In some ways the world has changed a great deal since the Seventies, and yet reading a transcript of a speech given by industrial designer Dieter Rams in 1976 and reissued to mark the designer's 80th birthday this month, what's immediately clear is that the principals of good design have remained the same.
Rams was speaking in New York City. At the time, he was designing some of his most enduring products, including the 606 Universal Shelving System. at the time he working for just two companies, consumer products company Braun and furniture company Vitsoe, the latter of which he co-founded with Danish furniture entrepreneur, Niels Vitsœ and a German furniture-maker, Otto Zapf and which still manufactures the 606
The speech, entitled Design by Vitsœ, now seems remarkably ahead of its time. In it, Rams describes his design ethos and also talks of the social responsibilities inherent in being a designer. 'Striving for good design is of social importance,' he says, 'as it means, among other things, absolutely avoiding waste.'
Rams also cautioned designers against valuing form over function: an approach that was gaining ground with the newly emerging postmodernist movement and its emphasis on fashion and style. He said, 'A designer who wants to achieve good design must not regard himself as an artist who, according to taste and aesthetics, is merely dressing up products with a last minute garment.'
Speaking seven years before the UN established the Brundtland Commission to address the deterioration of the human environment and natural resources, Rams also showed amazing prescience of the environmental issues that have come to the fore in the last 30 years. 'I imagine our current situation will cause future generations to shudder at the thoughtlessness in the way in which we today fill our homes, our cities and our landscape with a chaos of assorted junk.'
How right he was.
Vitsœ is marking Dieter Rams's 80th year with the release of his 1976 speech this month, as well as opening the company's extensive archive later this year to coincide with the London Design Festival. Click here to download the full speech.