Dieter Rams — 10 Principles of Good Design

“Who is Dieter Rams?” you ask. “And how do his ten principles of good design apply to writing and publishing books?”

I wondered the same when I opened Farnam Street’s weekly newsletter on Sunday morning (if you’re not an FS subscriber, you’re missing out) and saw the headline Less but Better: Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles. I clicked and read a short article. It had such an impact that I printed and dissected it with my red pen and yellow highlighter.

“Man! Does this ever apply to writing and publishing books!” I said out loud. My wife, Rita, ignored me. She stayed glued to one of her Apple devices. “This is good stuff,” I said as I read a Dieter Rams quote. Everything interacts and is dependent on other things. We must think more thoroughly about what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why we are doing it.

Dieter Rams is German and, true to being German, is quality-orientated and detail-driven. Rams, now 89, was schooled in architecture but transformed into one of the world’s leading consumer product designers. His ingenuity and vision were instrumental in thousands of items sold by giants like Braun, Gillette, and European furniture maker Vitsoe.

Rams trailblazed the path for product designs to be more than beautification of consumer products focused on marketing purposes. Design, according to Rams, is innately human and serves as one of the foundational underpinnings of society as a whole. Rams observed: You cannot understand good design if you do not understand people. Therefore, design should involve a moral and ethical responsibility and designers should understand and consider the societal implications of their work, using design as a force for positive change and human preservation.

“Wenniger, aber besser,” said Dieter Rams. It translates to, “Less, but better.”

Right now, I imagine every Kill Zone writer and publisher is thinking Yep. Heard that advice many times. Less is More. And it’s some of the best writing advice there is with the economizing of words to make our writing and publishing simple, clear, and effective.

Rams stayed with Braun from 1955 to 1995 which included the transition from Braun to Gillette. He spent another decade freelancing with Vitsoe and, during his career at these companies, remained the prime design influence behind Steve Jobs and Jonathon Ive to shape the future of all Apple products. Yes, Rita’s Apple devices are based on Dieter Rams’ ten design principles.

So what are these ten design principles and how do they apply to book writing and publishing? Let’s do a dive into what Dieter Rams said about good design followed by my comments:

1. Good design 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.

Me – We’ve seen monstrous changes in our storytelling delivery over the past decade, and there’s a lot more coming at us fast. Print on demand. Ebooks. Audio. Interactive. Editing apps. And artificial intelligence. We, as writers and publishers, need to be innovative.

2. Good design 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 whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

Me – Our stories must be useful. Meaningful and memorable. We must satisfy our reader psychologically and visually. We must respect our reader’s time and leave them feeling they got good value—something useful.

3. Good design is aesthetic. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

Me – Aesthetics, in our products (yes, books are consumer products), goes beyond the mechanics of cover graphics. Aesthetics goes beyond the interior layout of fonts and spacing. Aesthetics goes to the heart of the story where the reader sees the story in their mind.

4. Good design makes a product understandable. It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory.

Me – Less is more. Understandable. Can the reader follow what’s going on? Are they turning the pages ahead and not back?

5. Good design 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.

Me Get the writer out of the reader’s eyes. We’ve all absorbed that advice. Book products are tools for the mind—for the reader’s self-expression. Suspension of disbelief 101.

6. 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.

Me – Keep your promise to the reader. That’s another timeless tip. Deliver on what you say.

7. Good design 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.

Me – A beauty of digital publishing is longevity. Digital products are evergreen which gives two sides to the coin. One is they stay on the shelves as long as the server survives. Two is they reflect trendy styles.

8. Good design 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 user.

Me – This principle hits home about book writing and publishing. We must output the most professional piece we can. That includes more than the story itself. Cover. Editing. Layout. And, yes, marketing.

9. Good design is environmental-friendly. Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

Me – Is there anything more environmentally friendly than an ebook or an audiobook? Compared to a print book where trees die and ink pollutes? I’m not against the print book industry by any means. I’m just sayin’.

10. 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. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Me Wenniger, aber besser.

What about you Kill Zone writers and publishers? How do you see Dieter Rams’ ten design principles fitting in with your work? Can you add other principles that help us to be better at writing and publishing?


Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective with a second career investigating deaths as a coroner. Now, he’s a crime writer and indie publisher with some twenty works in the public arena.

Garry also hosts a popular bi-weekly blog on his website and flirts with the feed on Twitter @GarryRodgers1. Vancouver Island on Canada’s southwest coast is home to Garry Rodgers.

Watch for Garry’s new series City Of Danger coming this summer. 2022.

38 thoughts on “Dieter Rams — 10 Principles of Good Design

  1. Morning, Garry. Good post. Agreed on the value of FS Blog. My response to your question follows.

    A. Heinlein’s Rules

    B. Roberta Jean Bryant’s “7 Laws of Writing” from her book Anybody Can Write:

    1. “To write” is an active verb. Thinking is not writing. Writing is putting words on paper.

    2. Write passionately. Everybody has loves and hates; even quiet people lead passionate lives. Creativity follows passion.

    3. Write honestly. Risk nakedness. Originality equals vulnerability.

    4. Write for fun, for personal value. If you don’t enjoy the process, why should anyone enjoy the product? Pleasure precedes profit.

