Dieter Rams: The definitive product designer behind your toothbrush and coffeemaker


Director Gary Hustwit is not a designer, but he has introduced more people to the history of design and its figureheads than perhaps anyone. He joined Salon’s Keith A. Spencer to discuss his newest film “Rams,” available now, which follows German industrial designer Dieter Rams—the creative mind behind iconic household items like the Braun coffeemaker and the Oral-B toothbrush.

Now 86, Rams' work for the Braun corporation defined an entire era of appliances and inspired a generation of designers living today — including Apple's Jony Ive, who speaks in reverent tones of what Rams did for his field. Yet unlike Ives, Rams eschewed the spotlight for much of his life, and is not a household name — despite being arguably more influential.

That may change with Hustwit's film ode to him: Hustwit says that it took him months to convince Rams (who doesn’t own a computer) to star in this titular documentary of a singular personality. “He's all about simplifying. He spent his whole career thinking about how to simplify our lives with these objects and also simplify his life,” Hustwit said on “Salon Talks.”

The products Rams had a hand in creating became iconic. “When Braun first started making radios and other products that were kind of this new post-war design,” Hustwit explained, “they would photograph them with an Eames chair and a Herman Miller table, and they were basically kind of part of this new way of living that the young generation, then, in the '50s wanted.”

Hustwit's first film, “Helvetica,” a documentary about the typeface, premiered in 2009 to critical acclaim. That film formed the beginning of what he calls the "design trilogy," a sequence of films directed by him that also include "Objectified" (2009) and Urbanized (2011).

Watch the episode above to hear more about how the influence of Dieter Rams resonates today, and how planned obsolescence has taken us away from the fundamental design principles Rams laid down half a century ago.


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