What German industrial designer Dieter Rams can teach us about web design.
Dieter Rams once described his design approach with the phrase “Weniger, aber beset.” Translation: “Less, but better.” Rams followed this guiding principle through his career designing hundreds of products — everything from calculators to coffee makes, home audio equipment to shelving systems, and lamps to the Oral-B toothbrush. With each product, Rams set out to design an experience that was simple and effortless. Now considered to be one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century, Rams has been noted as a primary inspiration to modern design giants such as Apple’s Jonathan Ive and countless others.
Rams developed a list of ten industrial design principles, often referred to as the ten commandments of design. These principles translate beautifully to the web and mobile environments.
Dieter Rams’ ten principles to “good design” and how they translate to web and mobile UX.
Good design is innovative
As experience designers, we are faced with a mountain of usability constraints, business requirements and technical requirements with every project. In the early years of interactive there were no boundaries. Without constraints, we pushed our designs until the market (our users) told us we’d gone too far. Now we know that understanding and accepting these constraints is what drives innovation.
Good design makes products useful
Improved interface design leads to more useful sites and applications (products). We’ve watched the evolution of Netflix and Amazon over the years. The persistent efforts of good designers making great usability and experience decisions has led to much more useful products and services.
Good design is aesthetic
Yes. We all love things that look nice and feel nice. (But no one can explain the continued success of craigslist despite its ugliness.)
Good design helps us to understand a product
Let the design do the talking. Great design can drastically reduce the learning curve — or better yet make the site or application self-explanatory. When was the last time you saw the button label “click here to…”?
Good design is unobtrusive
Our job is to deliver content. As Jeffrey Zeldman said, “Design without content is just decoration.” As UI designers we eliminate barriers. We provide just enough guidance to help our users perform their tasks. And then we get out of the way.
Good design is honest
Give the people what they want. As designers we must avoid deceptive tactics designed to trick our users into doing things that they don’t intent to do (click ads, enter personal information, etc.)
Good design is long-lasting
Our medium is in a constant state of change. We must build extensible designs that can adapt to the rapidly changing technology environments, and the ever-changing needs of our users.
Good design is consequent to the last detail
Are we still testing for IE6 compatibility?
Good design is concerned with the environment
While Rams meant this as a call to environmental sustainability with nature, we have a responsibility to respect bandwidth, screen sizes, and more. We will all benefit from less noise. Simplicity is key to a more peaceful environment — online and offline.
Good design is as little design as possible
What makes a great web design?
The overarching principle in any design project in any discipline is to “give the people what they want.” As interactive designers, our task is to provide clear and intuitive pathways which will allow our users to get what they are after as quickly and efficiently as possible. Our creative mission is to engage the user through innovative ideas, elegance, and style.
I struggle to find a better example than Netflix. The beauty and genius of the interface is invisible to the user. It is a pleasure to use and it seems to “know” me without creeping me out. It’s easy and it just works. What more could we ask for?