The concept of “good design” has entered our collective consciousness.

Design is something that is—rightly—viewed as a competitive differentiator. While some of the metrics are still fuzzy, there’s no denying the success of a company such as Apple, and the influence it’s had on elevating design’s value to common awareness.

In professional circles, companies such as IDEO, and their notion of “design thinking,” have similarly profoundly influenced how organizations approach strategy, products, services, and even organizational structure to meet the promise of a good design experience.

Our practice at Story+Structure falls squarely in this camp. We challenge ourselves to fully consider how design is deeply intertwined with the purpose, value, utility, and sustainability of an organization and its products and services.

So, how to define it? As in so many things, great thinkers have tackled this question before. Dieter Rams, an important 20th century designer who’s informed and inspired our own approach, famously summarized his thinking in “10 Principles of Good Design.”

Dieter Rams

Dieter Rams

One of the things that’s most fascinating about Rams’ work is how it helped usher in a modern sensibility around design’s purpose and obligations. Looking at home electronics in the pre-war period, they drew heavily from known metaphors. Disguised to look like furniture, radios hid their controls behind doors, their speakers covered with decorative wood so as to fit into an interior defined in an earlier era.

In the post-war period, consumers were ready for the new, and embraced technology as a sign of progress. Rams, trained as an architect, was recruited by Braun, one of Germany’s greatest radio manufacturers, after the death of its founder, to inject fresh thinking into their designs.

One of his first products, designed with Hans Gugelot, was the SK4 phonograph. While it may look familiar to contemporary eyes, its approach was radically different from what had come before. Following principles of Functionalist design, each element had to have a clear purpose, and be easily understandable, useful, and attractive.

Using a clear plexiglass cover in combination with a white paint job was considered insanely progressive in the 50s. Keep in mind that most people were used to using wooden, armoire-like devices. The SK4 was launched in 1956 and received universal praise from consumers. It was fresh, like a glass of ice water in a desert of terrible design. The SK4 scared the competitors so much that they gave it the dismissive nickname of “Snow White’s Coffin” - which only made the innovative product more memorable.
— Andrew Kim, Minimally Minimal
The SK4 radio-phonograph, also known as the "Phonosuper," designed by Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot, 1956

The SK4 radio-phonograph, also known as the "Phonosuper," designed by Dieter Rams and Hans Gugelot, 1956

What continues to make Dieter Rams so interesting is how his clear thinking and design principles found expression in products of unique clarity and utility. He sums up the essence of human-centered design with typical simplicity:

“You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people; design is made for people.”
— Dieter Rams