. Good design is honest
It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.
Meeting design does not mislead participants or manipulate them with promises that cannot be kept. The design of the event must concentrate on and be limited to producing the best outcomes for the participants.
7. Good design 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.
Enough said? Good service design should not attempt to fix what is not broken. Provision of a pen and some paper is not antiquated and is sufficient when the outcome is to make notes.
8. Good design is thorough to the last detail
Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user.
Again, this is directly applicable to service design, no interpretation necessary.
9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.
One word edit: Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the service.
10. Good design 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.
Concentrating on the essential outcomes for the service user, services are not burdened with non-essentials. Keep it simple.
Yes, Rams' principles apply directly to service design as well as well-designed products, so long as the design never overwhelms or detracts from the outcomes of the service user. "Weniger aber besser", as Rams would say.