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Dieter Rams and Ten Principles of Good Design applied to Quilting

 

There was a very good documentary on BBC 4 last night about Dieter Rams who was, for many years, the head of design at Braun.  I had an orange Braun hairdryer throughout my adolescence which I really loved, and was slap-bang in the middle of his tenure so he may well have had a hand in it (now going for well over £100 on ebay).

 

He is an industrial designer, still working, who has a very stripped back aesthetic.  His own home is pretty minimalist and, frankly would drive me bonkers:

 

but it does show that he is consistent in his values and lives with them.

He is well-known for having developed his ten principles of design, which I thought were worth thinking about in terms of designing quilts and other textile pieces.  This is not because I think we should slavishly follow Herr Rams, but because I think it is good practice to think about what we do with a set of prompts which might just jog our thinking.

There is a very good account of the ten principles on Vitsoe’swebsite: https://www.vitsoe.com/gb/about/good-design.  He is currently designing for them and they have a show room just around the corner from the Wallace Collection, which is currently probably my favourite museum.

The ten principles then:

  1. Good design is innovative.  This one is straightforward.  Even if we are working in a really traditional way there is scope for innovation.  EPP is a good example.  Naomi Clarke demonstrates fantastic innovation in what is a particularly traditional form.  If you slavishly copy a quilt you are a copier not a designer, obviously.
  2. Good design makes a produce useful.  Of course.  There is little point in designing a circular bed quilt unless you have hot feet, in which case it is brilliant design.
  3. Good design is aesthetic.  For Rams, this is a pared back, stripped back aesthetic.  Design is about purity and he avoids fussiness or decoration.  I expect he would admire Amish quilting which exemplifies this approach.  It is plain.  But he is a bit more accepting of design that isn’t product design having a few more frills.
  4. Good design makes a product understandable.  All those things you look at and think, ‘what’s that for?’ are not well-designed.  When you look at a quilt, it ought to be recognisable as something you could put on a bed or on a wall.
  5. Good design is unobtrusive.  The idea here is that nothing should shout out at you.  When you go into your kitchen your eyes should not immediately be drawn to the kettle or the toaster.  We are after visual calm.  This might be worth a note to self as I reach for the fuschia pink highlight.
  6. Good design is honest.  It does not try to be anything other than it is.  It does not try to fool you with features you don’t want.  This is hard for quilters, I think.  I don’t think we try to suggest that our quilts are anything other than quilts.  But, I think that it applies to cheap printed quilts you can buy ready made.  They exist, but they arennot as lovely as the real thing.
  7. Good design is long-lasting.  This is an easy one for quilters.  The standard form of three layers is timeless.  And, we still collect antique quilts which will fit into most interiors – even Herr Rams cool white house.
  8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail.  Yes, thinking about how we are going to finish a piece comes under this heading.  Choosing the quilting thread.  Designing the label.  All these things need to be designed in at some point.
  9. Good design is environmentally friendly.  Rams was talking about our impact on the environment as early as the 70s.  He is a bit of a champion and hero of environmentalists.  This one is tricky for quilters.  On the one hand, many of us recycle and repair.  On the other, the textile industry is a massive polluter and dehydrator.
  10. Good design is as little design as possible.  This is back to simplicity.  I have seen quilts where I have thought to myself, ‘Blimey, they’ve thrown everything at that’.  But this one doesn’t have that much to say to me.

Rams is also famous for his nostrum: buy less, buy better, which Vivienne Westwood also recommends.  I think this is probably true for quilters.  We should think about the impact of what we buy on the world.  Will we use that fat quarter?  Can we buy organic?  All those concerns.

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