    5. Write anyway. Ignore discouraging words, internal and external. Persistence always pays off.

    6. Write a lot. Use everything. Learning comes from your own struggles with words on paper.

    7. Write out of commitment to your ideas, commitment to yourself as a writer. Trust yourself.

  2. A lot of brain food for an early morning, Garry. I like it. What the whole thing confirms what I try to get across to new writers anxious to get their book “out there”—before you do, establish a system of quality control. A process you can repeat without reinvention every time (though certainly can refine and tweak as needs be). Go from concept testing to quota writing to beta/editing through design and marketing, with steps for each. A parallel track is craft study. Get a little better every day. Kaizen. That equates to “unstoppable.”

    Thanks for the wake up call!

  3. Great article, Garry. Thanks for the link to Farnam Street’s Weekly Newsletter. It looks like a great addition for writers and their search for knowledge. I signed up.

    And great analogy with Ram’s principles of design and design of a story/book. I love analogies.

    Have a great weekend!

    • Good morning, Steve. You’ll enjoy FS. It makes my Sunday morning. I mentioned in Joe’s comment that Morning Brew is good stuff. It’s more towards financials and current events but is politically neutral (as much as anything can be these days) and doesn’t try to sell you stuff.

  4. I’m waiting to go in for a colonoscopy. Your post made me hope they designed that tool with similar ideas. I surely do hope they’re not using more scope than needed.

    The other thing that came to mind is glue index. I’ve been using software to help make my sentences tight. To reduce needless phrases and words. It works well and I’m pleased with the results. The trade of if I’ve been picking up better habits in my writing.

    • Good luck! I’ve had four colonoscopies because of issues, and the prep is the worst part. The actual procedure is nothing. You fall asleep then you wake up. No pain, and no after effects except an embarrassing amount of gas which they never warn you about. My first words are always an apology for that.

      • It’s kind of funny, this convergence thing. I submitted a story to Expressions which is the student literary journal at Des Moines Area Community College where I took creative fiction writing and it’ll be published this spring. A chunk of it is about this very subject. It will be my first published short story as a 73 year old rookie scribbler.

  5. Wonderful advice from a master. And thanks for relating everything to our writing, Garry.

    I think there’s a run on subscriptions to Farnam Street’s Weekly this morning. I signed up. 🙂

  6. Great post, Garry. Thanks for sharing Herr Rams’s 10 Design Principles. I’m right there with you on their utility for we writers and publishers. It’s an excellent framework for thinking about what we’re doing. I’ll add the importance of considering “why” we are writing and publishing. You highlighted that in a previous blog post and it’s stuck with me. *Why* is more succinct than a mission statement (something I dealt with a lot in library-land).

    The other thing I’d add (as always, YMMV) is the importance for me of having passion for what I’m writing and publishing. If it’s just another literary equivalent of a widget, my why isn’t important enough to me, and also fails to fulfill at least principle 2 above.

    Thanks for a very thought-provoking post.

    • My local billionaire, Jimmy Pattison, once said “Ya gotta wanna” which sums up passion to a Tee. If you don’t have a burning desire to write and publish, (IMO) it’s not gonna happen. Enjoy your day, Dale, and check out Farnham Street!

  7. As an end user, I’d add that the designer has to have actively used a product for some time and talked to other users before designing a new one. With over five acres of land, I’ve spent multiple hours on lawn mowers over many years, and some have such clueless and often dangerous features that it’s obvious the designers have never spent an hour on a lawn tractor, or they think a lawn is always a small and manicured putting green. And don’t get me started on items designed for women or the kitchen.

    Me the Writer/Reader: Nothing is more obvious than a writer who hasn’t done their research or has not physically worked with an object or even been around an area. Horses and the American South. Those two always stand out for me. I’m sure the research nerds and those with real-life jobs in forensics, etc., here are just as frustrated by lazy writers.

    • Reminds me of something my photographer son said the other day. He’d ordered a magnetic filter for his camera, and to his amazement, it was made of magnesium, which ISN’T MAGNETIC. You’d think someone would have tested the product, yes? In fact, one of his friends was a beta tester and DID report this little flaw, yet they continued on with production.

    • And Gusundheit, Herr Harald. I would never have guessed you were German. “Harald Johnson” sounds more like a Norse raider plunging the British Isles.

    • Garry, thank you for a great, great post!
      As you probably know, immer besser is Miele’s slogan. They make well designed and engineered products. Ditto Apple. And also my inexpensive Dieter Rams-designed clock purchased at the MOMA store years ago. Still works, still elegant. Also David Mellor flatware purchased in London.
      I LOVE great design and am totally in the “less is more” camp. Mies knew what he was talking about.

  8. Garry, thank you for a great, great post!
    As you probably know, immer besser is Miele’s slogan. They make well designed and engineered products. Ditto Apple. And also my inexpensive Dieter Rams-designed clock purchased at the MOMA store years ago. Still works, still elegant. Also David Mellor flatware purchased in London.
    I LOVE great design and am totally in the “less is more” camp. Mies knew what he was talking about.

  9. Why, thank you so much for the nice feedback, Ruth. There really is something great about German engineering – far more than stereotype. Miele is an excellent example of top quality products.

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