Dieter Rams’ 6th design principle is “Good Design 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.”
Honest design is hard to define and often even harder to achieve and that is why I believe that ‘Great Design is Honest’.
I believe pretty strongly in the principles of honesty and transparency, and like Dieter Rams I don’t believe that honesty within design is too much to ask for, I think it is something we should expect, not be surprised by.
But what is honest design? What did Dieter mean, what do I mean?
To me honest design is primarily design that doesn’t manipulate the consumer. It is design that has a clear function and does that thing well. It is a product that is made out of the material it looks to be made out of, or a product where the actual materials are disclosed. It is something which has not been designed to break down in order to force the consumer into buying the latest one. Honest design is not releasing a product as something brand new when the only thing that has changed is the appearance.
It is much easier I think to explain honest design through examples of dishonest design.
Fake pockets on clothing for example are dishonest, they are purely decorative but not obviously so, instead they pretend to have a function. Releasing a car with all the same internal workings but a slightly different body is dishonest, claiming a car is better in performance that its rivals when it has the same engine is also dishonest design. Dishonest design is a piece of furniture made from MDF which has been designed to look like solid wood, and where the customer is left to assume that it’s solid wood.
Dishonest design contributes massively to our throw away culture, which in turn contributes to the increasing climate change, global waste problem, overuse of resources and exploitation of workers. If all design were honest we would produce far fewer things, people would have products which lasted and which were updated only when something BETTER was produced.
One of Dieter Rams’ best quotes, in my opinion is ‘Less, but better’. He is a believer, as am I, that we should be designing things which are better, actually better, and not just more of the same.
Dieter Rams’ was a wise man, and his design principles remain as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. To have a look at the rest click here!
Check out some of Dieter’s work below and see whether or not his designs were honest…
On a slightly unrelated note, here is a pretty good song about Dieter Rams (loosely…), ‘Dieter Rams’ Has Got His Pocket Radios’