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Dieter Rams Urges Graduates Toward a Responsible Design Ethos

Dieter Rams at Art Center

Dieter Rams receives an honorary doctorate of arts from Art Center President Lorne M. Buchman. He concluded his speech by invoking Gandhi’s admonition, “We must be the change we want to see in the world.”

“Tomorrow’s world will be designed by the design students of today — by you — and while this is a great opportunity, this is also a great challenge and a great responsibility,” Dieter Rams told graduating Art Center students during the 2013 Spring Graduation Ceremony on Sat., April 20.

Accepting an honorary doctorate of arts from Art Center, the legendary designer was introduced by Product Design Chair Karen Hofmann and delivered his speech in German, translated live by an English-language interpreter. Rams thoughtfully reflected on his past, sharing lessons gleaned over a long and influential career as a product designer and university professor, while voicing concerns about the future and stressing designers’ changing responsibility in a changing world.

“Today’s main challenges are the protection of the natural environment and overcoming mindless consumption,” he said, urging students toward “a design ethos that goes way beyond complacency and arbitrariness.”

He presented five essential dimensions of design, along with his “formula for sustainable production”: Less but better! Much, much less, and much, much better. He asserted that “Design is primarily an intellectual process. It’s a procedure and an approach to create innovation and new meaning.”

Following are highlights of Rams’ speech:



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Dieter Rams to Receive Art Center Honorary Doctorate Degree

Art Center will award legendary designer Dieter Rams an Honorary Doctorate Degree on Sat., April 20 at 4pm at its Spring Term 2013 Graduation. The event is free and open to the public. As chief of design at Braun from 1961 until retiring in 1997, Rams was responsible for innovative design in radios, watches, record players, coffee makers, shavers and other objects that continue to influence functionality and aesthetic in today’s products.

Dieter Rams

Legendary designer Dieter Rams, Braun Chief of Design.

Generations of designers have been inspired by Rams’ work. Apple design chief Jonathan Ive said Apple products could be seen as homage to Rams, who created “surfaces that were without apology, bold, pure, perfectly proportioned, coherent and effortless.”

Art Center student Andrew Kim, who is graduating this year and has been hired to work at Microsoft, said in an article about Art Center and Rams in the March/April issue of Pasadena Magazine that “every child needs a superhero to look up to, and he has been mine.”

In 1980 Rams asked himself: “Is my design good design?” His famous list of “10 principles for good design” values design that is simple, harmonious and timeless. On his tenth principle, Rams said, “Good design 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.”

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