by Jamie Bartlett October 15, 2020 6 min read
He’s referred to as one of the most influential industrial designers of the 20th century.
Over 5 decades, his career shaped the direction of modern design to the point of ubiquity and global reverence.
Yet, his demeanour remains as understated and pragmatic as the work for which he’s become so well known.
Having spent 42 years as head of product design at German consumer products company Braun, you may recognise at least some of Dieter Rams design work.
Clocks, radios, furniture and kitchen appliances are all amongst his legacy. Even today, modern devices reference elements of his most prominent designs.
The iPhone calculator app references his ET44 calculator he designed for Braun in 1977.
But it’s an utterly simplistic design that remains relevant today, albeit through a smartphone touchscreen.
This transcendence is no accident. Via his thought and careful design considerations, Dieter Rams is as famous as the mantra he lives and works by.
“As little design as possible.”
In 2008, creative film director Gary Hustwit released his fifth feature length film.
The Rams Documentary.
Made as a preservation of Dieter’s design-archive, life and career which Hustwit successfully funded via the online crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter.
Unsurprisingly, the project surpassed its financial target of $200,000, funding the production of the first, and probably final, feature length film about this prominent industrial designer.
(Amongst 5,110 die-hard fans, I too had pledged my money in support of the project.)
Total design geek, I know.
As you’d expect, the film featured his most famous work. The 606 Dieter Rams chair, the FS 80-1 Dieter Rams tv, his radios, shaver and various kitchen appliances he designed for Braun.
But as the story unfolded, documenting Dieter’s path, one thing remained constant.
His thick rimmed glasses.
Dieter Rams at the Jazzkeller club in Frankfurt 1955, Image source
Dieter Rams at his work desk at Braun, circa 1960, Image source
Dieter Rams at his work desk at Braun, circa 1960, Image source
Dieter Rams in his home studio in Germany, Image source
Headshot of Dieter Rams, 87, for the 'RAMS' documentary released in 2018 by Gary Hustwit.
Since a young age, Dieter always wore glasses.
As a young man in the 1950’s, he favoured the fashionably thick full-rim acetate frames of the time.
(What better era for eyewear than the mid-century?)
Subsequently, his glasses were usually round, black and occasionally featured browline facets across the top. Austere, bold and characteristic, his thick glasses aptly portray his pragmatic demeanour.
A truly functional frame.
Perceived as a traditional style, similar glasses have been adorned by other luminaries such as of Le Corbusier, Phillip Johnson and David Hockney. Presumably why they’ve become the synonymous architect glasses style.
In addition to Hustwit’s documentary, we too wanted pay our own tribute to this design legend and make a frame, just like his ones.
These Dieter Rams glasses are an act of homage.
Like the documentary, we’ve celebrated one of his most consistent characteristics in his appearance and indeed his vision as a design icon.
Since a young age, Dieter has always worn glasses.
As a young man in the 1950’s, he favoured the fashionably thick full-rim acetate frames of the time. (What better era for eyewear than the mid-century?)
Subsequently, his glasses were usually round, black and occasionally featured browline facets across the top. Austere and memorably characteristic, his thick glasses portrayed his pragmatic demeanour.
Straightforward, understated and most importantly, functional.
Observing the simplicity of his spectacles, Dieter’s frames have a quintessential aesthetic. One that immediately springs to mind when you visualise a pair of glasses.
Instead of being entirely round, these glasses have flat bits across the top we call 'facets.' A bold frame shape, appearing stark and edgy.
A classic aesthetic, especially if you're the creative type who likes the designer sort of look.
Simple. Bold. Entirely black.
The finish of these frames is a high shine gloss. After 4 stages of rotational tumble polishing, they’ve been hand polished using a further 4 stages of increasingly fine compound.
This dedication reveals the impeccable lustre of this bold black bio-acrylic. A level of smoothness you simply can’t rush. Compared to acetate, it's just that bit shinier, catching the light beautifully when worn.
The only interruption across the decadent black frame are the solid steel rivets which hold these glossy black frames together.
Reliable. Honest. Functional.
And becuase Dieter always favoured product discretion, these frames bear no external branding. Only on the inside have we precision etched ltd-edition, dimensional and company markings.
After all, “good design is as little design as possible.”
Not your usual roundeye specs, these are statement utilitarian glasses, worthy of a designer.
The shiny gloss black is a bold statement, especially if you have a fair complexion.
So, if you’re looking for a small punchy glasses style, the stark colour of this frame imparts that studious aesthetic you’d expect from a frame worn by Dieter.
Due to its roundish nature, this style is best suited if you have a long, narrow face shape.
Throughout the 1950’s, Rams worked for the German consumer products company Braun where he became widely known for his unobtrusive design approach “less but better.”
There, he designed many of their most successful products which to this day have lasting influence and appeal.
Later, in the 1960's, Dieter also worked for Danish furniture company Vitsœ where he developed various collections. Most famously, their 606 universal shelving system and 620 chair programme, both of which are still being made today in their Leamington Spa factory.
Braun TP1 Portable Radio designed in 1959 by Dieter Rams
Black AB 1A Alarm Clock for Braun, designed by Dieter Rams & Dietrich Lubs in 1994
Black & silver 601 chair for Vitsœ, designed by Dieter Rams in 1960
Braun T1000 radio, designed by Dieter-Rams in 1962
Vitsœ 606 Universal shelving system designed by Dieter-Rams, circa 1960
Combi DL5 Electric Razor by Dieter Rams, circa 1957
Early in his design career, Dieter Rams asked himself “is my design a good design?”
To answer, he laid out three rules in 1970 which he later expanded into what has become known as the “ten principles of good design.”
Nothing short of doctrine, these principles have become renowned amongst the design community, regularly adopted and referenced by some of today’s leading design authorities.
Head of design at Apple Inc, Jonathan Ive or Kenya Hara from Muji to name but a few.
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