Indifference towards people and the reality in which they live is actually the one and only cardinal sin in design

 Dieter Rams

The German industrial designer Dieter Rams is most known for his work on consumer products with Braun. And, for pioneering the Functionalist school of industrial design.

Jony Ive, famed former VP of Industrial Design at Apple, is probably Rams most high profile fan. Ive makes no secret of his admiration for how Rams conceived and designed objects that were beautifully made and widely accessible.

In fact, some of Ives’ work at Apple looks like the sincerest form of flattery of Rams. A surprising number of his creations bear an uncanny resemblance to the German’s work.

What made his design work and what lessons are there for digital communications?

For Rams, there was a simple three-dimensional intention behind his design approach. The design should aim for Simplicity, Essentiality and Openness.

In other words, easy to understand (Simplicity), tailored to the audiences state or quality (Essentiality) and friction-free with minimal barriers to entry (Openness). Now, this is starting to sound pretty applicable to digital communications right?

For instance, message framing around cognitive ease keeps things simple. Building your editorial content around audience insight ensure you remain focused on the essentials. Then, optimising interfaces for user engagement ensures your messages remain open and accessible online. Effective digital communications need effective digital design – Ram’s intention is a good start.

Refigured principles of digital deployment

Originally Rams introduced the world to the idea of sustainable development and functional design with ten principles of good design. Back in 1970, he told us that when asking himself the question: is my design good design? He would refer to a ten principle checklist.

These ten principles have proved to be highly influential to designers of all kinds. From Graphic Design and Industrial Design to Interface Design. Why the full list has aged surprisingly well, they are not copy-pasted fit for those inspiring to build better digital communications.

However, his core intention and concepts could be reworked into a checklist for communications. In fact, not only could they, but they should be. Rams’ outlook can provide a new reference point to ensure your use of digital is purposeful.

  1. Good digital is innovative – Technological development is always offering new platforms, formats and rules. Effective digital strategies should always develop in tandem with improving technology. Remain agile and aware – do not over-rely on what has come before.
  2. Good digital is useful – Rams knew a product is bought to be used. In much the same way, a message is told to be heard. Deploying digital has to make sense for reaching and connecting with your audience.
  3. Good digital is aesthetic – Truth is, aesthetic quality matters. Your communications compete with thousands of other items of content every day. Only well-executed objects standout.
  4. Good digital is integrated  – It clarifies and supports your other efforts. There is a clear understanding of how your use of digital fits into the stimulation cycle. You know it will make your audience sense, think, feel, act or relate.
  5. Good digital is honest – It does not claim to cover all bases of your strategy. You have clear KPIs associated with your investment in digital. You do not make your digital communications appear more innovative, powerful or valuable to your overall work than it really is.
  6. Good digital is long-lasting – Whilst your content must fit codes and trends, it should avoid being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. This is important, especially when it comes to websites, as things stick around forever online. Plan for long term visibility and utility – put more care into your digital activities.

Putting the principles to work

So, how can you put this checklist to work right now? Well, start by reviewing your current campaigns, see if you are making the most the new tools available or if you are just investing in some superficial presence. Adapt to Rams mentality of creating with meaning and remaining fully aware of the context of your user.

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