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.

 

Quadrant of food mixer, coffee pot, radio and clock designed by Dieter Rams

 

Clocks, radios, furniture and kitchen appliances are all amongst his legacy. Even today, modern devices reference elements of his most prominent designs.

Context?

The iPhone calculator app references his ET44 calculator he designed for Braun in 1977.

Old? Perhaps.

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.”

 

Dieter Rams pondering wearing round black glasses and suit

 

Backstory

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.

 

Young Dieter Rams in a Jazz club wearing thick rimmed spectacles

Dieter Rams at the Jazzkeller club in Frankfurt 1955, Image source

 

Industrial designer Dieter Rams sketching at his desk wearing round black glasses looking at viewer

Dieter Rams at his work desk at Braun, circa 1960, Image source

 

Dieter Rams sittign back in his chair wearing round black glasses

Dieter Rams at his work desk at Braun, circa 1960Image source

 

Still shot of Dieter Rams discussing product logos during the Rams feature length documentary

Dieter Rams in his home studio in Germany, Image source

 

German designer Dieter Rams wearing his round tortoise glasses

Headshot of Dieter Rams, 87, for the 'RAMS' documentary released in 2018 by Gary Hustwit.

 

Dieter Rams glasses tribute

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.

 

Dieter Rams tribute glasses lying on Vitsoe magazine

 

Glasses for a designer

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.

 

Close view of black designer glasses on their side

 

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.

 

Tribute Dieter Rams glasses frame on wooden table

 

The frame

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.

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    Dieter Rams glasses tribute frame

    Dieter Rams glasses: Key points

    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.

    • Size: 40 □ 20 145
    • Prescription ready
    • Solid steel rivets & hinges
    • Anti-glare & Anti-scratch coating
    • 100% recycled/recyclable 8mm bio-acrylic
    • Gloss, hand-polished finish
    • Fold-flat case & lens cloth
    • Made in Glasgow

    Three quarter view of tribute Dieter Ram glasses frame

     

    Close view of round black spectacles

     

    Round black eyeglasses lying folded

     

    Close view of octagonal black eyeglasses

     

    Gloss black Dieter Rams tribute spectacles tilted sideways

     

    What is Dieter Rams famous for?

    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

    Braun TP1 Portable Radio designed in 1959 by Dieter Rams

    Black AB 1A Alarm Clock

    Black AB 1A Alarm Clock for Braun, designed by Dieter Rams & Dietrich Lubs in 1994

     

    601 Chair by Dieter Rams

    Black & silver 601 chair for Vitsœ, designed by Dieter Rams in 1960

    Braun T1000 radio designed by Dieter Rams

    Braun T1000 radio, designed by Dieter-Rams in 1962

     

    Vitsoe 606 Universal shelving system designed by Dieter Rams

    Vitsœ 606 Universal shelving system designed by Dieter-Rams, circa 1960

    Combi DL5 Electric Razor by Dieter Rams 1957

    Combi DL5 Electric Razor by Dieter Rams, circa 1957

     

     

    What are the 10 principles of design?

    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.

     

     

    Good Design...

     

    1. 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.

     

    2. Makes a Product Useful

     A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

     

    3. Is Aesthetic

    The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

     

    4. Makes A Product Understandable:

    It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.

     

    5. 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.

     

    6. 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.

     

    7. 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.

     

    8. Is Thorough Down to the Last Detail: 

    Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.

     

    9. 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.

     

    10. 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.

     

     

     

    Side view of Dieter Rams wearing his round black glasses frame

     

    Jamie Bartlett
    Jamie Bartlett

    Co-founder of Banton Frameworks.



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